By Norma Davidoff 
Photos by Norma Davidoff, Barbara Angelakis and Mkulumadzi Lodge

Elephant Charging

Mkulumadzi in the Majete Wildlife Reserve

Malawi’s wildlife reserves seem like children’s storybooks brought to life. But this is no storybook. It’s for real. At Mkulumadzi, valets take us to and from dinner, because of potential dangers. Hey, I don’t mind. They  are gracious lovely people, keeping an eye out for us. No desire to be  juggling for position with an elephant or buffalo.

But how did I get to be among creatures from A to Z, as in aardvarks to zebras? We came via Blantyre, the oldest European settlement in Malawi, and, in fact, the oldest in the region. And that includes Nairobi,  Lusaka, and Johannesburg.  In bustling Blantyre we had the privilege of seeing a local funeral. The whole village comes out, walking with the  coffin and singing at this Presbyterian funeral.

Soon after, we’re journeying past roadside markets, selling everything from  Chinese clothing to charcoal, spread out on blankets on the ground.  Only a small percentage of Malawians use electricity, so they need  firewood.  So much has been harvested that the forests have shrunk,  jeopardizing their future supply.  We see small brick silos filled with  maize, the dietary staple of the country.  Locals have it at every meal, says our guide. We motor past mangoes, fallen from trees dripping with fruit. Goats gambol by; people walk with bundles on their heads. We  make our way past rural villages of thatched huts and baobab trees.

Mkulumadzi Baby Elephant

We enter the park to reach the only private wildlife concession within it.  A waterbuck crosses our path.   Oooh, there’s a baby elephant, blending in with the gray brown trees. Wart hogs -- bulldog body, skinny  tail, horse’s mane, and curved tusks , one of the Big Ugly, -- and nyala antelope, one of the most elegant, come trotting along. Ah,  here’s a three-week old impala on spindly legs. 

Mkulumadzi Lodge

We are on our way to a Robin Pope Safaris property: Mkulumadzi, a  five-star lodge in Majete Wildlife Reserve. Mkulumadzi opened just last year and accommodates only 20 guests. Individual dwellings of  ultra-spacious rooms are set into the natural landscape. Interiors  reflect where we are. A table is made of logs; a chair is in elephant  colored suede -- gray brown. Two big double beds with mosquito netting  face out onto the Shire River.  It is decidedly a room with a view, in  this giant wilderness.

Mkulumadzi Ranger with Animal Head

And it is a story of recovery here at Majete. By the 1980s, the area had  been poached out by the villagers. Several species had been hunted to  extinction. Elephants had eaten all the vegetation on the trees. Then  the African Parks Network entered the picture. This non-profit  organization educated the local people in environmental economics and  reintroduced many species that had vanished. That included some of the  famous Big Five... elephants, leopards, lions, buffalo, and rhinoceros.  The good news is that this has revitalized Majete. Most recent  additions: leopards and lions. Four lions were brought in by plane,  surrounded by a raft of veterinarians and African Parks people. Sadly,  one of the females died in transit. But Dorian Tilbury, Field  Operations Manager for African Parks Majete, says the lions have been  seen mating. Cubs should be in the offing. A donation from Robin Pope  Safaris made this unusual undertaking possible.

“Malawi had the land, the parks and the political will,” says Tilbury. It’s a triumph to us {speaking of African Parks), the Malawian government and  the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, especially. So now  Majete is poised to become a major game-viewing location in Malawi.

Elephant

We certainly saw our share. It was thrilling to spot -- forgive the pun  -- a male leopard early in the day, quietly stretched out alongside the  dirt road we’re traveling. We watched for half an hour and then passed  through without his objecting. A baby antelope prances along; a brown  sable antelope follows. We see bushbuck and nyala and the adorable  puku, a golden brown antelope. An impala bleats.

Past the chestnut and mahogany trees, with orchids growing on them, is a  full-grown but young male elephant. He bellows. His gigantic ears are  flapping around. Sam, our Mkulumadzi guide tells us, “He’s a typical  teenager acting out.  He’s gotten thrown out of the harem and must go  with the bachelors.” Who knew? There are those who say a safari is  only as good as your guide. We’re clearly in luck. We ford the river,  follow footprints of lions, black rhinos, and hippos on bush walks, and  venture out on early evening trips in our 4 X4. I wonder if I will  reach animal saturation amidst all these exotic beasts.

Mkulumadzi Beef Satays and Beat Salad

Back at Mkulumadzi, it’s all animals all the time. At the plunge pool,  sipping a gin and tonic (drinks are included in the fee), we see water  buffalo in the distance. We’re savoring filet of beef as an elephant  strides by in the moonlight. Over beef satays and a beet salad with  mustard and yogurt sauce, we talk about the lodge’s resident mascot: a  bush baby, a bushy primate with large eyes, brought in from the wild and hand-reared. We’re still remarking about the animal kingdom over  dessert: fig in phyllo with custard sauce or a chocolate brownie with  cream. Pick one. Ah, roughing it in Malawi!

It has been through the looking glass into the enchanted forest, the  secret garden, and the Magic Kingdom, all rolled into one.  How’s that  for tripping?

IF YOU GO:

South Africa Airlines flies to Johannesburg, South Africa. From there you can get direct flights to locations in Southern Africa. www.flysaa.com

Expert Africa, extremely knowledgeable on Southern Africa, can handle  arrangements for accommodations, transfers, and activities while there. www.expertafrica.com

Mkulumadzi offers all-inclusive accommodations. www.mkulumadzi.com

 

 

 

© April 2013 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.

 

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