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Weekend 3: Lake Kivu!

For our third weekend in Rwanda, we travelled up north to the town of Gisenyi, which is about three and a half hours away from Kigali. Gisenyi is a popular weekend location because it borders the beautiful Lake Kivu, so our Friday afternoon bus was especially crowded. One of us luckily got a window spot, but the other was stuck talking to a perfectly friendly Rwandan gentleman who unfortunately did not understand the concept of personal space while conversing. We arrived in Gisenyi around 7:00, and journeyed to our hostel for the night: Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel. Discover was right on the lake, and it was bustling with travelers like us. We ordered dinner at the hostel, and while we were waiting for our food (which was quite a while) we met several people who all had cool stories. We met two women who were staying at Discover for the night before they headed into the Congo to hike the live volcano, Nyragongo, the next morning. We told them to look out for our two GHI friends who were doing the same hike that very day! We also met a consultant from England who was approaching his last week in Rwanda, a microfinance volunteer from Canada who was about to continue his journey around Africa, and two American bikers who were about to embark on the two-day trip down the Congo-Nile trail from Gisenyi to Kabuye, another Rwandan town along the coast of Lake Kivu. We told them about our kayak trip that we were about to start in the morning (more on that in a minute), and everyone was very jealous. I guess we all had pretty cool weekend activities!

We had booked a two-day kayak trip along Lake Kivu with Kingfisher Journeys, which involved starting in Gisenyi and ending in Cyimbili, a town 10 km away, and then completing the return trip the following day. We were very excited, but when we woke up on Saturday morning, what did we find? RAIN! It is the dry season in Rwanda, and there hadn’t been a single drop of rain during the day in the entire three weeks that we’d been in the country. But of course, the one day we are planning to spend our entire day kayaking on a lake, it decides to be rainy, gloomy, and cold. At our start location, we met the other members of our group: Hilary, Leah, and Francis. Francis was our guide, and he was awesome. Hilary was a Peace Corps Volunteer and had been living in Rwanda for a little over a year. Leah was her best friend from college who had come to visit her. Together, the five of us made up a really fun crew.

Day 1 in Gisenyi

At around 9:30 in the morning, we set off into the gloom (luckily it had stopped raining), and kayaked along the coast, with Francis pointing out key features. We stopped at a hot spring, which Francis explained has a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius, and can boil an egg in 3 minutes. There were many shirtless Rwandan men hanging around the hot spring, and many of them were excited to see us. Hilary can speak pretty decent Kinyarwanda, so she would respond to them and call them out on some of their comments. They were pretty surprised, and it was very funny.

We spent the rest of the morning paddling and getting to know one another. Francis told us funny stories about uncooperative tourists that he has had to deal with, Hilary told us stories about her village and her job, and Leah told us stories about her and Leah’s college experiences. We stopped at an island for lunch and had delicious vegetable sandwiches, coffee, and cookies. We hung out on the island for about an hour before continuing on our kayak journey. Soon, we had reached the coffee islands. We paddled around these massive islands completely covered in already-harvested coffee trees. One of Rwandan’s main agricultural products is coffee, so it was really cool to see the trees, especially in such a beautiful setting. Right at the end of our trip, with the guesthouse we were staying at for the night in sight, it started to clear up and the sun came out. Hilary jumped in the water, which looked really nice, but Caitlin and I were tentative because Lake Kivu has parasites (apparently you’re safe if you are deep enough, but we weren’t convinced). Finally, around 3:00, we arrived in Cyimbili to a very, small welcoming guesthouse.

Exploring Lake Kivu on kayaks

Hilary and Leah were in the mood for some beer, and they didn’t have any at the guest house, so we ventured out into the surrounding villages. After about a 15-minute trek of steep uphill incline, we arrived at a tiny opening which had one small bar. Luckily, we had Hilary’s Kinyarwanda to help us, and we got beers and became friends with some friendly local guys who thought it was the most hilarious thing in the world that they were hanging in their local bar with a couple of white girls. When we eventually walked back down to the guesthouse, the sun was setting, and we had the most incredible view of Lake Kivu and the coffee islands. The rest of the night involved a delicious Rwandan buffet (Leah’s first one), good conversation, and an early bedtime. This proved a little difficult for us because right before we were about to go to sleep, Caitlin saw a mouse in our room, which freaked us both out a solid amount. Other than that, everything was great!

The beautiful sunset overlooking Lake Kivu and the coffee islands in Cyimbili

The next morning, we set out in our kayaks at 8:30 a.m. to try to make it back to Gisenyi to catch a bus back to Kigali at a decent time. We passed a bunch of fishermen in large boats and kids along the shore. They called out to us and a couple of them jumped into the water and started swimming after our boats. We were too fast though 🙂 It was a lot warmer and sunnier today, and we kayaked a lot faster, so it was definitely a workout. We arrived back at our starting location in Gisenyi around 12:30. After exchanging contact information with Francis, and thanking him profusely for an excellent time, we left with Hilary and Leah to grab lunch and then a bus.

At the cafe, they were extremely busy and they told us our takeout sandwiches would take 40 minutes. Although that was not ideal, we decided to wait. While we were waiting, we ran into the two women who we had met on Friday at Discover who were hiking the volcano! They told us about their trip and showed us pictures. Then we asked if they were driving back to Kigali, which they were, and through that exchange we managed to get offered a ride back! Unfortunately our sandwiches did not take 40 minutes, they took double that time, but at least we had secured a means of getting back to Kigali. Melanie and Ailee, the two women, were both really awesome. They were both ex-Peace Corp Volunteers who were now living in Rwanda, so they and Hilary had a lot to talk about. It was a great car ride full of conversations about Peace Corps scandals, experiences with traffic police, Rwandan and other African adventures, and more. It was a great end to a great weekend. We were sad to say goodbye to Hilary and Leah, but luckily we might see them next weekend because we both happen to have the same travel plan to Akegara National Park. Stay tuned!

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