Mountains are Meant to be Climbed

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September 6th 2008
Published: September 6th 2008
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A HeroA HeroA Hero

Sort of like Sir Edmund Hilary before he climbed Mt. Everest
Mt. Namuli is the second highest mountain in Mozambique, tipping the scales at 2419 meters. It also happens to be located in my province, right outside of a town called Gurue, which lies only about 5 hours from the city I now call home. Naturally, I had to climb it. Two other volunteer friends joined me, one, a health volunteer who lives in my province, and another who is a teacher in the province directly south of Zambezia, and was on break between the 2nd and 3rd trimester terms. We all made the trek to Gurue, where we would begin our adventure.

As a fact, Gurue is probably the best city in Mozambique. It is up amongst the mountains so it is actually quite cool. It is somewhat of a tourist destination for this reason, so lots of nice restaurants and shops have popped up all around town to accommodate foreigners, so you can find most anything there that you can in most provincial capitals. It is full of food that is sold on the street, and the prices are much lower than you would ever find around the capital cities. Plus, the scenery is just absolutely beautiful. Filled with

So you can see the determination in my face
mountains, forests, and miles and miles of green tea plantations, what more could you want?

We waited here a couple days before leaving to get organized and to find a local to guide our trip. This is necessary because the path to the base of the mountain is actually about 20 miles, and in many places there are no markings to distinguish it from any other goat path you might find. Also, although our Portuguese is coming along, the people who would be living closer to the mountain are much more comfortable speaking the local language (Elomwe) than they would Portuguese, so if you want to communicate, it is best to find a guide. A Peace Corps volunteer who lives and teaches in Gurue introduced us to two of her young Mozambican students who had expressed a willingness to guide our journey. We negotiated a small fee for their help, and we were good to go on the front. As far as food, we figured we wouldn’t need to pack too much, as you can find fruit or vegetables being sold on almost any road in Mozambique, so we packed the following for the 5 of us for the
The CrewThe CrewThe Crew

Also probably a pretty accurate recreation of the climbing crew that Sir Edmund summited with
3 days trip: 25 pieces of bread, a large sack of peanuts, about 17 bananas, and some Nutella. Essential. So we were good to good.

At 8:00 the next morning after meeting our guides, we were off. Walking through the tea plantations in the cool air with a light fog hanging over us was extremely pleasurable, weather conditions that reminded me somewhat of home. About an hour into the walk, we stopped at a small market to buy some flour, sugar, and gin. No, we weren’t about to get drunk and make some cake. These are things you need to present once at the base of the mountain so that the chief of the village at the base of the mountain can perform a ceremony before you are allowed to hike the mountain. Mt. Namuli is a sacred place to the people who live around it, and the ceremony must be done before any outsider can set foot on the mountain. We were all quite chatty for the majority of the trip, although much of the talking stopped after we had been walking for about 6.5 hours straight. Part of this was due to fatigue, and part was due
A look BackA look BackA look Back

One of the many tea plantations that we walked through during the early stages of our journey
to hunger. You see, after we had walked about 4 hours out of the city, we stopped seeing any kind of food that was being sold. We realized that we would have to make our backpack of peanuts, bananas, and bread go a lot longer than we thought.

Eight hours later, we arrived at the village that sat at the base of the mountain, just before it started to get dark. We were presented to the local chief by a man on a bicycle who had been walking with us for the last hour, and after exchanging pleasantries through our Elomwe interpreter, we sat down and rested. All the young children from this 6 house village gathered around us to find out why the hell our skin was so sickeningly pale. We took out the bread and offered them some, and by the looks on their faces, you could tell that it was their first time seeing bread in a long time. These villages around the mountain are about as secluded as you can get. No cell phone reception. No way for a car to get all the way there. No health posts. We were told that these villages
Early morning hazeEarly morning hazeEarly morning haze

at this point in the hike, we are still less than 2 hours in, so we are still talking, laughing and smiling
were formed a number of years back, when people from the city of Gurue fled into the mountains to escape the brutality of the civil war.

We had thought to bring a tent, so we just set it up in the village, in between two houses. Thankfully, some of the villagers cooked us a basic dinner of xima that night (pronounced chi-ma), which is the solid substance that eventually appears after putting a large amount of flour in boiling water. During dinner, we negotiated a price with the chief for being allowed to climb up the mountain. Apparently, the Gods of Mt. Namuli are capitalists. We went to bed around 8:00, and had no trouble finding slumber on the stoney ground, which was separated from us by only the bottom of our tent.

Next morning, we woke up around 6:00, and were greeted by a village elder we had not met the night before, and a huge bowl of porridge. We scarfed it down, while listening to this man talk about Barak O’Bama in perfect Portuguese. Nothing here surprises me anymore. After finishing breakfast, we prepared to present our flour, sugar, and gin for the ceremony. It was

early morning sights
actually quite a basic and calm ceremony, just with some praying accompanied by throwing the materials we brought into a pattern on the ground. No humans were sacrificed, no goats were eaten, and no tribal dancers appeared. Weird. So we set out to climb this mountain, being led by the 17 year old son of the chief. He was there to show us the way up the mountain, and to make sure we didn’t do anything sacrilegious along the way.

