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Majestic Malawi

Bridget Connelly

When we left Uganda early, and I mean early for Malawi, we were exhausted and maybe regretting the last one or two drinks we consumed the night before. Although, through the baggy eyes, and tired bodies, we could all feel the thrill and anticipation of adventuring through a new foreign place together. We had heard Malawi was different in some ways then Uganda— smaller, quieter, more country then city, but we didn't know quite what to expect when we arrived a few flights later...

I will never be able to accurately describe in words what Malawi was like— the gracious people, stunning country sides, and awe-inspiring natural beauty encompassing this place. It left all of our hearts a bit altered. On our first night, we stayed in the relatively slow-paced, yet busy Lilongwe with dear friends, Tim, EJ and Johnny. Here we were able to get outdoors and exercise, enjoy a delicious meal together and get a good night's sleep. The ideal evening we were all in need of. In the morning we were on to our last excursion all together: Lake Malawi.

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Meghan and I ventured with a driver to our resort in Lake Malawi before the boys were able too, as they had work commitments. On our drive we talked life, but mostly sat in long silences while we observed the communities, villages, and long stretches of what looked to be untouched surroundings. Life appeared much harder the farther away we drove from the main town, Lilongwe. There were several orphanages, people of all ages and sizes working, and families packed on top of each other in open air trucks. The conjunction of the rolling lush hills and extreme poverty can be emotionally challenging. Our drives and talks, throughout our time in Africa, left a mark on us all.

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A few wrong turns and long, dusty, dirty roads later we arrived at a hidden gate. That's the thing about Africa, there aren't a ton of signs for directions — it's mostly a game of find that landmark. We finally found that long awaited gate entrance. Behind it was our boat, with staff, waiting to take us to the Island! After the hot bumpy ride, we were doing a happy dance — literally skipping and jumping all the way to the boat. Matt, one of the managers at the resort, and his crew pointed out to a tiny Island in the distance. That's where we were headed. They loaded up our bags, while we got a tad soaking wet. We didn't care in the slightest — I mean we were Island Bound in Malawi after all. Then we took off! I could feel our smiles increasing by the minute, the closer we got to the Island. As we pulled into the dock, we saw the magical place that would become home the next few days: The Blue Zebra Island Lodge.

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The Blue Zebra Island Lodge will go down as one of the most serene and blissful trips of my life.  When we got off the boat, we met the other sweet sweet manager, Estelle and the bartender, who would become one of our great friends (not just because we like to booze!), named Brian. Brian had two hibiscus tea cocktails waiting for us and flowers. Yes please! Meghan and I for sure thought we peaked on our honeymoon together, sorry future husbands (fingers crossed!). They brought us to our chalet, perched right on the shore of Lake Malawi. Our chalet was essentially a fancy tent. Although that doesn’t quite do it justice. Our rooms opened up to the glass-like Lake Malawi. At night we listened to the waves crash against the rocks below. We could hear hippos in the distance. The screened in shower was made of stone and enclosed by nature on all sides. It felt like rinsing off in the jungle — a personal favorite of Terrence Connelly's! We quickly put our suits on and wind sprinted down to the pool. It was cocktail time!

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The weather was perfect. From what we learned, it is like that most every day of the year. We settled up next to the pool bar with Brian and ordered up some mojitos. Then we cooled down in the refreshing pool overlooking Lake Malawi, and tried to contain our giddiness as we waited for the boys to arrive. Finally, in the distance we saw a boat coming in with Terr and Greg. I could feel them beaming from the water. The team was back together and we knew the next few days were going to be absolutely unforgettable.

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I don't know if we spent more time on land or in the water in our time there. In the mornings we swam out to the lighthouse, we snorkeled, we jumped off the dock, we kayaked, wakeboarded, skiied, sunbathed and  played in the pool. All around we felt completely energized and invigorated at being in and around this body of water. We made bonfires at night, went on adventure walks around the island during the day, somewhat regularly drank top notch cocktails from our buddy Brian, ate 3 course meals at all meals, and just in case we weren't relaxed enough, received the most soothing massages in the afternoons. The outstanding staff at Blue Zebra, is really what sets this lodge above the rest. Whether it's a server, a guard, a masseuse or manager — everyone is actually passionate about what they do. They were excited about their jobs and taking superb care of us. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing their smiling, thoughtful faces and getting to know everyone day in and day out.

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What is truly marvelous about Lake Malawi are the sunsets and sunrises. I have never in my life seen anything like it. Before the sun set each night, the sky began to illuminate with a plethora of colors. It started blue, then yellow, then orange, then pink and purple. The lower the sun went, the more colors filled up the sky. Even after the sun went down, the colors became more loud and vibrant. Each night we found ourselves, drinks in hand, sun-kissed (or burnt), in our sandy bathing suit bodies, in utter disbelief at what we were viewing in all directions. It was as if God was saying He still had more to show us! We all felt an extreme amount of gratitude and contentment in these meaningful moments.

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Every night we played “Rose, Bud, Thorn” while in Africa. Everyone would state their Rose: The best part of the day, Bud: What we learned or a new experience, and our Thorn: The least favorite part of the day. The game became a way to reconnect each night, plus take in what we were all processing and discovering.  Needless to say, we all agreed in unison our “thorn” on our last night, was leaving each other and this paradise.

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As Nelson Mandela’s quote states, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” In many places and ways, Africa is unchanged. Rooted in culture, rooted in circumstances where they have not been able to be in the “modern times,” rooted in their beliefs, and so forth. In some ways this is good and other ways obviously not. But there is something about being there that works on my heart in ways no other place has before. I think I speak for our group, that we left those countries, very tired, but also enlivened from rich experiences, deep connections, and full altered hearts. We’ll see you again soon, Africa.