I spent the morning hiking in the Mulanje Mountain Reserve – a UNESCO heritage site. The mountain range is stunning. Waterfalls pour off the peaks, plummeting into pools and running in gushing rivulets down the mountainside. Clouds crown the peaks, breaking only on occasion for a view of the verdant top.
From the trail, with a chorus of tree frogs singing, we spot samango monkeys above in the treetops. Actually, far before we spotted them, they’d seen the dogs we are hiking with. As they jump from tree to tree, they stay so high in the canopy you have to squint to see leaves moving to catch a glimpse of their tiny dark bodies.
It is their cries we can hear below, and the corresponding hungry howl of the dogs at our feet. In truth, the dogs cannot decide if they want to pounce into the jungle with bravado for the chase and a chance at an exotic snack, or head back to the car with their courage tucked with their tail between their legs.
As we hike, I listen to the Monkey Scout. In the US, he would have been an Eagle Scout, but as an African – this man is well versed in all things jungle.
“This plant has barbs. Be careful. This plant looks edible, but the flower will kill you. See that bird? That’s a hornbill. Big cry, small bird. See this tree? This tree is a hardwood. The poachers would have a hard time finding a saw strong enough to remove this beast. Bloody poachers… Wait! Listen? Hear those monkeys? Those monkeys have mustaches. If we stand here very still and can keep the dogs close, we’ll be able to see their long wiry mustaches.”
We climbed and climbed. At one point, I threw my hands above my head, stretched my spine and felt my heart thumping as my lungs sucked in as much of humid air as they could. With mushrooms and moss under my feet, I crunched down the path, wary of the dark trail ahead. The canopy – a twisting combination of vine, eucalyptus (gum) trees, African hardwoods and brush – is so dense in places, it closes out the tropical sun above. In my mind, I know there aren’t gorillas/lion/boogeymen in this part of the world. In my imagination, I’m on a remote, slippery lime green cloudy forest trail, in the middle of nowhere, listening to animals in the jungle. Anything is possible.
My heart races.
We reached a small hydroelectric dam built to provide energy to the estate. The water is crystal clear runoff from the rainfall above. A pounding stream feeds the damn. We’ve been able to hear this water bubbling along for more than a mile. We slide into the water holding our breath. Matt, without any fear, swims up one side and down the other, climbing on the dam wall and diving into the darkest part of the pool. I join him after a lot of coaxing, name-calling, and promises that there is no way possible that a croc could be on the bottom waiting for just such an American treat. Soon enough, I’m also standing on the dam wall, shaking from the cold water and dripping wet, jumping blindly into the same dark pool screaming “cowabunga!”
Jungle badge — earned.
Whenever I travel, I love to browse — snoop, really — bookshelves. You can tell so much but what people have read, what’s bookmarked, underlined, well-worn and what has obviously been abandoned mid-chapter. At the lake cottage, I found a tiny bookshelf with books left behind by previous visitors.
I shouldn’t have been as shocked as I was to find the 1950s library rules glued to the inside cover of one novel, but I am. Worthy of sharing, but still very sad nonetheless. There are epic novels to be written about the “boys” and “natives” who were denied the pleasure of reading. Even more depressing, while the colonizers have long since been run out, there are few public libraries today in Malawi. The state of public education is so poor, most folk are illiterate.
The good news is, I’ve made several delightful new friends who are working in Malawi and Tanzania for international NGOs on a variety of projects, including literacy. So, let’s hope the label alone is a relic in this southern African nation. May the joy of libraries one day return to beautiful Malawi.
(Really, how can a country progress without access to quality education and books?)
I opened my eyes to the New Year on African soil; never has a year of my life begun with such potential, hope and happiness. There is something wild, simple, beautiful about this continent that I love unconditionally. The flights from Phoenix to Heathrow to Johannesburg to Blantyre were uneventful and easy; I slept, watched far too many movies, read 300 pages of a novel and dreamed of what the next three weeks of holiday could include.
I was greeted at the airport by Jimmy – a family friend. In one swoop, my handful of luggage and my exhausted frame were bundled into a truck, headed three hours north to Lake Malawi. My holiday coincided with their family holiday; I would join a gaggle at the cottage at Cape MacLear – one of the southern-most points on the lake.
