Travel to Lake Kivu
Today we rode four hours to Lake Kivu to the West in Gisenyi on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As soon as we left Kigali, we climbed into the mountains through beautiful terrain. The views were spectacular, particularly the range of volcanoes that ring the area. This part of Rwanda is the most fertile because of the volcanic ash in the area and is almost completely farmed to the top of the many steep ridges with terraced fields of vegetables, tea, corn and other crops. The area is densely populated with narrow footpaths winding up the houses perched on the sides of the hills. We passed through many villages with small stalls with people selling their wares: potatoes, carrots, charcoal, and other vegetables. There were tailors, a bicycle shop, saw mill, and other small repair shops along the way. We passed a goat market and many overloaded bicycles and people carrying loads on their heads. Each district we passed through had schools and health centers, which looked new and many of the homes had electricity and maybe not running water, but a local water source. One had the water jugs lined up waiting for the water truck.
New shop fronts – much construction! Newer “middle class” homes – very nice!
In may ways, the ride was the most beautiful of all we have seen in Rwanda so far, but I was struck by how hard people have to work to survive. We have heard about the many programs that have been instituted to help Rwandans get on their feet with education, health care, financial literacy and psychosocial assistance to assist them with genocide trauma. I am painfully aware of how much is needed in this densely populated country.
We arrived in Lake Kivu and are staying at a beautiful hotel right on the lake. Lake Kivu is 61 miles long and is one of the deepest lakes in the world at over 1200 feet and produces methane gas at the bottom, which is pumped up by rigs out in the lake. Apparently it doesn’t affect the water. We took a short boat ride out onto the lake which was a little choppy and the boat started taking in water from the spray, so we turned around much to the relief of our group!
View from our room and an attempt at a panorama shot
We took a walk along the lake, which is absolutely beautiful – full of tropical plants and blooms. I appreciate all the plants that we grow as house plants sprawling all over! Between the birds, bats, lake and flora, it feels like a tropical paradise.
Within about twenty minutes, we were at the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was one of the largest crossing points during the genocide for refugees. Today it is a calm check point with what appears to be regular passing of day workers. The DRC looms to the west of Rwanda and in some ways is a huge problem because they still harbor perpetrators of the genocide who still cause problems for the Rwandan government. The DRC government is very corrupt and threatens the stability of Volcanoes national park where we will visit the gorillas on Monday. The Rwandan park is part of a large park, Virunga, which is mostly in the DRC and also in Uganda. The corruption in DRC has allowed illegal mining of gold and diamonds as well as charcoal production in the park which is decimating it. This along with a terrible reputation for the treatment of women and rampant rape, make the DRC a tenuous neighbor to Rwanda.
Our evening consisted with a speaker from Point d’Ecoute (Listening Point), an NGO that was established to help refugee children and their families reunite during the crisis. Today it works with street children and assisting families who are marginalized. The funding comes from Save our Children, but as many of these organizations are, they face the threat of discontinuation because of lack of support.
We ended our evening celebrating Sylvia’s birthday overlooking the lake!