Friday, October 21, 2011

Inspiration for Lord of the Rings

Quite literally, J.R.R. Tolkien is supposed to have visited Malawi in the 1930s just before he wrote The Hobbit. There seems near irrefutable evidence supporting this claim:

After climbing for 5 hours, we finally reached the
plateau - quite Lord of the Ring-esque, no?
1. The Shire (pronounced ShirĂ©) River running from Lake Malawi through Mozambique and into the Zambezi River in Zambia.
2. There is a legend that a secret population still lives in the mountains. At least according to oral tradition, the plateaux of Mulanje Mountain used to be inhabited by the Batwa - Stone Age 
hunters and gatherers. In Chichewa, Batwa means dwarf - not a bad precursor to hobbits!
3. Check out the photos for yourself, from the mist shrouding the jagged peaks, to fields of mysterious and almost alien-looking trees, plants and grasses.

Apart from the Tolkien connection, the talk of spirits surrounding and inhabiting the mountain range was also alluded to numerous times during our 2 day excursion. This is certainly reflected in local beliefs and names. The highest peak, Sapitwa, translate into "do not go there" in Chichewa, suggesting that the peak is out of bounds for spiritual reasons. While we were socializing in the lodge on the plateau, whenever there was silence, we ewre told that spirits had past. According to villagers those who disobey the spirits often pay a high price. Several locals and visitors have disappeared over the years, including a Dutch woman in 1994 whose body was never found despite both governments searching for weeks. Creepy.

Navigating tea plantations: Local villagers
 carrying back collected dried grasses for
 building roofs and fences
Stunning landscape
we encountered during the climb
Now, back to our story. It's almost rainy season - and the hottest season in Malawi - so we thought it best to climb Mount Mulanje before it gets too slippery and muddy. And so Saturday morning myself, my two housemates Dominique and Louise, as well as Rylea and Bonnie, two Students Without Borders (the student branch of my volunteer program) based in Lilongwe, set out for Mulanje by mini-bus. We had intended to take Louise's temporary car, but with the current fuel crisis, there was no petrol to be had, cueing or not. 

The CCAP lodge where we cooked, rested and
checked out some unreal stars!
After 2 hours we arrived to meet our crew - our guide, his cousin, two porters and a teacher from the multi-purpose learning centre. Steven, our guide, took us up to the beginning of the trail and so began our 6 hour, and at some points near vertical, trek up the Boma path. Little did we know at this point that the Lonely Planet notes the Boma path is extremely steep and "almost impassable" at times. Good thing we were blissfully unaware at the time. All gruelling climb aside, the landscape was beautiful and mystic.

The hike down was much tamer, lucky considering my calves haven't worked so hard in awhile! We stopped and admired the view much more, drinking from small waterfalls and if you're me, slipping and skinning yourself on slippery rocks!
Our group - James, Bonnie, Me, Geoff, Rylea, Steven,
Louise and Dominique (missing our rasta porter Chiku)

All in all, a great time climbing and you never know if the allure of Sapitwa will bring me back in the coming months.

Also, for anyone who reads in French, you should check out Dominique's blog here.

No comments:

Post a Comment