When reading guide books, or delving into the world of Google, Lake Kivu is described as the ‘Resort’ area of Rwanda. Beachside style towns, well equipped lodges and swimming areas, all denote a decidedly Mediterranean image. And so one travels to these beachside locations, expecting ice cream parlors and sun loungers strewn along a golden sand beach.
Not quite the reality of the Lake Kivu area. It’s way nicer than that!
Are there resorts with jet skis, swim up pool bars and blue and white striped sun loungers? No.
What there is, is a lakeshore coastline that boasts incredible views, as far as the Congo, if the haze allows. Winding mountain passes join towns along the Congo Nile Trail, each one a small fishing community, surrounded by terraced farmland, leading down onto the shores of the beautiful lake waters. Pied Kingfishers live in communities along the waters edge, and otters are often found meandering along the banks.
All of this takes place amongst small fishing villages, pristinely clean and orderly. Not a thing out of place, not so much as a piece of rubbish of the floor.
But by far the most amazing aspect of the Lake Kivu region is the fishing that takes place. Fishing is obviously not unusual, nor is the concept of boats going out in the evening and returning in the morning. But the Lake Kivu communities are unique in the most special of ways.
Each evening at around 5pm groups of 3 long canoes depart from the coastal fishing villages, each containing 3 to 4 men. On the bow and stern of each canoe long bamboo poles are affixed, giving these small fleets an almost Viking appearance.
There are no engines here. Only pure and simple man power. They row, miles out into the lake, right over to the border with the Congo, perhaps even across the invisible line that separates these countries. And in order to keep time with their rowing, and to appease their superstitions, they sing all the way. As these canoes glide past, the melodic sound of men singing and whistling to keep time fills the skies all around the lake. It is a hauntingly beautiful sound and one that this writer will remember forever.
On arrival at their fishing position for the evening, the men cease their singing and set to work. They light kerosene lanterns and hang them from the ends of the long poles, to attract the fish. Suddenly from the darkness of the night, spring tiny sparkling lights that glitter across the water to where we sit on shore. The twinkling of fireflies in the night, far far away. It is a magical, mystical vision and feels more like Christmas than a working night for simple fishing folk.
In the morning, after sunrise, and until as late as 8:30am, these small fishing flotillas return, singing their way home. Their wives stand on shore waiting for their return, and to take the night’s haul and sell them at the markets. It is the most basic and yet wonderful example of subsistence living, and it felt somehow intimate, being there to witness this extraordinary way of accomplishing something so very ordinary.