I am writing this on a beautifully tiled veranda overlooking a spine of green mountains like the back of some monstrous dinosaur, its plates jutting boldly into the sky. It’s dusk. The sun is just beginning to set, spilling those last few rays of golden light upon the world, covering everything in a soft, warm glow. Below foothills inhabit the space between my lodge and the mountains. The hills are mottled with small, white buildings, like freckles on the backs of green whales.
I’m staying at the Kabula Lodge, a small inviting warren of buildings and greenery built into one of the hillsides. In addition to the spectacular view, well-manicured, terraced gardens reside just below me which one can wander at one’s leisure. As I compose, the warbling of exotic birds fill my ears, dragon flies flit along the trees and vegetation, and on occasion green lizards with bright blue tales squiggle across the walking path leading down to the gardens below. All the while the rhythms of nature are kept in time by the joyous, buoyant African music bubbling up from somewhere within the surrounding community. A gentle breeze rocks the trees and every so often I lift my eyes to see the peaks of the Zomba Plateau, a sprawling blue-gray monolith, far off to the left but imposing nonetheless even at this distance. The panorama is truly breathtaking. This is Malawi. And though it’s the “Warm Heart of Africa,” in terms of destinations it’s considered “Africa for beginners.”
There is something hypnotic and alluring about sub-Saharan Africa, something that seeps into you and never leaves. Once you have been here you always think about returning. On my first trip I met a man who had been to South Africa seven times. On one particular trip he was robbed at gunpoint. Yet, he returns each year fearlessly and without fail. His love for the continent hadn’t diminished he assured me, but has only increased.
This is the cradle of humanity, our collective home no matter what you call yourself. The diversity of the landscape never disappoints--mysterious mountains shrouded in mist, seemingly endless sunbaked savannahs, dank and lush rainforests teeming with life, bustling metropolises and sundrenched beaches covered in ivory sands gently lapped by turquoise waters. There are cave paintings tens of thousands of years old, snorkeling and diving with rare, tropical fish whose colors and patterns astound and amaze. The activities one can take part in are truly unique. You can jump into a shark cage encircled by great whites, or go on safari and view up close and personal some of the world’s most famous wildlife.
You can eat at a five star restaurant, dance to the rhythms of a hot band at a nightclub or haggle over the price of beautiful cloth, paintings, carvings and other handicrafts in the marketplace. You’ll soon find that this isn’t just a continent. The true essence of Africa resides in its songs, dances and rhythms, in warm smiles and thumbs up, in brightly colored clothes and handmade masterpieces. It lives in diverse cultures and welcoming villagers. It inhabits the voices of hawkers and buyers negotiating over prices. Africa sits in the back of a Land Rover trembling at the site of an elephant in the wild. Africa recoils at the deft ferocity of a lion pouncing on its prey.