Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Bangu and the Vampa

Bangu in early morning mist, originally uploaded by AmyEmilia.
The missionary houses (and the church) at Kivuvu were, and still are located at the top of a small hill. Our views from the hill were beautiful, and the location was more likely to experience breezes too. We also had many thunderstorms and the hill seemed to attract lightning. (In a later post about storms, I’ll tell the story of the Night the Lightning Bolt Struck the Church.) One of the things that contributed to the view was the silhouette of the Bangu, an uplifted plateau that was just to the southwest of us. 

I don’t think I ever heard another name for the formation. The slopes are very steep, and there are several waterfalls including one we called the Vampa, with pools of beautifully cool water. The photo – taken early in the rainy season I’d say, from the color of the lamb’s tail grass in the foreground – is a somewhat romantic view of the mountain, with fog sliding off the slopes.

The top of the Bangu was much less populated than the area around is, and consequently much more forested. There were rumors of large antelope up there, a lion, perhaps even an elephant. Who knows? I only went to the top twice, once on foot and once by Land Rover. Dad had a survey trip (in which he and several staff members from Kivuvu and IME would go to a village and look over the population for leprosy) and the family went along. What I remember most about that trip was the wonder that the local kids showed when they saw my little sister, blond and pale-skinned as she was. They had never seen a little white kid!

As I said earlier, there were waterfalls to be visited. Getting to the Vampa was quite a hike. First we had to drive to the edge of the river. That took maybe 30-45 minutes. We had to take all food and water with us, as the water was not to be trusted for drinking. The next stage was to cross the river, which was maybe 30 feet across. There was a narrow foot bridge that required climbing up a handmade ladder made from small tree trunks with narrow planks fastened to them at uneven intervals. Once up the ladder, then there was the bridge. About two planks wide, with guide/hand-holds made of vine, it made for an interesting crossing. Sometimes a plank was missing; sometimes the vines were not sturdy. The brown water of the river was only about 10 feet below and looked most uninviting. At the other end of the bridge a similar ladder allowed you back down to the ground, which was best done by “walking” down it like steps, instead of turning around as you might normally expect.

My favorite part of the walk to the Vampa was the mango forest. Someone had planted hundreds of mango trees in a grid – who knows when or why. The project was long abandoned but it made for nice shady walking with a path that rolled up and down the humps made by the tree roots. I think of it as being dark and cool and mysterious, smelling of ripe and rotting mango – and full of snakes.

The Vampa falls were designated as the lower and upper falls. The lower falls were a much shorter trip – maybe an hour walk from the river. Scrambling over the rocks and playing in the clear, cold water was fun. The valley rang with our shouts and laughter as we jumped from the edge of a cascade into the pool below, or slid down the smooth rock slide to the bottom of the upper falls. Swimming here was a relief from the heat and humidity of the rainy season and we relished it!

Once, Garcia (our gardener, previously mentioned here) and Pedro, our houseboy, went with my brother George and I for the strenuous hike to the very top of the plateau. I do not recall who else was with us. What I do remember is the struggle to get up the steep rocky path – I was never the most athletic or fit kid – and even worse, the trip down. My knees were water, my thighs on fire. A brutal hike. On that same trip, I fell on the final ladder, putting my leg between the slats and deeply bruising my shin. Garcia and Pedro started laughing as I started to tear up and though I knew why, it still felt cruel. (One was supposed to laugh at pain or fear, to keep the bad spirits away.) I had a knot on that shin for years afterwards.

On another occasion, I was walking with Dr. and Mrs. Frazier, running up and down the small hummocks in the path. Serious miscalculation caused me to land on my left knee resulting in a deep jagged gash. It took weeks to heal. That scar still reminds me to pay attention on uneven ground!

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