“A man on his motorcycle racing through the hilly Rwandan countryside, that’s how this story starts. Speeding and cutting corners as she goes, the motorcycle and her rider stir the thousands of palm leaves in het hands of the pedestrians who walk along side the road, heading for church. It’s Palm Sunday and the amalgam of rider and motorcycle are heading from Kigali to the border town of Rubavu (formerly known as Gisenyi), the Rwandese sister city of Goma (RDC). The rider is traveling towards the first destination of his new adventure: Following in the wake of the abarobyi, the traditional fishermen of lake Kivu, by crossing the lake from north to south in a traditional pirogue…”
How does one conceive the idea of rowing across a lake in the middle of Africa in a shabby, little boat? Very simple, having an attraction towards adventure but most of all; being enchanted by the men who harvest everyday whatever ‘s beneath the water level of Lake Kivu, the abarobyi. The first time I encountered them was about a year ago. It was my first weekend getaway, a month after my arrival as a fresh, green expat in Rwanda. The destination was a little lodge close to Kibuye, a fisherman’s town just in middle of the Kivu shore, between the lake border towns, Gisenyi (north) and Cyangugu (South).
Early in the morning, awoken by rhythmic singing I opened the window and stepped on the balcony of my room to find out where the sound was coming from. There I saw the fishermen of Lake Kivu for the first time. The sound waves of their singing, shouting and whistling, to keep their rhythm whilst rowing, resonated over the whole green bay, making its way over the flat, silent water towards my balcony, giving the impression they were rowing just in front of me.
In the intensifying light of the upcoming sun I saw their rhythmic body movements in their outrigger canoes, the peddles in – out the water, their dark backs going forward and back. After a night out fishing on the lake they were returning home with the yield of a nights work. They were brining back home the Isambaza, anchovies-like fish, which most fishermen in other parts of the world would frown upon. That moment on the balcony enchanted me. I also wanted to be in their rhythm. I also wanted to row, feel the small breeze and hear the bow cleaving through the calm lake water… ,
Thus far the poetic approach to the idea.
From a more practical point of view, it is important to mention that the Kivu Lake is one of the only lakes in East-Africa that ‘s not crocodile and hippo infested, making it one of the safest places to peddle in the region. (yes, hippo’s are after humans and mosquitos the biggest killers on the African continent!). But that’s the only positive part, it is true that there are some downsides about the lake too: First of all there’s a huge amount of methane and carbon-dioxide stocked underneath the lake, with an enormous energy potential, but it’s also with a latent danger to it. Every year people die because of carbon-dioxide vents while swimming.
There is also a huge, active volcano (the Nyarogongo) in the north. In 2002 the fire spitting buggar swept away half of Goma city, killing 147 people.
And last but not least, the Kivu area is the location in the world where, according to the National Geographic society, lightening strikes most. Bearing in mind that lightening always looks for the shortest way towards the surface, floating around in a boat on a flat lake surface throughout a thunderstorm puts you in poll-position for the Darwin Awards.
Other than that the lake and its surroundings come quite close to what I would describe as paradise: a very nice, mild climate, beautiful and friendly inhabitants, and a majestic scenery of a thousand green hills and archipelago’s. But then again it can change very quick.
“Life moves very fast. It rushes from Heaven to Hell in a matter of seconds.” – Paulo Coelho
If you want you have the touristic opportunity to come very close to these dangers. You can for example climb the Nyiragongo in DRC and feel the heat of the lava yourself. This is my audio-visual impression of the climb of the volcano:
So what’s the plan exactly?
Easy, crossing lake Kivu in a small fisherman’s pirogue. Following the coastline, the Google maps measuring tool indicates roughly 120 Nautical kilometres between Gisenyi and Cyangugu, good for 6-7 days of splashing rowing fun! It ‘s a pure guess that it’s possible to cover 20 km a day, no idea how fast one can go which such a boat, solely driven by manpower.