Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sat, Aug 24: Bunda Mountain

Last Saturday we climbed Bunda Mountain.  It's what is called an inselburg - a small mountain rising abruptly from a flat plain.  This part of Malawi seems dotted with them, but I haven't yet found a good explanation of how they were formed.

Bunda Mountain in early morning

The Maliro kids Providence (16) and Hannah (13) decided to come along, and Moses drove us all to the foot of the mountain which is about a 15 minute drive from the college.  There is a little village at the foot of the mountain, where ragged children wait hopefully for someone to pay them act as a porter, or to just give them handouts.  They know enough English to say "Give me money!"  But they left us alone once it became clear we weren't in the market for porters or beggars, and we set off. 

It was quite steep - not sure if any of these pictures do justice to it.   Emma was dragging quite a bit on the way up.  I was very glad I wasn't doing it in cheap slip-on shoes with a baby on my back, like some other women I saw!  Prov turns out to be quite a practical joker; between the two of us we had Hannah and possibly Emma convinced there was a Coke machine on top and maybe an ice cream machine as well.


The landscape below us was seen through the dusty haze of the dry season.  Not much is happening in most of the fields.  Here and there you see an irrigated field but in most of them, last year's crop has been harvested and the stubble burned off.  Some of the fields are edged with a very tall plant called napier grass which can be used as animal fodder when green, or made into things like reed fences when dry.  The forested area you see on the right in the picture below is Bunda College's forest where some forestry research is carried out.  (Also illegal firewood cutting, sometimes!)  The campus is at the edge of the forest.

The major animal sighting was a small troop of baboons, glimpsed from far off.  

When we got to the top we found it noisy and crowded.  Moses had warned us ahead of time so we weren't surprised to find lots of people there praying; apparently many people in Malawi like to go on top of a mountain to pray, and this one isn't very far from Lilongwe.  Most people were praying aloud (very loudly), some prostrated on the ground or the rocks.  A few were singing, and there were a couple of groups that seemed to be having a prayer meeting or Bible study up there.  There were several low stone shelters where people sleep if they want to spend the night up there. Sometimes in the night, from campus, we can see campfires on top of the mountain.  I saw some of the little kids from the village carrying bottles of water up the path; I'm guessing if you're willing to risk the water they'll sell you a drink.  Very different kind of experience than a mountaintop in the US!  

Emma strikes a pose on the summit.  On the left you can see one of the little stone shelters.

We found a fairly quiet spot a little away from most of the noise to take turns with the binoculars and share around a packet of biscuits (what they call cookies here).  There were a couple of Lanner falcons whizzing around the rocks with amazing speed; at one point they swooped past us so close we could hear the wind in their feathers.

Other inselbergs are visible in the distance, through the dusty dry-season haze.

As the kids were looking out over the fields and villages it occurred to them that the view looked a lot like a Settlers of Catan game board.  (Prov introduced that game to Joel and Emma, and a game of Settlers at the Maliro house has become a weekend staple.)  Soon the Settlers of Bunda were laying out roads, grain, and ore deposits.

After about an hour on top we carefully worked our way back down.  Emma was carrying a fistful of "grain" for the Settlers game; I later discovered that she had smuggled some rocks into my backpack for "ore!"

That afternoon, it was inevitable: another round of Settlers of Catan.

Just think "goats" instead of "sheep" and it's practically identical to Bunda, right?


  1. Thanks for you sharing your adventures with us! 'Looks all very hot & dry. I don't have bird guides other than for where I'm located, so I have little idea what that falcon looked like, but the behavior you describe sounds pretty cool. I can only visualize a generic falcon body form, but that's good enough. All very interesting. Blessings!

  2. Praying at the top of the mountain--did you join in with your own "joys and concerns"? :) That's awesome Emma brought back resources for Settlers.

  3. An Inselberg!!!! I have always wanted to climb one!! So cool! (Doug M.)