As mentioned before, Mount Mulanje is the third tallest mountain in Africa. It is not a mountain for the faint of heart; hikers come from all over the world to climb its peaks and some have even died trying. The tallest peak is called Sapitwa, loosely translated as “place from which you do not return.” During his time in Mulanje, Sandy hiked for two days and spent the night on one of the peaks (not Sapitwa). This past weekend, however, neither of us were up for such an intense hike. Instead, Sandy suggested a leisurely hour long hike to the waterfalls – a “nice, easy stroll,” he said.
We drove down the long, dusty, pot-holed road to the foot of the mountain. As we slowed down, the car was besieged by helpful locals offering to be our guide or to watch the car for us. We chose Lawrence, who sold us with his friendliness, enthusiastic insistence, and his official guide ID. He selected his half brother to be the official car guard.
Our car safely guarded, we grabbed our water and cameras and set off for the falls.
We passed through a forest of tall pines and then wound our way up a steep muddy path. The peaks rose up around us and through the trees we could see the green countryside stretch out for miles in the distance.
Lawrence was chatty and considerate. He taught us words in Chichewa and would stop and wait for me if I lagged behind. He walked along as if it was an easy, pleasant stroll. Meanwhile, I staggered along, red-faced, huffing and puffing, trying to keep up the pace and keep my footing. “Nice easy stroll,” Sandy had said. Luckily, I now know that my husband and I have very different definitions of the words “nice,” “easy” and “stroll.”
We passed several young women who were gathering firewood. They would collect a small mountain of sticks and limbs, tie them in a bundle and gracefully head down the mountain with it balanced on their heads. Later in the day, when we were on our way down an even steeper path than the one we climbed, we were passed by young men who had large cedar planks balanced on their heads. Yes –they passed us going down the mountain. Needless to say, once I saw how effortlessly they were able to handle the mountain, their own bodyweight, and pounds of wood piled on their heads, I shut up and stopped complaining.
After an hour, we made it to the falls. It was one of those scenes that just kept getting better. Our first sight of the major fall was beautiful, and then we went down a little further and it was really beautiful, and then we crossed to the other side of the river and it was just breathtaking. Again, the pictures don’t do it justice. I need to start carting a professional photographer around with me. Maybe I can carry him on my head.
We relaxed on the huge boulders; several other hikers and guides swam in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. One hiker lost her sunglasses and two guides, including Lawrence, spent thirty minutes diving until they found them.
The water was cold, fresh, and inviting. Next time, we’ll take our bathing suits and a picnic lunch.
In the end, it was definitely worth the exertion and we will have to go back soon, although, it might take awhile, and some serious circuit training, before I’m ready to do much more than this “nice, easy stroll.”