Mumbo Island, Lake Malawi

Joseph greeted us with a warm, broad smile at the Kayak Africa reception at Cape Mac Clear on the southern shore of Africa’s third largest fresh water lake.  Lake Malawi is so big you’d think you were looking at an ocean.  Home to more species of fish than all those in the lakes in North America and Europe combined, it is an international wonder and Malawi’s national treasure. The whole of Lake Malawi is a national park; Kayak Africa has a concession from the government to run Mumbo.

“There are two paradises,” says Joseph.  “The first is heaven.  The second is Mumbo Island.”

After four days on Mumbo, I can tell you, God has his work cut out for himself.

Mumbo is nothing short of spectacular.  All other eco-resorts and lodges should measure themselves against their standards.  Every structure was built without the use of cement and from locally sourced natural materials.  The entire place could be deconstructed and within one year’s time the landscape would look exactly as if nothing had ever been there.  There is no electricity.  Each night the staff place solar-powered lanterns to illuminate your rooms and the paths.  Although it is possible to connect to the outside world via cell phone, at Mumbo consider yourself off the grid.

You won’t hear many sounds apart from lapping waves, birds, and the laughter and conversation among the guests (Mumbo has a maximum capacity of 14).  You won’t even hear the sound of a flushing toilet because they are all self-composting.  Just throw a handful of wood chips down the hatch, close the lid and the naturally activated fan does the rest.  No matter where you are on the island, you will hear the call to meals.  It comes from a large wooden frog that “croaks” when the spines on its back are rubbed with a wooden stick.  You won’t want to miss a meal because the food is absolutely delicious.  All dietary requests are easily accommodated, even for a vegan.

While away the days sleeping in a hammock either on the veranda of your cabana or on the beach.  You can hike all over the island following clearly marked trails.  There’s nothing that can hurt you here, no venomous creatures and nothing larger or faster moving than the resident monitor lizards.  There’s no malaria (I’ll give you a hundred bucks if you find a mosquito).  There are more bright yellow weaver birds than you can shake a stick at and the skinks will give you a laugh.  And then, there’s the lake.  Snorkeling, kayaking and boat cruising are a must.  The water is as clear and blue as any you’ll find in the Caribbean.  What you won’t find in the Caribbean are the many species of fish that are indigenous to the lake.

Oh, just remember to let Juliet, your amazing hostess, know when you’d like to shower.  Usually when guests come in from their late afternoon sunset activities the staff automatically know to prep the hot water for your bucket shower.  It’s just enough water to luxuriate and get clean while you listen to the waves hitting the rocks outside your bathroom cabana.

There’s one other thing not to be missed.  A few hours after the sun has set and you’ve enjoyed a lovely dinner, head down to the beach, take a seat and look up at the stars.  We saw more of them than we ever have anywhere in the world.

Maybe Mumbo isn’t the second paradise after all.  Maybe it’s actually heaven on earth.

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