Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Crazy, Beautiful Country

It's official.  School is canceled from Tuesday, May 22nd until Tuesday, May 29th.

Initially, I was disappointed about this.  This week was supposed to be test week, after all.  I had worked really hard to write my exams and to prepare my students for their tests, and I was excited to see how my kids were doing.  For the first time, I was feeling confident as a teacher, and confident in my students.  

When I arrived at the school to find everything inside-out-- desks on the lawn, students carrying mops and buckets-- I could have cried with frustration.  

Why is this happening?  I wondered.  Why didn't anyone warn me?  And why (WHY, WHY, WHY?) is there no emphasis on education?  It seemed like school was always being canceled, for one reason or another.

My disappointment soon gave way to a guilty sense of delight, however.  

"There's nothing you can do about it," said Dan, reasonably.  "Give your tests next week.  Let's just hang out."

And suddenly, I realized that I had a free, unexpected vacation.  

This morning, in celebration, Dan and I decided to do something that we have wanted to do for a very long time.  Today, we decided to climb Mount Zobue.

Mount Zobue, the neighboring smaller mountain, and the pathway in between

Don't get me wrong-- we've tried this before. The first attempt was in January.  We were hiking with a friend, and, instead of taking us up the big mountain, he decided that it would be better to start small.  Instead of climbing Mount Zobue, we climbed a smaller, neighboring mountain. It was a beautiful trip, but as the picture above illustrates, it was not Mount Zobue.

Then, in April, five of us got to together to launch a full-scale attempt on the steeper, unchallenged slopes of Mount Zobue.  We went without a guide and, though the hike took us deep into the forested crevasses of Zobue's many domes, we never did find the "top."  The mountain remained shrouded in fluffy, clouded mystery.  

Today, though, was different.  Today was special.  The weather was cool, the town was quiet, and we had the two first-rate guides.  Our friend Gift would be coming with us and, even better, so would his little brother.  This doesn't sound like a boon, but it was.  Gift's little brother is a mountain-side pig hunter. 

With the odds stacked in our favor, we started up the mountain.  The weather was so cold that Dan's glasses fogged up.  Sweat was dripping from our noses, but we kept our hands stuffed in our pockets.

The first leg of the journey was around the base of the mountain.  From there, we started the upward climb.  After a few hundred feet, the grass gave way into ferns and palm fronds.  Then, halfway up the mountainside, we took an unexpected turn into the forest.  

Tromping through the vegetation
And squeezing through the crevasses
Tree ferns in the forest
Flowers on the mountain
Fall foliage in Mozambique
Flowers on the mountain

I held my breath for as long as I could and crashed through the vegetation, praying against snakes, rats, pigs, and giant, gaping holes in the mountainside.  As it happened, Bwino actually did fall into a hole, but Dan caught him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him to safety.  

After twenty minutes of hacking and tripping and tugging our way through the forest, the trees opened up to reveal a giant, rounded, stone dome.  We had reached the first peak of Mount Zobue.  

At some 1,400 meters tall, the dome was the highest point in the surrounding area.  The clouds overhead were moving so fast that they swirled like smoke.  The edges of the dome were dizzying.  Bwino actually started to cry, and sat as far away from the cliffs as possible.

On the border between Malawi and Mozambique
On the border between Malawi and Mozambique
The view from the top of Mount Zobue

Mount Zobue is different in that it has three peaks, not one.  Ours was the smallest, and the closest to the actual town of Zobue.  The other two, from what we understand, are impossible to climb.  Or rather, says Gift:

"You can climb them.  But then you have to stay there.  Forever."

Dan and Bwino resting at the top.  Note the "impossible dome" on the other side
Tree, Mount Zobue
Overlooking Mozambique
Overlooking Malawi

We stayed on the mountain for a few hours.  The sun was warm on the rocks.  Gift listened to music on his phone while I took pictures and looked for parrots.  Dan traced the tangled network of paths that laced the fields below.  

"It's crazy to see our town like this," he said.  "The hills seems so insignificant."

The town of Zobue, Mozambique

Schematic of Zobue, for comparison

On our way back down, I had a few questions for Gift.

"Have you ever seen a monkey on the mountain?"  I asked, jogging to keep up as we pushed through the strangling vegetation.  

"Sure," he said.  "Often."

"And do leopards still live on the mountain?"

"I don't know.  Some people think they do."


I decided right then and there that I would be back.  And the next time, I would bring a book.  I think I might decide to stay for a while.

What a crazy, beautiful country.

A composite photograph showing the town of Zobue (Mozambique- left), the town of Mwanza (Malawi- right), and the footpath between the two.  You can also see where the international border runs along the mountain ridges.

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