10 févr. 2014

Warm heart of Africa

When I was a child, I dreamed about travels, freedom and emancipation. Exploring the world is something I have aspired to from an early age and my passion for climbing gave me this opportunity. When we travel, we find ourselves in a different environment unique to each place. We learn to interact with the people we meet and get accustomed to their values and local means of communication. In fact adapting and learning is what travelling is all about for me. For a few years now I have traveled the world with this craving for discovery and I must admit that my trip to Malawi profoundly changed me. This is my story.

It all started last year, with the dream of a friend who wanted to film an exploratory trip to Southern Africa. He located a huge amount of rock in Malawi which seem to hold a lot of potential. After discussing with him and looking at the place on Google Earth, I decided to accepted joining the adventure: a year later we are a team of passionate including two camera operators: Benjamin Rueck (USA), Scott Noy (GER/South Africa), Haroun Souirji (BEL), Julie La Guigne an me (both from FRA). Coming from all around the world we met in Malawi's capital city: Lilongwe. The trip started in a great way: Ben had no luggage and no crash pad, lost during the transit... Like they say... This is Africa. We decided to leave the capital and head south towards Mount Mulanje.

When we arrived at destination, we were first impressed by the thousand meter high Chambe face, looking even more impressive with the endless flat lands at its bottom. Lying under the face... thousands and thousands of boulders. Unanimously we decided that this would be the first boulder field we would explore. It is a very special feeling to visit a place where no boulderer has been. A massive playground, beautiful lines, tall ones... day after day we discover and develop a tiny portion of an expanding potential. But what really touched us was being confronted to the extremely poor local population. We hired a guide to help and explain to us the local situation in a nearly perfect English. Dozens of orphan kids, some sick, would follow us everywhere we would go. Round and deep blacks eyes, like little coffee beans telling us "What are they doing?". We once walked down just me and ben and at each humble brick house 10 more kids would start following us. When we reached the car, we lost count and the kids were asking us for help... "give me bottle", "give me money"... they would eachother for a bottle... this is when we fully realized the extreme level of poverty they were living in.

A week running from one boulder to another, brushing, removing loose rock and climbing gorgeous lines that were chosen among many others. Ben chose to project a vertical seam and I fell in love with an 8m high orange face. Crimpy and very technical (check the video!).

After a week making fun of Ben's brown t-shirt "Ben is still all in", we head to the capital to get his stuff then meet the rest of the crew at the second stop of our exploration. Complete change of setting: Mangochi lies on the shore of the giant lake. The population seems much more surprised to see us as we are some of the very rare non Malawians to visit the town. Unlike in Mount Mulanje where we were obviously seen as tourists, in Mangochi were the people really wondering what was the reason of our visit.
The actual boulder field lied behind a boy's catholic seminary. As we got closer, a hill covered with an overwhelming amount of rock started to appear. In no time, I was ecstatic with only one thing in mind: run everywhere! We all looked at each other and we obviously all feeling the same way. So we asked for the permission to enter the land and started to wander in this granite labyrinth. What first surprised us by the state of the vegetation around us. The locals burnt the ground to hunt rodents. The rock was a beautiful orange granite but unfortunately some of it was burnt and made crumbly. This made for some intense cleaning. But honestly there is a real potential to develop a beautiful area. Easy access, thousands of boulders and beautiful lines. Did we just reach a nature's gem? I think so! And we not alone to think that. Dozens of baboons occupied the place and shared the playground with us.

Ben was still in luck and after the first hour... cut his index deeply when grabbing a leaf while walking... shouting "what else nature? what else?!". There were boulders everywhere and everything was climbable. We started developing but I was looking for a special line, a 5 star line. After a few days, Ben set his sights on a spider filed crack inside a cave and I walked further in the bush in search of the gem. Walking south of the seminary I stumbled on the line I was looking for: a beautiful boulder shaped like a wave and standing on another boulder, like sitting on it's throne. I brushed it and quickly saw it was possible... the moves were beautiful and the holds were small... very small... like tiny shark teeth! After trying it I realized it would be very hard with the conditions. I tried everything but one move would go.

Ben was fighting bravely on his project, despite the deep cut in his finger, and ended also being one move away from sending it ... Ben and his hydrogen peroxide bottle left the cave with no luck. This leads me to an anecdote: Scott and me were at home and he was very thirsty. He took the nearest water bottle and drank what was left in it in one go... which was actually hydrogen peroxide. He came near me and told me with big eyes "what did I do?". Each new day came with a surprise in this incredible place. We discussed about social issues with a surprisingly open minded priest or competed at coconut harvesting with neighborhood kids. After a week full of surprises it was time to head to our third and last destination, feeling a bit disappointing leaving so much unfinished business. We had a rendez-vous with someone living in Cape Maclear and we did not want to be late... The kids came for goodbyes and I left with a big smile on my face.

Through our eyes it was only a giant boulder, 10m high at its lowest point. It has a perfect feature in the middle where we instantly saw a possible line! We grab the kayaks and I go first. The rock was infested with little black spiders. I climbed carefully but unfortunately a first hold broke. As we tried we would get higher and higher but I broke the last hold that would allow us to reach the top... I had to jump down. We ended up only 1.5m from the top. I did not want to abandon the line and tried other potential holds but there was no solution.

This is my story. But it's not an easy thing to put in words such an intense and long trip. This journey touched me deeply... the exchanges and the things we witnessed. In a time in my life when I am rethinking many things I faced a reality in Malawi, that of people living with barely nothing. One of my most beautiful trips in a wild Africa but also an Africa of kind and generous people

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