Sunday Morning ~ Nankoma Island

Sunday Morning ~ Nankoma Island

Chibale ndifupa sichiwola. ~ Brotherhood is a bone that never rots.

~ Chewa proverb

April 28, 2024

Hi Everyone,

My first impulse is to say I feel guilty about the life of luxury I’m living at the moment, but in reality, I feel I’ve earned it. I’m loving sitting on this veranda, the lake lapping at the pilings, the branches of the Baobab tree shading us, belly full of delicious breakfast, thinking about what to do with the rest of the day. It has taken me a long time to outgrow the feeling of not deserving good things but I’m getting there. We’ve had such a great week! It’s so much fun traveling with a friend who appreciates the beauty of this place. 

A bit of background: Stacy and I are friends by marriage. Our husbands grew up together, then as young newlyweds, we all grew up together. I went to graduate school where Stacy’s husband, Patrick, was studying medicine. We lived a block from each other. We graduated on the same day. We had combined parties. When I went into labor with the twins, Stacy came over in the middle of the night to stay with the other kids. They are godparents to Rachael, we are godparents to their kids. It’s a deep bond. It was awkward and sad when Joe left me, then sad again when Patrick died during the pandemic. We’ve done a lot of celebrating and grieving together, now here we are single, comfortable, and open to adventure. I like this stage of life. 

Stacy’s visit coincided with mid-term break, a fortunate unplanned coincidence. She’d sent me a list of some sights she might want to visit and I planned a road trip. After getting acclimated in my tiny house for a night, we set off for the Shire Valley and two nights at Majete Game Reserve. There are two ways to experience that place, basic and lux. We went lux. We were greeted with cool towels, ushered to our tent, then perched on the veranda to watch animals drink and mingle…it’s rather nice. It’s hot there but our physical activity was little to none. We were taken on game drives at sunrise and sunset and served three luscious meals a day. Aside from brushing our teeth, we barely lifted a finger. It was lovely. We saw four out of the big five: elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo, and seven lions lounging around with full bellies. We didn’t see a leopard, but we did see two hyenas which are particularly elusive in my experience. I’ll call that a win. A female elephant chased us away when she thought we were too close to the babies. That was impressive. I kept glancing at the driver to see if he was still smiling; it looked like those tusks could have flipped our vehicle. Well after dark and safe at the lodge we were greeted with warm towels and warm smiles. Great life.

Thursday we drove out of the valley, back through Blantyre to the Zomba Plateau where the KuChawe Hotel sits overlooking the town and mountains. I’ve always wanted to stay there but never splurged on a room just for me when Blantyre was only an hour away. So this was a treat. We arrived early afternoon and had time for a hike to the waterfalls through indigenous forest before dinner. Baboons have taken charge of the balconies and we were told not to leave our bedroom windows open. Baboons come in and take the packets of sugar on the tea trays––– a consequence of their  destroyed habitat. The area is preserved now and reforestation is happening after most of the trees were taken for firewood. Not such a great life for baboons.

After a luxurious (well, nice) stay there we made the four hour drive to Dedza to see the rock art. We checked in to the Pottery Lodge and asked the receptionist to book a guide while we got settled and had a cup of tea. Then off we went for a three hour tour that would get us back just at dusk. We thought we’d timed it perfectly. But the guide (who was adorable and great) was long winded, we hiked to sites I hadn’t seen before (which were amazing but far), and the sun was already on its way down before we left the area and started down the long rutted dirt road. It was dark by the time we reached the tarmac and we had twelve kilometers to the lodge. I have a rule of not driving at night here but there was no choice. The dark road offers extremes of blinding oncoming headlights and absent head or brake lights. It is harrowing. Hundreds of people walk the edge while bicycles with wide loads take up half your lane. It’s impossible to see them even with good headlights. I drove so slowly I’m sure those behind were cursing me, but Stacy had to lean forward to identify any pedestrians and warn me. It was stressful. I was so relieved when we turned onto the dirt road back to the lodge, which was also a nightmare, but less of one than the main road. We made it intact without a motorcycle collision for which a huge relief sigh was emitted. We dropped our bags in the room and could not get to the bar fast enough to order drinks, which we consumed expediently. When the waitress asked if we wanted another we both said, “Yes!” emphatically and simultaneously. She laughed. We didn’t.

Saturday morning we rose early, packed, had breakfast, and headed for the lake and the paradise we now inhabit. Dedza is high and the lake is low. We descended hairpin turns on a good paved road I’d never been on through gorgeous rolling hills, clearly denuded of trees but green with vegetation–––a stunning landscape with hardly another motorist. It was lovely, the temperature rising with the descent. We made our way to the lake and the site where we’d get the boat to Blue Zebra, the lodge on the National Park Island of Nankoma. The fifteen minute motor boat ride was exhilarating–––very different from getting to Likoma. There is nothing on this island but the lodge and hiking trails, 300 bird species, migrating butterflies, and indigenous forest scattered with Boabab. I stayed here in 2018 but it looks very different now. The structures are the same but the beach is totally gone and the pool is almost in the lake. Two chalets and the spa are in the water, unusable. If our chalet was at ground level it would be in the lake, too, but because the front is on pilings, the lake laps underneath. This is the highest the lake has been in forty years. 

Tomorrow the boat will zip us to the car at Senga Bay and we’ll drive back to Blantyre. This has been a sweet little break without news so we’re bracing ourselves for updates on the state of the world, then a day of grant writing before Stacy leaves. I’ve said many times this week, I love my life. My prayer for the world is everyone can say that.

Love to all,


One thought on “Sunday Morning ~ Nankoma Island

  1. Peter Finch Reply

    I am most envious – what a great trip both for you and Stacy; and you write so well and evocatively. We miss you!

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