Friday, August 15, 2014

Mulanje Massif

Last week I spent 5 days hiking on the Mulanje Massif, a huge group of mountains in southern Malawi.  These mountains are made mostly of granite, a rock that is very resistant to erosion.  Over thousands of years, the softer rocks around the granite have eroded, leaving the granite rising up dramatically from the plain.  The massif has been called an island in the sky--and that's exactly what it's like.  The forest service has built huts in various places on the mountain.  Their fireplaces are a source of welcome warmth once the sun goes down at 6 pm.  Even in Malawi, it gets very cold at 9,000 feet of elevation! 

This is the view of the massif from the town of Likubula, where we started our hike.  Elevation: 200 m

My hiking companions, Laura and James.  They are super excited to get started!

The first day was the hardest--we gained 6,000 feet of elevation in 5 hours.  The views, however, were gorgeous.

Our guide Robert and me on the Chambe Plateau.
Approaching our first hut, Chambe Hut.

The hut had a great view of Chambe Peak, the hardest peak to ascend in the whole massif.

The huts were complete with bath houses...

...with lovely views!

On the third day we summitted the highest peak, Sapitwa.  At 10,000 ft of elevation it was not easy, but the trail was well marked with many red arrows.  In ChiChewa, Sapitwa means "don't go there." 

Very exciting: ice in Malawi!

I hadn't seen ice on the ground for over a year...very exciting!

We made it to the summit!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Life in Zobue: Carvao (Charcoal)

Most people in Zobue cook every day using a charcoal stove.  Even people with electricity in their homes prefer to use charcoal over an electric stove.  I haven't quite been able to figure out why, except that charcoal is more reliable--it doesn't stop working when the electricity goes out.  People are also probably more used to cooking on a charcoal stove because that is how they grew up.  When Silvia and Albertina have been over to cook with us, they seem scared to use our electric stove because it is unfamiliar.  For me, charcoal is a pain to cook on because it takes a long time to light, but for most people here it is easier than an electric stove.  

Most people cook on small charcoal stoves like this one.

The charcoal is sold in large bags like this for about 100 mets (3 dollars). A family cooking on charcoal would probably use 4-5 large bags per month.

Here are more large charcoal bags for sale.

Charcoal is also sold in smaller bags like this for 25 mets (about 1 dollar)

This small store is selling a few small bags of charcoal

Celena waits for the water to heat up on her charcoal stove so she can take a bath

Servina cooks xima on her charcoal stove

Here are some small charcoal stoves for sale at the market.
Mozambique uses a lot of trees every year to produce charcoal, make bricks, and build houses and I'm afraid of what is going to happen when there are no more trees.  Currently the rate of tree use is much greater than the number of new trees being planted.  How will people cook? Build houses? Stay cool during the hot season when there are no shady trees to sit under?  It is hard for people who are barely making a living to care about their environmental impact, but it is something Mozambique is definitely going to have to deal with in the near future.  The population is growing and Mozambique is in need of more sustainable practices to support the growth.