Yesterday, 1st January 2018, I had three choices: Dedza mountain, Nkhoma hill or Bunda hill. Dedza is the tallest and farthest among the three, and Bunda is the shortest and closest. Nkhoma comfortably sits in the middle. Out of the three Nkhoma has the most interesting trail. It allows you to warm up for 20 minutes on almost a flat path. Then it descends into a valley, from which a trail into the hill starts in earnest. So I settled for this one.
The challenge started with how the night and morning were spent. I came back from an overnight church service at about 6 in the morning, having stayed awake the entire night. I slept for 4 hours and had a brunch at 11 am. It consisted of a banana and two chicken pieces. A single banana and not a bunch. So when I set off for Nkhoma I knew I was getting into the deep end of things.
But I did not stop there. I added one more twist. I decided I would stay away from any energy snack till I was at the peak. This is something I had tried in 2016, with disastrous consequences. Yet I really wanted to give my body an opportunity to utilize fat as a source of energy instead of waiting for intermittent injection of disaccharides or monosaccharides (sugars and glucose). I packed two bananas, but these were strictly for a victory munch at the peak. And I packed a half litre water bottle. I kept another 2 litres in the car to quench my thirst on my return. Not to alarm anyone with this arrangement, having seen before my good friend Alick, the camel, go for power hikes without taking a sip. I just felt it was a good habit to develop over time.
The beginning of the trail is strewn with loose stones, and takes you through a stretch that muffles sounds from the surrounding neighborhood. Except for a rumbling in the sky from a plane flying over, and a solitary human voice coming from a couple guarding their maize field from monkeys and guinea fowls, it was an immediate ushering in of the wild. Birds, crickets and other insects competed on vocal range, and skills on rhythmic patterns. From rapid machine-gun tat-tat-tat-tat, to the haughty whistle that tapered towards the end, and measured for maximum effect, it was a perfect immersion in sonic harmony performed on a grand scale.
The vegetation on Nkhoma hill is very diverse. Young thorny bushes gently played with my legs. And all manner of greenery went on an exhibition with a theme on variations on green. Some were pale, others deep, rich green. Others were bright and others dull, almost as if they did not want to be noticed. And the shapes of the leaves, took on countless forms, each impressive with a backdrop of narrow or broad, long or short. Except for a handful shepherds, the hill was virtually left alone, just the way I wanted it.
About 45 minutes into my hike, I bonked. This was just one third of the hill. I was not surprised at all. Suddenly, I was very conscious of the African sun beating down on my head from above. The clouds, that were sparsely distributed, barely persuaded the sun to tone down its harshness. There was little movement of the wind, and places for a shade were far apart. If it was just a few years ago, the trail would have been under a canopy of grown up trees. But now, most of the big trees have been illegally harvested by the locals, in the name of democracy and freedom of choice, coupled with laxity in controls by the authorities. Sad, does not even begin to describe it.
Anyway, I clawed… okay, I pushed myself to the next big shade and told myself I am not touching the bananas. And I turned to the body and simply told it, there would be no energy snacks this time around. I am packing a lot of fat, stored in visible silos all over my mid section. So it was up to the body to brush up its knowledge on how to convert fat to useful sugars. There would be no democracy and freedom of choice on this matter. We entered into a waiting game, and when it was clear the bananas were not coming, I felt a surge of power oozing into my bloodstream. Good boy, body. That was a job well done. I cleared my mind, and returned to enjoying the flight of a solitary butterfly. And then my attention was diverted to somewhere higher. Up there, against the blue sky fringed by the whites of fluffy clouds was a majestic bird slowly gliding in a cyclic motion against invisible thermal currents. It was a hawk, with spread-out wings never flapping its wings even once. It would gently drop and then rise again, covering the distance between some two small peaks with ease.
Nkhoma hill has two peaks that look like the ears of the cat. I have never been to the peak situated to its south-western side, being somewhat shorter than the peak on its northern side. Yet, the shorter peak, at a certain angle appears impressively difficult. It has a sheer cliff on one side, and the side that looks like the approach promises a tough climb. But today, I turned my attention to the highest peak. Within the radius of the peak, it is surrounded by two huge towers with a v-shaped saddle in the middle. Two thirds from the hike, this looks imposing to anyone targeting to reach the top.
Soon it was time to start the steep climb to the peak. The last one third is difficult, whether with or without an energy snack. It has rocks of all sizes, that offer a gymnastic experience without relenting. You have to lift your body up a giant step, and you have to involve your hands time and again. I love this section. It is what makes going up this hill worthwhile. Fortunately, the sun was already going towards the west behind the hill, so there was plenty of shade. And being a saddle, a gentle breeze running down the slopes would caress the weary soul just when the going was really tough. And what had been a soft play by the young thorns earlier in the hike, turned into an itch. Aaah! So there is nothing like a young, friendly thorny bush. At this point, I can spy few beautiful dwarf bushes with decidedly menacing thorny leaves. I decide not to exchange any contact and give them a wide berth, as much as the narrow passage would allow.
Finally, I was at the peak. I was reminded why this is the most beautiful hill in Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi. The view is breathtaking. I could see Chongoni Mountain in the distance, with its rhino head somewhat looking towards Lake Malawi, our most famous and biggest lake in the country. Yes, from the peak you can see parts of its western arm, which forks out at the bottom of the lake when viewed from the north. On a clear day, you can also make out the hills and mountains that make a ring, inside the fork, with some hill looking like an island, well, at least from this distance.
I took all that in. I went into praise and worship, and settled down for a time alone with my Maker. I was given a bonus, when out of nowhere, rain started falling at a distance, and a horizontal rainbow briefly appeared above the rain formation. It cleared away as quickly as it had started. Thank you Lord.
In the meantime, I took out my water bottle, and took measured sips. Hahaha! Well, that was how I had imagined it. On the contrary, I took the first swig to wash my mouth, and the next one emptied half the bottle. In no time at all, the bottle was nearly empty. However, I had to be careful with the bananas, seeing that I was low on water. So I only managed to eat one of the two. And as soon as it hit my mouth, I was treated to an amazing chemical reaction, with my olfactory organ running a whiffing commentary on the organic compounds that were dissolving between my tongue and upper palette. Such was the joy of the victory munch.
I returned to my quiet moment and realized what a privilege it is to go out in the wild and get to interact with nature. I consider myself fortunate to have started the year with a time alone with God from the top of the beautiful hill that is Nkhoma.