Mahale Mountains is a place of dreams, and part of the Congo Forest orphaned from the Tanganyika rift some 10 million years ago. The National Park is home to chimpanzees and six other apes, amongst all the many forest creatures who inhabit the forest. Mahale Mountains is part of the western-most border of Tanzania and sits only 40km east of the Congo - an alarming truth when times were so feudal as recently as the last century. Given little more than a few life essentials, some hand tools, an old generator that made more noise than amps and an army of tireless Tongwe, I was asked to create a six-bed castaway island lodge. We had delightful, inspiring evenings on the lake shore; my fag packet doodlings with Roland and Zoe, who owned this tiny part of the wild lake-front and operated the family business with a passion for simplicity and the exploration of true wilderness, described our ideas to strip down and unburden the ever-changing luxury tourism landscape.
Greystoke was built from an invasive tree species spreading through the forest and we cut every beam and post by hand with machetes, walked it to the lake shore and slabbed, planed, and fashioned the joints by hand. The decking timber and exposed timber beams were all trucked for many days across the tsetse ridden west, until they found the shore and eventually the huge cargo dhows of Lake Tanganyika. When those old ships became salvage, we used them as the final part of the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe finish of the lodge. We used 'Taluma' - the ribs of a boat - to make chairs, tables and beds, and the ruined boat boards for panelling and shower cubicles. Water was heated with simply engineered systems that ran on kerosene, which looked like old Amercian truck exhaust stacks. The hot water for the kitchen ran off 'Wanjohi' the stove that bubbled boiling water into an old fuel drum. It was the most essential luxury I have ever experienced and even once we built it, we wished we had done less. The beauty of Mahale and life on the lake is just how far away you are from civilisation, and how happy you can be with almost nothing.