Malawi's hidden Paradise

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By Trust Ofesi

The road to the hidden “paradise” creeps along an enviable topography, persistently snaking the highs and lowlands of Lilongwe’s eastern patch to the lake. Though the road is still in good form, its shoulders are tattered by the pattering rains and rushing waters along the edges.

The trip to Nankoma Island was punctuated by a gripping silence. The only sound that filled the air came from the speakers of the sixteen seater quantum. It was a ten member team whose social interaction was delayed by engagements on the Smartphone, seeming fatigue of other members and probably utter shyness from members who were meeting for the first time.

Across the view, both men and women had resorted to their daily activities. The journey started around eight in the morning, the sun had already started unleashing some heat on the innocent souls.

The day had provided some space for man to thrive, but it was obviously nature’s time to grieve. It was quite striking to notice, just on this patch, how locals were so much reliant on nature for survival; It was a common sight seeing men carrying bags of charcoal and firewood on the bicycles, others showcasing cane chairs along the way, whilst others had put all their strength in brick making, yet others still enjoyed cultivating close to the river banks.

The land was not completely bare; some patches of bushes and trees still remained, but all the major rivers along the road including Lumbazi river had so far given up. It’s the ninth month of the year, but no single river was able to show its beauty by flashing running water. All rivers and streams were dry.

It looked nature had also reached its point of exhaustion, the bare hills, silted rivers and the nearly degrading soils were pointing to a dangerous future; where agriculture would be very tough to do, tough to access drinking water, tough to generate hydro-power and even quite tough to preserve the one thousand fish species in Lake Malawi.

This brought to memories the huge task African leaders had at the United Nations General Assembly to convince the UN Secretary General to declare an emergency on climate change as a way of seeking more funding to deal with climate change challenges.

After a ninety minute drive, our feet were now in fresh waters of Lake Malawi. All the concerns of climate change had receded. Sarah Njanji, a Tourism Officer from the Department of Tourism had told us we were now heading to an island on the lake. The swashing waters on our legs not only provided the freshness into our hearts, but also gave way to an experience we would live to remember.

“My name is James, I will take you to the Island, and it’s a thirteen kilometer distance from here. We usually travel in ten minutes but I will drive at your pace and comfort,” The driver of the motorized boat told us as we went aboard.

We quickly boarded the boat to Nankoma Island, wading through the waters; almost everyone looked for an opportunity to capture the memorable moment with a Smartphone. But a Smartphone can’t capture an experience, so the experience was left in our hearts, neatly preserved, to tell a story.

The boat-ride lasted for ten minutes; we were later greeted by a young white lady. She introduced herself as Jen; Jen Dunlop Jones is the manager of Blue Zebra. The Island lodge on Lake Malawi, she is so down to earth with her warm reception. Glasses of natural fruit juice were soon handed to us; we sat down for few moments before starting to explore the beauty on an Island that was so hidden to us for decades.

Contrary to the African music in the quantum bus, our ears on the Island were now tuned to the lovely songs from the birds in the trees above and around us. Danlop Jones began to show us the executive family chalets which were named after the birds on the Island.

“We have actually seen a lot of honeymooners coming to visit this place; we have a special package for them. The bride stays free and the groom stays on single occupancy” She told us.

Most chalets and executive rooms overlooked the lake, letting in a fresh lake breeze. She told us about the water sports activities and the fish species one is able to see on the Island which are just unique to Malawi.

I was surprised to hear of the bushbucks, antelope and other wildlife which found habitat with humans on the island. The Island’s chalets can accommodate a maximum of thirty occupants per night, with great discounts for locals and visitors who have been to the place several times.

“So what do people usually do when they are here?” I asked

            “So typically in the morning, some go for a walk on the island, but people decide on their activities depending on what they have come up here for, but we have a lot of adventure activities and games” Dunlop Jones told us.

The Island also boasts of the spa treatments, motorized water sports, skiing among other activities.

The ten member team was all treated to an English meal which was so mouthful to pronounce, delicious meal that almost everyone enjoyed.

Blue Zebra employs over twenty locals, thereby creating a source of income for tens of families. My ears were however once more alert when Administration Manager of Blue Zebra Ken Katuma mentioned of the declining water levels on the lake. From March to September, the waters had gone down by about one meter.

“Its really a concern to us, and as at now, we have started the afforestation project to ensure that at least this part is covered and protected,” Katuma said.

Ken looked enthusiastic and passionate about nature. He loves nature, but probably there are a few people in the country with such passion to restore nature, control siltation and see more jobs being created through tourism.

The road to Malawi’s hidden paradise was part of the activities for promoting tourism during September which is the tourism month. This year, the tourism month was celebrated under the theme: Tourism and Jobs, a better future for all.

 

 

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