Soon after arriving, I was hustled into a speed boat with Matty, his brother Shaun and a handful of their expat friends. We grazed across the lake with such speed, music blaring, green Carlsburg beer bottles tossed back with the sun setting. The tropical weather made my skin shine, my hair thick and my shoulders relax. It was the temperature and weather of perfect. Mary Poppins perfect. Not too warm. Not too cool. Simply right. Watching the first sun set of the new year, surrounded by old friend and new, on one of Africa’s largest lakes was true bliss. I said no fewer than a dozen times, “I cannot believe how lucky I am. This is my life!”
The cottage sleeps ten and sits a hundred feet from the beach. I was given a tour of the beach by Jimmy.
“Look at those stars, Kelli. Tell me you have stars like this in America.”
“They are hidden, but they are there.”
“I’ve never seen the Milky Way in Mesa, but I’m sure they are there.”
“I like your optimism.”
Long after he’d retreated to the dinner table, I remained with my neck craned, mouth wide open with awe, staring at the heavens. The planets, an off red. The sky, as black as the shade is made. The twinkle of millions of stars – spread out like diamonds thrown upon black velvet, shimmering on the opaque lake below. Truly glorious!
My room included a tidy bed with a white mosquito net, a large picture window with a view and a lake breeze that lulled me into a deep sleep after a festive African braai – steak, sausage, ribs, salad. I awoke 12 hours later miraculously with no jet lag; the same group of friends were on the patio where I’d left them after the braai, sitting in the shade of the giant cashew tree now enjoying a traditional English breakfast – eggs sunny side up, toast, sausage and grilled tomato. It hit the spot and certainly beats the lonely bagel with peanut butter I’m used to eating before hustling off to work.
Today, we spent hours on the lake snorkeling, fishing, reading, lounging and day-dreaming. Matty was the master of the fishing pole; his brother and friends were embarrassed by the mass of fish he caught. I summoned ever bit of courage I had to snorkel; there are crocodiles in this water, although more than likely not in our part of the lake. Still, my heart raced as I swam along in the deep water, bright blue and yellow fish swimming along with my bubbles. They call Lake Malawi the calendar lake; it is 365 miles long and 52 miles wide.
I am in love with Malawi and this holiday could not have come soon enough.
Dinner at Ciro in Sun Valley was outstanding. So very good! Asparagus pizza, beet salad, homemade panna cotta and coconut ice cream. This morning, we worked off the carb fog by hiking along the Frenchman’s Bend trail at Baldy Mountain. Sights included: my feet in snow, pine cones, dirt, mud, more snow, aspens, giant Douglas fir, baby Douglas fir, tiny wildflowers, a happy + chatty Finny, a happy + sweaty me*, and fresh mountain lion tracks.
(That last part was kinda scary. Fin reassured me that as long as we kept talking, he’d say away from us on the trail. If you know either of us, you know silence is hard even during sleep. I finished the hike talking like a four-year-old after a giant piece of birthday cake, while clapping my hands for extra noise — just in case.)
Ketchum and Sun Valley are a fun mix of the super rich and the super down-to-earth. There are a lot of gigantic second homes and many sweet people in town who love the local thrift store. Fin and I are enjoying the bizarre mix — including both trips to said thrift store and to the fancy restaurants. (I’ve decided $10 homemade coconut ice cream is like having a little tropical vacation in your mouth.)
Tomorrow we are home again to the routine. This tour of our own personal Idaho has been truly splendid. I am looking forward to next year’s adventure with Finny already.
* You know those 60 days of yoga? While they provided bendy enlightenment, they killed my cardio. I’ve been struggling the last month to find my running legs again and am so thankful this trip has been so active. We’ve hiked quite a bit and rented bikes and walked to and fro. I hope when I lace up the running shoes later this week, the jaunt around Tempe Town Lake is a wee bit easier. I do love running, but right now I am paying dearly for giving my other athletic hobbies such attention. Time to get back on the cardio horse, one sweaty, out of breath gallup at a time.
The Fin and the Donk are on their annual adventure. This year? We’ve decided to take Sun Valley, Idaho by storm.