The horizontal distance between the top of the mountain and the base is almost nothing. The vertical distance is quite a lot. This equals a very steep climb. While all of us were nearly dying, including our Mozambican friends, our guide was almost skipping up the mountain, whistling most of the time. Oh, and he was doing it without shoes.

So 4 hours later we made it to the top. Dignity and pride left behind. The true summit has a prayer circle made out of rocks, as church groups from nearby villages will often make this pilgrimage throughout the year. I asked our guide if it was alright for me to step into the prayer circle, so that
Some lovely children and idiot adultSome lovely children and idiot adultSome lovely children and idiot adult

The adult in the picture tried to charge all of us a ridiculous amount of money to pass this gate. We refused, so he ordered us to take his picture instead. As we were walking away, he requested that i develop the picture and give it to him on my way back. There are many digital photo development shops located in the mountains of Mozambique you see
I could truly feel as if I climbed this mountain. He said no problem, so I did. Stepping into that circle, I couldn’t help but feel so proud of myself. Proud of the strength I showed to make it to the top, proud of what I had been through up to that point in my Peace Corps service, proud of all the things I had overcome to get here. A couple minutes later, one of the Mozambicans who had started with us in Gurue arrived. He came to the prayer circle, and without saying anything, knelt down, kissed the circle, and began praying in Elomwe, thanking God for this opportunity (he told me later what he had been saying). What an interesting contrast; I got there and thought about what a conquerer I am, what a strong guy I am, how much I had done to get there. This teenage Mozambican gets there and begins giving thanks for the opportunity to climb the mountain. I’m not sure if this difference existed because of our cultures or just existed between this Mozambican and myself, but it does seem an American thing to reflect on how great we are when we accomplish
The chosen pathThe chosen pathThe chosen path

sort of like a scene out of Narnia or something like that
something. Who knows.

So as we began descending, it starts to rain. Hard rain with wind. Just as we are sliding down the steepest part, that is just a rock face, nothing to hold onto. I won’t say that you would certainly die if you feel there, but I also don’t think you would live for sure. It was like that movie Cliffhanger or something, and I was Sylvester Stallone. Something like that. Anyway, we made, but we were soaked, tired, and hungry. The family of the chief at the base of the mountain made us a fire when we got back, and then some food. As night began to fall, almost every woman and child from the village came and sat around the fire with us as we ate. Our communication started off with hand signals, and stealing quick looks at each other with giggles. Eventually though, we began conversing with a mixture of Portuguese, Elomwe, and even some basic English phrases, which some of the younger kids had learned in school. We spent the evening laughing, eating, and sitting around the fire, in an area of Mozambique where no one else could even hear us. If Peace
some well wisherssome well wisherssome well wishers

this strapping young men were getting ready to do a little work with a couple bricks, and they let us know they supported our journey
Corps made a promotional movie and put this scene in there, people would never take it seriously because of how corny it would seem. To me, it seemed like one of my best nights as a Peace Corps Volunteer, enjoying an opportunity that never would have been afforded to me had I never joined this program.

We slept for a few hours before we packed up camp at about 3:00 a.m. We wanted to finish the 8 hour hike back into town in time to eat lunch there. The hike back was a sweet one. Some beautiful sights seen, some perspective gained, some friends made. It was good.

Additional photos below
Photos: 40, Displayed: 28


Still happyStill happy
Still happy

this is before the pain of walking and climbing moutains for 3 days straight really sinks into your body

quite possibly the most amazing thing i saw on the whole trip. See that square piece of land in the middle of that hill? Someone had made a field there to grow crops, and im not sure if the picture does it justice, but the angle of the hill that this is on is about 75 degrees. No clue how someone did that
Our first glanceOur first glance
Our first glance

that little black rock poking out from behind the upper right corner of the hill in front is Mt. knows we are coming
showing its face...showing its face...
showing its face...

but not the top of its head

i am experimenting with the features on my camera

but still smiling for some with one of my comrades after 8 hours of hiking....watching over us from behind is the second highest mountain in Mozambique

after we arrived at the base of the mountain setting up camp
gathering strengthgathering strength
gathering strength

eating porridge the next morning before setting off
our hostsour hosts
our hosts

the woman on the left is the village chief who performed the the middle is the 17 year old who led us up the mountain barefoot...on the right is an elder of the village who came to see us off and to help with the ceremony
that same idiot...that same idiot...
that same idiot...

who has been appearing in all my pictures throughout my peace corps experience has found his way in again

i dont know why he was climbing on all fours when the ground was actually completely flat

a beautiful view of some mountains, and of one hiker looking quite disgusting with his shirt off

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