“Over there. That’s where we’re headed.” Thomas, the captain of our small speed boat, points at a dark green part of the shores of the lake, smiling enthusiastically. As we get closer, the spot he pointed at earlier takes the shape of a lush green forest with hundreds of colourful flowers generously sprinkled over its trees and bushes. A few thatched roofs and windows with small, Mediterranean-style wooden doors of Kalambo Falls Lodge peak through the dense leaves.
As we approach the bay, the lodge staff are already making their way down the hill. Two impressive main houses, a number of chalets and surrounding gardens lie before us, patiently waiting to give their guests a taste of elegant simplicity and serenity.
Victoria Huwiler, the lodge owner, welcomes us with bright eyes and a warm smile. We make our way up on a small path meandering through the magnificent scenery. Vicky acquired the lodge a few years ago, by no means planning to do so, I later learned. When she was on a business trip to Mpulungu and paid the lodge a visit in her free time. Vicky laughed out loud when someone asked her if she would be interested in buying it. She nevertheless left her business card at the time, which turns out to have been an excellent move.
It’s seven years since Vicky was persuaded into making the lodge her own, and she is deeply happy with her decision. “I initially bought the place to make it my holiday home. I loved decorating it, giving it my personal style, making it my own beautiful haven. At some point I started hosting the many researchers that would come to Lake Tanganyika every year to study the endemic tropical fish species we have here. Later I decided to also open it up to the general public.”
The eight guest cottages spread across the hilly shores are made of wood, giving them a cozy and natural feel. The little touches here and there, together with sparkling white linen, make them feel homey right away. The many windows are opened up to allow in the sunlight and a light lake breeze, that strokes my face when I lean out to take in the view. A small collection of books is displayed on each nightstand. All chalets come with a balcony overlooking the lake, a perfect spot for reading, sunbathing, or simply enjoying the breathtaking panorama.
While Vicky explains the set-up of the lodge and its facilities, I take in the spectacular beauty of this little oasis on the shores of one of the world’s biggest lakes and I feel my body relaxing. Stretching across Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi and DR Congo, Lake Tanganyika holds 17 percent of the world’s freshwater. It is home to a vast number of colourful tropical fish species, which can be observed snorkelling or even scuba diving. The waters in front of me are so vast that it looks as if I’m facing the ocean. I can’t wait to sunbathe on one of the sunbeds by the lakeside, explore the beautiful beaches of Isanga and Mishembe Bay, hike to the 772-foot single-drop Kalambo Falls on the border of Zambia and Tanzania – the second highest on the African continent – or go on a sunset cruise, all included in my package.
Half an hour after our arrival we sit down at a tastefully set table on the deck of the main house, overlooking the cozy bay this property is tucked into.
“Today we have prepared a Thai coconut fish curry with our delicious local fish, the nkupi. It goes well with the basmati rice over there and the avocado salad,” says Vicky. I am in love with the dish at the first bite. “All my twenty employees come from the nearby villages. For two years, I worked with them in the kitchen every single day. I took them through all the aspects of each dish, from getting the flavours right to presentation and timing. At this point they are completely independent.”
My next day starts at the break of dawn. A small motorboat brings me to a nearby village bordering Tanzania. In the early morning light, the colours of the water, the red earth, and the sky look even more radiant than ever. An excited bunch of kids swirls around me when I debark together with Elias, my hiking guide, who grew up in this village. After a good half-hour ascent, we reach the top of the hill and are rewarded with stunning views of the lake, the village, and the hills around us.
Continuing our hike, we pass small huts with friendly locals waving at us. Some are eager to sell us some local pottery, others are working in their cassava fields. We are overtaken by young men and women carrying big bunches of firewood on their backs or baskets of fruits on their heads multiple times. When we finally reach our destination, I am thrilled to see that the waterfalls in front of me indeed look nothing short of majestic. They are surrounded by a large rift cutting through the bushy landscape around us and following the scenic view walk I take some Insta-worthy shots from all angles. Once back at the lodge, after a wholesome lunch followed by a refreshing dip in the lake, I sit back on one of the sunbeds on the shore and appreciate the fact that my day-to-day life of work deadlines, traffic jams and errands suddenly appears lightyears away.
In the days that I spend at her lodge it becomes clear to me that Vicky is a global citizen. Her worldly outlook on life is not only reflected in the rich mixture of flavours, styles, and cultural influences we taste in the various dishes served to us throughout the rest of our stay – I see it in every part of the lodge’s design. Walking through its many unique spaces, my senses move back and forth between the African continent, the Mediterranean and a bit of England. Past and present unite in a mix of harmoniously combined pieces of antique and contemporary furniture and decoration.
The mix of styles is a result of Vicky’s family history, which is one of globalisation and cross-continental romances across generations and classes. She is the daughter of a mixed-race father and mother, who together brought up thirteen children, each one of them with bits and pieces of English aristocracy, Bemba royalty, with Scottish and Malawian ancestry in their genes.
On my last night, sitting by the fire in the lodge’s lounge area, sipping on a glass of Shiraz, I ask Vicky what she wants for this little piece of paradise. Her answer is simple, “I want people to come and treat themselves in this oasis I’ve created. It’s a haven and people must come and enjoy every bit of it.”
When I step on board of the speedboat the next day to make my way back to Mpulungu, I feel rejuvenated and content in the kind of way that can only be achieved when both body and soul have been generously nourished. With joy in my heart, I think back to the spectacular hike to the falls, quiet afternoons by the lake, that glass of wine in the warm breeze during sunset while cruising by neighbouring villages, intimate dinners under the stars and I feel grateful.