Cycling (some of) the Congo Nile Trail to Lake Kivu
Despite having recently updated the profile picture a fortnight earlier at an open volcano, I felt it was prudent to keep up momentum in my pursuit of a decent profile pic.
Monday was to be the equivalent of a bank holiday giving us a long weekend to explore other regions in the country.
Around Saturday lunchtime myself, Olly, Marcus and Olivia jumped in the car and headed west towards Lake Kivu.
Lake Kivu is one of Africa’s Great Lakes and is shared 58:42 between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
From a science perspective it’s quite interesting, but also a little scary.
You see there is a geological phenomenon called a “limnic eruption” which Lake Kivu is particularly susceptible to.
I’m writing this from the frontiers of my chemical comprehension but from I gather the water in the lake is rich with carbon dioxide which, coupled with the fact it’s in a volcanic region, poses a bit of a problem.
At some point there might be an eruption/ earthquake/ heavy rainstorm which disturbs the lake’s equilibrium causing it burp up a big cloud of carbon dioxide. It’s a bit like the fizz in a can of soft drink: the CO2 lives in the liquid, but once the pressure changes it turns into bubbles and heads out into the atmosphere.
As CO2 is denser than oxygen it sits below it in the sky and so a big cloud of lake belch would push away the lovely air we breathe and replace it with poisonous fumes.
The triggers of limnic eruptions are unknown and so scientists are a little concerned that it could just happen at any time and no one would really realise until it was all too late…
Anyway, even after this crash course in meromictic lakology we were undeterred and decided to crack on and go for a day long bike ride through its nearby hills.
Arriving at the city of Kibuye about halfway down the Rwanda edge of the lake we parked up the car and checked into our hotel (Home Saint Jean) an old church that looks out upon the water.
Over a swift beer during dusk we discussed ideal international house locations and then headed off for dinner.
The small country of Burundi (which borders Rwanda to the south) has, from what I gather, a disproportionately high production of frogs legs.
By my very crude calculation they could be the world’s largest per capita exporter of the stuff.
Anyway, two portions of the premier dish had arrived in front of us (doused in a delicious buttery garlic sauce) as we continued our interesting conversations for the evening. By this point we were contemplating who, in an alternative life, we would have been set up with if arranged marriages were still a thing.
In contrast to most meals I’d had in the country so far, we ate our food with wine.
Import duties are incredibly high for wine in Rwanda and across the region. With the majority of the population not contributing to the tax bill, charging flush foreigners for their bottles of cab sav seems an equitable means to top up the country’s coffers.
Here though (at Cormoran Lodge) a litre carafe of wine was reasonably priced at £12 and so we took up the opportunity to not have our food with the staple refreshment of beer.
We passed time pondering if there could be technological advancements in the divorce insurance market, the future of hospitality in the region, and the practicalities of cycling through national parks.
As is custom here, we were all in bed by 10pm and got rested before the day ahead.
Our guide arrived at around 8.30am, by which point we’d had breakfast, applied sun cream and undertaken some precautionary plymetric lunges.
Chatting through our options for the day, the best choice seemed to be to take a boat up the lake and then cycle back south along something called the Congo Nile Trail, for roughly 50km.
We passed time waiting for the boat by attempting yoga positions and playing an expansive game of catch, both to the bemusement/wonder of the kids out exploring on this sunny Sunday morning.
Around 10am we disembarked onto a lakeside beach, and then began to make our way inland in search of the trail.
There was some minor bicycle maintenance to undertake and after a push and a sweat we were up on the relatively well-trodden path of the Congo Nile Trail.
Salutations are a funny thing in this part of the world.
There are a few stock phrases all kids are brought up on and they like to test them out whenever a mzungu/”moo-zun-goo” (foreigner) is passing by.
The ones I hear most are:
- Good morning
- How are you?
- I’m fine
2. and 3. are used pretty interchangeably in what often ends up being a sing-song back and forth between the excitable child and the heaving cyclist.
1. is used at all times of the day as a catch-all greeting. Even as dusk approached we would consistently be wished a “Good morning!” to which we’d say thank you.
Many of these interactions happened throughout the day as we climbed through dusty paths and then raced round gravelly bends on the descent.
Our presence was acknowledged in two primary manners:
Cows going “moo”
Kids going “moo-zun-goo”
The latter would have genuine excitement/ confusion/ delight at seeing “a mzungu!” and invariably cause their friends to join the frenzy and run along too.
