RUN­NING OUT OF WISHES

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Gallivant Malawi - Words: JO KROMBERG

And here I am again, my pow­dered heart and I – this time in Malawi, de­posited here by Malawi Air. As the mid­day Blan­tyre heat slowly de­frosts our South African cryo­genic state, the dusty, bustling road we’re on even­tu­ally re­veals the mag­nif­i­cent wind­ing moun­tain pass down into the Shire Val­ley. The green val­ley lies in­do­lently back into the arms of the sur­round­ing moun­tains like a long-lost lover.

ihave re­dis­cov­ered pure joy as we drive to our first lo­ca­tion - Mku­lumadzi Lodge in the Ma­jete Re­serve. Lo­cated in the south of Malawi, Ma­jete is an area of 70 000 hectares and part of Africa’s Great Rift Val­ley. We drive for a cou­ple of hours through vil­lages, and the sounds of chil­dren’s voices are car­ried on the smoky breeze as we move closer to­wards the ver­mil­ion set­ting sun. We ar­rive af­ter dark and walk across a sus­pen­sion bridge. I can hardly see a thing, but my senses are filled with the smell of the bush and the roar of the mighty Shire River. Our hosts, Mark, Jenna and Si­mon, wel­come us with a gor­geous din­ner. The sight of my suite makes me swoon. Each of the eight lux­ury chalets con­sists of a large bed­room and lounge that opens out to a wooden deck, plus an en-suite bath­room with a sunken bath that over­looks the river. There is also an out­door rain shower, which is open to the sur­round­ing bush. The whole lodge is so­lar pow­ered with a back-up gen­er­a­tor. There is also a two-bed­room fam­ily unit, clev­erly de­signed so par­ents live on one side of the com­mu­nal lounge and the kids on the other. The haunting cry of a fish ea­gle breaks the dawn the next morn­ing and the view makes my heart ache. I open the flap door onto my deck and for the first time in the pink-grey chang­ing colours of dawn, the mag­nif­i­cent river re­veals it­self to me. I am­ble to break­fast and while en­joy­ing the most de­li­cious muesli and fruit con­coc­tion, I stare at the river in stu­pe­fied won­der. Jenna joins me and says there is a lot here to keep fam­i­lies busy – play­ing in the pool, game drives, walks and river cruises. En-route to the river for the cruise later that day, we en­counter eland, warthog and a white bush­buck – which is one of the rarest sights ever I’m told by Si­mon. The river cruise it­self sus­pends time in to­tal­ity. We watch as a herd of about 20 ele­phants cross the river, sil­hou­et­ted against the set­ting sun. That night, I stare up at an in­fi­nite blan­ket of stars. Some fall, most stay… Af­ter a poignant farewell the next morn­ing, we are off to Mvuu Wilder­ness Lodge. The peo­ple of Malawi are known for their placid, lov­ing na­ture. They are the most gen­uine and gener-

ous of spirit. Ev­ery­where, peo­ple are on their way some­where, work­ing and get­ting on with life. As we drive, the coun­try also re­veals its in­cred­i­ble nat­u­ral and dra­matic beauty - rocky out­crops, high moun­tains and breath-tak­ing plateaus. Af­ter a four-hour drive, we fi­nally get to Li­wonde Na­tional Park. Mvuu Wilder­ness Lodge is a rev­e­la­tion. It is a hid­den safari camp gem, (yore means old and this was built in 1994) with the main lounge build­ing set high above the still wa­ter and won­der­ful views. This lush and fer­tile area sports an ex­cel­lent di­ver­sity of an­i­mals, in­clud­ing ele­phant and sable an­te­lope, im­pala and wa­ter­buck. Mvuu is a true eco-lodge sans the self-con­grat­u­la­tory fan­fare that usu­ally ac­com­pa­nies such a dis­tinc­tion. Built in 1994, it runs only on so­lar power and a lim­ited gen­er­a­tor. Room ser­vice may be ob­tained by bang­ing on a drum in­side your tent and the amaz­ing staff lit­er­ally come run­ning… Ac­com­mo­da­tion at Mvuu Wilder­ness Lodge com­prises of eight spa­cious tents for a max­i­mum 16 guests, each with en-suite bath­room fa­cil­i­ties and a pri­vate view­ing plat­form look­ing out on to the la­goon. Din­ner is served on the ‘beach’, over­look­ing the dark river. The food is ex­cel­lent, served by lantern and fire­light, with the sounds of crick­ets, frogs and hip­pos fill­ing the ex­panse of the enor­mous night around us. Later, we sit out­side on the bal­cony in the pitch black night. I look up. The stars have fol­lowed me. Only tonight the Milky Way has the tex­ture of soft, white vel­vet and the stars seem to have mul­ti­plied ten-fold. Some fall. Most stay. I watch in sus­pended reverie. The en­tire bush and river is bathed in a hue of ghostly and oth­er­worldly mist the next morn­ing as we go on a safari walk with our guide, Douwe. There is no sound. No wind. The Mopani for­est holds its breath and nothing moves in the eerie, white gloom. Then sud­denly, there are ele­phants. We spot the herd very close to us through the fog as they for­age, com­pletely un­aware of our ex­is­tence. I skip the boat ride later to ex­plore the ad­ja­cent camp, a very af­ford­able haven for fam­i­lies with chil­dren. You can choose be­tween charm­ing self-cater­ing or full-ser­vice chalets. There are two pools and a kid­die’s play area with jun­gle gyms and swings.

