My Singita Pamushana experience begins at OR Tambo, when, approaching the check-in desk, the hostess greets me by name, whisks me past the
immigration queues to the VIP desk and tells me not to be late for boarding. For two hours, the Pilatus swims over puffy clouds, then bucks down to Buffalo
Range airfield. Forty-five minutes after clearing immigration, we arrive at the gates of Malilangwe, a 52 609ha nature reserve bordering Gonarezhou National Park in southeastern Zimbabwe.
We get out of the vehicle and walk under the bough of a rock fig that curves over us like a welcoming arch. We have arrived at Singita Pamushana. I have never been here before but it feels like a homecoming of sorts – the chorus of crickets and an emerald-spotted wood dove’s chortles are wondrously familiar.
When the smoky orange sky has turned ashen blue, I walk down to my room – more of a house, really, with Great Zimbabwe-style walls and topped with thatch. The interior is a riot of African geometrics and lush textures, with graphic elements from all over the continent – capulana, kente, kikoi. When I return to the main deck for dinner, it is studded with brightly glowing lanterns. The meal is princely – ham croquettes to begin with (along with freshly baked bread), then roast quail with porcini foam, all washed down liberally with Paul Cluver Chardonnay.
Next morning our Land Cruiser is bumping down from the lodge through the charcoal dawn. Giraffe silhouettes pierce the mist as the sun rises, their necks thwacking against each other. Later, we’re surrounded by a breeding herd of elephants. In the mid-afternoon, a flat-bottomed boat putters us over to a spot on the lake where bream is known to congregate. I’m handed a fishing rod – the first time I’ve held one in years. I spend at least an hour casting into the blue-gold without success.
Occasionally the line tangles or the worm escapes the hook. Frustration mounts: I steal jealous glances at the bucket my two other companions are smugly filling with slick, flickering fish. We move to another spot, a Zambezi beer helping to numb the rising feelings of inadequacy. I cast again – and
there’s a tug! I reel in. Photographs and smiles all round. Before we head back for dinner, I snare another two more – happier than a kid at a funfair.
Leaving Pamushana after three nights feels particularly difficult – and not merely because it’s a beautiful place where you’re pampered silly. Indeed, when I reflect on my visit, what comes flooding back is not just memories of chef Shane Ellis’s exquisitely yummy food or the attentive staff, or the wildlife. There’s also a sense of awe at what is being achieved here to protect this remarkable place for generations to come.
The profit from the lodge is ploughed back into the Malilangwe Trust, a non-profit organisation guided by an ethos that acknowledges community development as an essential part of conservation. With Shepherd Mawire, the community projects co-ordinator, I visited school and clinic buildings the trust has built, passed boreholes it had sunk and witnessed children being given a meal. This is a blueprint for the future of conservation, one that is uplifting, inclusive – and filled with promise.