After a particularly blissful twenty minutes of freewheeling through some beautiful hills we found ourselves stopping to eat bananas and gathering a crowd.
We conducted the formalities of name exchange with a few farmers and a flock of young children as we caught our breath and rehydrated.
Up the road was a village where we bought some supplies and then got on the bikes to go up the hill and around the corner. Although all that we found was another hill and another corner.
This sequence of hills and corners continued for about an hour and a half as we used a combination of pedal and pushing power to get ourselves to the top.
I passed the time at one stage playing a game with some local children which involved pushing around a tyre with a stick. I’m not sure of the name of this game, but I was distinctly below average.
After confirming directions with the one francophone in one of the villages we believed the main road to be “just at the top of that hill” and so gritted our teeth and went for the peak.
The Chinese have an interesting relationship with Rwanda.
Rwanda is hungry for foreign investment, and China has capital to deploy meaning that the two are working hard to find mutually beneficial projects. China has expertise in manufacturing/ infrastructure, and in response Rwanda is able to export some natural resources.
The medium of exchange seems to be tin for roads
For this reason I was surprised, but not mindblown, to see a guy in a Chinese hat patrolling up the dirt road which was being constructed.
A few others were along the way, keeping an eye on the Rwandan workers digging away at the road surface and driving the odd JCB.
As compensation for our long old slog up we were able to whizz down through this soon-to-be-finished highway, only occasionally needing to stop for heavy machinery to pass.
At the foot of one of these winding sections we stopped to gawp at the scenery, and document our journey in the form of a potential profile pic.
There was no one on hand to take it, so we just have a team pic minus Olly.
We had a bit more dirt road left allowing Olly to exercise some of his inner Motocross yearnings and before long we found ourselves on tarmac.
I find always find it a little depressing going up and then down hills on a bike.
It was roughly 16km back to base along the tarmac stretch, I’d say evenly split between uphill and downhill.
Going uphill easily took five times as long, and then when you want to enjoy the downhill jubilation it’s over all too quickly.
To overcome this inevitability we kept ourselves entertained by Marcus’ pocket radio on the up bits, and increased our air resistance when gliding down hill (think of the “I’m flying Jack” scene from Titanic).
The equivalent “I can see the sea!” moment occurred as Lake Kivu appeared above the brow of a hill and it was then less than 20 minutes until we completed a last few ups and downs and parked up the bikes back at the hotel.
Filthy from the dust, tired from the climbing and sore from the saddle, we all agreed that the best remedy would be to get to the lakeside and jump right in. It was a short drive to the diving ledge and after a quick splash we relaxed with a cold beer to watch the sun set.
And then, something unexpected happened.
I’ve been in Africa for over a fortnight now, and the idea of rain has been completely absent from my consciousness.
When heading out for the day I don’t even register that it could be an idea to take a jumper, let alone a rain jacket, and my first reaction to hearing a crack of thunder when down by the lake was that a bulldozer was approaching (probably due to all this chat about road construction).
As it was though, the first African raindrop hit me on my leg through the car window as we left the lake at around 6pm and just over an hour later the heavens opened so forcefully that the restaurant we were sat in experienced several temporary black outs whilst we were waiting for our food.
With our Lake Kivu fish and chips on the way, we kept ourselves entertained trying to decipher the rules of fencing from the Olympic coverage, and watching a toddler finding insatiable enjoyment from running around a circular table, often succumbing to centrifugal force.
Come morning we packed up, checked out and retraced our route back to Kigali in time to complete our various life admin before the beginning of the working week.
Perhaps it’s just the people who seem to find themselves in Rwanda at the moment, but it certainly seems to be “a thing” that at weekends you just jump in a car and head out to find a decent profile pic.
Olly gave off the impression (though this could just be humility) that it was all relatively straightforward to organise, but either way, all the factors (transport, proximity, price, companions) seem to converge towards making the most of the surrounding areas.
The other thing we took from the trip was the scope for development in this part of the world. Lake Kivu is (in my opinion) fundamentally a stunning place, and with an improved road network, it seems that it will surely only be a matter of time before people from further afield will come to see, and need somewhere to stay.
With this analysis, the question then becomes – why wouldn’t you buy up some land here and reap the benefits in years to come?
And so on that note, anyone with spare capital to invest in hospitality in emerging markets, please do get in touch…