Com­bined with a num­ber of games and ac­tiv­i­ties, never a dull mo­ment is as­sured. I de­cide on an early night, drift­ing off to sleep to the eerie and unique cry of the Pel’s fish­ing owl, its un­du­lat­ing echoes pierc­ing the dark African night. The day brings me, fi­nally, to the glo­ri­ous and breath-tak­ing Lake Malawi! Pu­mu­lani Beach Lodge perches high above the tran­quil, end­less blue wa­ter in op­u­lent, ex­otic nest against the moun­tain within the Lake Malawi Na­tional Park. The lodge has an airy, sea-breezy feel to it with high ceil­ings, some nau­ti­cal decor themes and of course, a spec­tac­u­lar view. The ten vil­las are spread out along a lush hill­side, over­look­ing the lake. Each has a large bed­room, a com­fort­able sit­ting area and a hu­mungous bath­room with bath­tub and dou­ble shower. And, nat­u­rally, pri­vate decks with views of the lake. The lodge also has a fam­ily villa that sleeps four (or five with smaller chil­dren). We take one of the wooden walk­ways down to the beach. If you have kids, be­ware. They will never want to leave. Be­sides the pool and the beach, there is wa­ter-ski­ing, sail­ing, div­ing, wake­board­ing, kayak­ing, snor­kel­ing and fish­ing – and ev­ery­thing is safe. The staff on the beach are ready and will­ing to as­sist with what­ever ac­tiv­ity you choose to par­tic­i­pate in, all in­cluded in the rate apart from scuba div­ing. Af­ter a di­vine din­ner, I stretch out on my bal­cony in the balmy night. I see six fall­ing stars in half an hour. How many wishes can one per­son have? Mumbo Is­land awaits us for lunch the fol­low­ing day and I have to de­vote an en­tire book to this pris­tine and de­serted trop­i­cal is­land. Mumbo Is­land has never been pop­u­lated and is still in its nat­u­ral state with a thick cov­er­ing of miombo wood­land and an­cient fig and baobab trees. The tiny is­land camp, with ca­pac­ity for only four­teen guests, fea­tures taste­fully fur­nished tents (one is a fam­ily tent) with shaded decks, ham­mocks, hot bucket show­ers and ‘eco-loos’. The small waves lap the tiny beach with but­ter­fly kisses and we kayak for hours on the calm crys­tal blue lake in this se­cluded slice of heaven. Back at Pu­mu­lani, a treat awaits af­ter din­ner. Chris, the manager, sets up the lodge’s very fancy tele­scope for us to get a close-up of the con­stel­la­tions and plan­ets. It is a very sur­real feel­ing to see Saturn in real life with its rings, just as it ap­pears in draw­ings. A tiny four-seater plane takes us aboard the next day for the hour’s flight to Mfuwe South Luangwa Na­tional Park in Zambia. On ar­rival, we are met by our ranger, Fred­die, who takes us to our fi­nal haven – Nkwali. The rus­tic, yet lux­u­ri­ous, Nkwali Camp ac­com­mo­dates four­teen guests, and the beau­ti­ful rooms are made of woven bam­boo, stone floors and thatch, each with a view of the glit­ter­ing river. There is one fam­ily room, a dou­ble and a twin, both en-suite and a swim­ming pool. The laid-back, thatched Robin’s House caters for groups and fam­i­lies, as does the ma­jes­tic, to­tally ex­clu­sive and full-ser­viced Luangwa House fur­ther away on the prop­erty. That af­ter­noon on the game drive, we spot a leopard up a tree, lions laz­ing in the shade, hyena, jack­als and buf­falo. The Lodge also of­fers walk­ing sa­faris, night drives and boat­ing. Din­ner was a de­light­ful, tra­di­tional ‘braai’ (bar­beque) in the bush, fea­tur­ing maize, steak, sausage, chicken and sal­ads. On our last night, we stayed at the quaint Heuglins Guest House – a charm­ing and per­fect gate­way be­tween Zambia, Malawi and South Africa with great ser­vice and great food.

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