Come to find out, in the off season, it isn’t terribly difficult to take Sun Valley, or Idaho in general, by storm. It is sweet, quiet, lovely little spot. There are snow-capped mountains, tiny wildflowers trying to push through to bloom, bright blue skies, happy hikers with gaggles of excited dogs, swans swimming in lakes, geese destroying lawns and two girls trying to enjoy every sight and sound. (and a partridge in a pear tree…)
With cameras in one hand and gin and tonics in the other.
(Fin isn’t the best for my moderation. “You like it. BUY IT!” + “Oh, come on. What’s one gin and tonic for breakfast?” I kid. Kinda.)
Who could say no that that silly face?
So far, we’ve celebrated our outdoorsy hobbies by hiking and renting bikes and touring around Sun Valley and Ketchum. It is far too chilly for this desert wanderer, but I am enjoying a breath of cool, mountain air. Not to mention my Finny time.
We are having a lot of fun, but really — I firmly believe that you could put us in Death Valley and we’d find a way to knit, gab, exercise and eat really well.
Next year there are several new locales in consideration. We will also incorporate a blogger meet-up. Neither of us think to talk about these trips beforehand to coordinate a get-together with our friends elsewhere. Next year, watch out. We’ve got some wild plans for the Fin + Donk travel extravaganza.
In the meantime, off to yet another meal. And another swim in hot springs. And more than likely, another round of knitting under some pine trees. Because I can be my dorkiest self with Fin and she not only loves it, but revels in the same domestic and nerdy hobbies.
Happy, happy, oh so very happy,
I’m in SF for a few days for a conference and plan on spending every free moment wandering with my camera and appetite. This city is nothing if not full of strange sights and great food.
The pollo asada super burrito at Pancho Villa was B+. That carrot-based orange salsa? A++. And the agua de jamaica was out of this world. Lovely first meal in the windy city.
Peruvian knit cap
A friend recently asked me for a “white knit cap with ear flaps.”
This got me thinking about that incredible journey I took several years ago to see Machu Picchu.
The Peruvians wore fabulous knit caps, sweaters and scarves from llama wool. What did I wear? A thin Gap cotton sweater that kept me just above hypothermia. I got wet about 4 days before this photo was taken. I was still wearing the same clothes (backpacking) and still freezing.
How I wished I’d dressed like a Peruvian for this trip. Look how woolly and warm these babies are!
That said, I would do it all again tomorrow if I had the chance. Machu Picchu remains the single most incredible place I’ve ever visited — where one can’t help but feel the power of God and man’s creation when they align.
A knit cap with ear flaps, a bunch of reminiscing and a happy recipient it is!
Wandering in the Rockies yesterday on a lengthy hike with a friend, I stopped to admire the forest floor. The soft crunch underfoot was a quilt of characters — dark black compost covered with bright splotches of lime green moss, rust orange lichen, fading brittle pine needles, musty and moist pine cones, aging golden leaves and the occasional ivory mushroom. Each element is interesting alone, but together they create a fascinating array of color, scent and texture.
This is much like life. Faith, family, friends, community, pets, art, music, great food, love — all wonderful on their own, but thrown together, the patchwork of an incredibly fulfilling life.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” — Bumpersticker in Denver
My passport is up for renewal. In the last 10 years I’ve managed to travel to:
Israel, Palestine, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Mozambique, South Africa, Cameroon, Malawi, Costa Rica, Ireland, England and the Bahamas. Most of these adventures have been through college scholarships, volunteering, work and good fortune. I’m exceptionally lucky when it comes to finding great international adventure with little to no budget.
This passport is one of my favorite things. My parents don’t travel much and as a kid, when I read of foreign lands, I had no idea how I’d ever get there. While I may not have a house full of nice furniture, or a car without dings, I’ve got this little book that reminds me of all the amazing people I’ve met, the cultures I’ve inhaled, the food, spirit, scent and joy of far away lands I’ve celebrated.
Next on the list: France, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Italy, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Egypt. I’d also very much like to go back to Stellenbosch.
My wanderlust is not entirely gone, but it is very nice now to be enjoying a garden and other things that require me to be in one place for more than a few months.