Gisenyi and Lake Kivu

Screeeeeeeech.  Rewind way back to the beginning of August.  This is when I took my first trip outside the city limits of Kigali.  This will be old news to those of you who have seen some photos on Facebook, but I hope it’s new to someone!  Soon, I will be blogging in real time.

The first weekend of August, I took a weekend trip outside of Kigali, to the lakeside town of Gisenyi. Gisenyi is one of several towns along the shore of Rwanda’s largest body of water, Lake Kivu.  About three hours outside the capital, the drive to Lake Kivu is the perfect reminder of why Rwanda is called “the land of a thousand hills.”  The roads wind in every direction up, down, and around the mountains which grow taller as you head northwest of Kigali.  This path also gives you a perfect self-guided tour of some beautiful scenery with mountaintops in every direction, streams and waterfalls, and sprawling tea plantations.  As you as you move closer to Lake Kivu, you can begin to see that some of these mountains are in fact, volcanoes.  Allegedly dormant in Rwanda, this range of volcanoes formed along the East African Rift and spans Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC.

One of the Virunga volcanoes up ahead as we drive through a small town.
One of the Virunga volcanoes up ahead as we drive through a small town.

This underground volcanic activity likely plays a role in earning Lake Kivu its designation as an “exploding lake.” The lake periodically releases large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, and on a larger timescale, has experienced several complete turnovers that has caused mass extinctions of aquatic life in the lake.  Some worry that if this were to occur again in modern times, it would have a devastating effect on the two million people living in and around the lake basin.  Engineers are still trying to find a feasible means of mitigating this risk.  It’s not all danger and doom, though.  The Rwandan government is working with some outside agencies on a large scale methane gas extraction that will result in a massive increase in Rwanda’s electricity-generating capabilities.

All that said…I did not witness any methane extractions or lake explosions.  Mostly, I relaxed beachside, collected seashells (lakeshells?), and spent a lot of time eating and enjoying the scenery.  I chickened out from swimming in the slightly chilly water due to my possibly unwarranted fear of schistosomiasis. Maybe next time.  From the beach you could see fishing boats head out at dusk, presumably on the hunt for sardines or sambaza, which feed many local people, and in turn, the local economy.  Yet that was another thing I wasn’t quite brave enough to try that weekend. …Maybe next time.

Catching sambaza
Catching sambaza
Relaxing on the beach
Relaxing on the beach
I was there, too!
I was there, too!

Across Lake Kivu sits the Democratic Republic of Congo, but you don’t have to take a long swim to get there.  Just a few minutes down the road from Gisenyi, you can drive across the border to Goma, DRC.  As our cars approached the area, the border guards perked up, waved to us happily, and motioned for us to come on over, like we were just casually being invited in for a snack.  The current State Department travel advisories, but mostly the fact that my passport was sitting in an office somewhere with Rwanda Immigration Authorities awaiting a work permit kept me from exercising poor judgment that day. Maybe next time?

– Colleen

Bonus videos below:

One comment

  1. good luck and stay safe. It was a pleasure reading your blog. It was linked to our new rockville newsletter.Keep posting.

    Durgaa Ankem

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