MALAWI: April 2018

James Lightfoot, a tall, blonde Englishman appears to love his lifestyle. Co-owner of Kaya Mawa on Likoma Island, a Malawian outpost that lies in the Mozambican-owned waters of Lake Malawi, he is also co-founder of Latitude Hotels.

A backpacker in the ’80s and ’90s, like myself, he wanted to recreate the experience for that generation of travellers now that they had ‘grown up’. Although, we both agree, we haven’t really grown up.

Explaining the concept behind the resort, James says: “The backpacker generation want to go back to their travelling days, but now they want comfort and luxury – somewhere they can bring their family to – while maintaining a feel for the place.

Each room is big enough to house an army. Built around boulders, each boasts a different design and a walkway down to the Lake.

“I guess you’d call it shabby chic, but maybe that’s a bit of a cliché,” James laughs. “How about rustic chic?”

Later that day we bump into James again, this time at his home, Ndomo House, which he rents out to those who desire even more seclusion than Kaya Mawa offers.

It’s not in a bad spot. The luxurious four-bedroomed property opens up on to a private beach, with all the necessary equipment for enjoying the water stored under the house.

As he shows us around, he apologises that his wife and kids aren’t there to meet us.

“My wife has gone shopping,” he says.

“Where?” I ask, there not being a shopping mall anywhere nearby.

“India,” he replies.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. I’d have put my money on Lilongwe; Jo’burg as an outside bet.

Something to crow about

Some pied crows fly above us, stopping James in his tracks. He indicates that they are becoming a bit of a menace as their population grows out of control.

“Pied crows are protected because [it is believed] they showed people to the Promised Land, or something like that, but they chase off and kill other birds.”

James’ affection for Malawi and its people is infectious. “I have to tell you this story,” he enthuses. “During the last election there was a protest about the sugar price. The leader of the protest went to see the government official and told him ‘We are going to have a protest’. The official said, ‘No you’re not’. The protest leader replied ‘OK’ and it didn’t happen.” 

Only in Malawi, you feel.

He is on a roll now. We are talking about some of his employees’ names. “We have a Lobert,” says James. “[The locals] often have a problem with the letters ‘L’ and ‘R’, mixing them up.”

I feel another story coming on. I’m not wrong. “I asked one employee to paint the rudder on our boat,” he says. “Later, I noticed that the rudder remained unpainted, so when I saw him I asked him if he had painted it yet. ‘Oh yes,’ he said and he took me to see it. He’d painted the ladder.”

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