Jean-Claude – ‘Batman!’

There is a lovely circular walk which follows Kibuye’s one –way system and affords beautiful views across Lake Kivu.

As is always the case in Rwanda there is a never-ending stream of people walking at the side of the road. I always go out of my way to greet them in Kinyarwanda and in most cases they respond with a smile, pleased that a muzungu has made the effort to use their language.

However at Lake Kivu, an area that has received a lot of international aid, there seems to be an expectation, perhaps born of this, that muzungu equals money. I was regularly approached by children and women holding their hands out and saying, “Give me money/argent/ amafaranga,” (just to cover all bases!)

I was also approached, in a friendly and polite way, by a number of young men offering boat excursions on the lake. Given that it is low season, they are trying to scrape a living at the moment and eventually I relented and agreed a deal with Jean-Claude.

His wooden boat with a canopy and bench seating for 30 odd people was moored near the Golfe Eden Rock, an up market hotel where I’d stopped off for breakfast overlooking the lake. It had an outboard, oars in case of an emergency, and most importantly life jackets.

I agreed what I thought was a one hour  jaunt on the lake passing close to  two nearby islands; Napoleon’s Island, so named because its shape resembles his hat, and Amahoro (Peace Island).  I was the only passenger so 20,000 RWF (£20) for a personalised tour seemed a decent enough deal.

It was bright and pleasantly warm as we set course for Napoleon’s hat, which as is always the case was further than it looked. It was close on an hour by the time we arrived at the base of the island where to my surprise Jean-Claude tied up the boat and indicated that I should get off.

I had not been expecting to land on the island and could have done without the steep ascent towards its summit, clambering over rocks, following little more than a precipitous goat track. After climbing for half an hour or so, in what was now quite hot sunshine, we approached the top and Jean-Claude signalled for me to stop.

The reason for all this effort was revealed as he picked up a few large rocks and hurled them down into a wooded area clinging to the slope. Thousands of fruit bats ascended, forming a huge black cloud of fluttering wings against a bright blue sky.

Jean-Claude smiled and proudly announced, “Bats, you take photograph!”  After throwing a few more rocks to maximise the effect, we began to work our way back down towards the boat, which eventually spluttered into life,  and we set off across the short distance to Peace Island.

Again I wasn’t expecting to stop, but as JC cut the engine and we coasted towards a landing stage he informed me, “You can get everything here, Fanta, beer, whatever you like!”

After our exertions climbing Napoleon’s hat the sound of a beer was pretty tempting. I invited JC to join me in sitting under a parasol on a small stretch of sand where we were served from a timber built bar/restaurant by the owner, Augustine.  

Jean-Claude was largely French-speaking and his English was just enough to get by whereas Augustine prided himself on his English and was keen to impress. As we drank our Mützig (iconje cyane – very cold) I asked him if he could give me a definitive version of ‘cheers’ in Kinyarwanda.

He scuttled off and returned with a piece of green paper, torn from his receipt book, on which was carefully and boldly written : ‘Kubuzima bwanyu, A votre santé (French), Anjoy yourself.’    

As I was settling the bill Augustine proudly presented his visitors’ book and asked me to sign. I can assure you not too many Englishmen have penned an elegy to the Pleasure Island Beach Bar, in the middle of Lake Kivu!    

My one hour boat trip with Jean-Claude had now extended to a little over three hours and there was just time for one more adventure!

With the mooring spot at the Golfe Eden Rock within sight, but still several hundred yards distant, the outboard coughed its last –  we were out of fuel. I readied myself for paddling the rest of the way but fortunately there was enough current for us to slowly drift towards a couple of boats that were moored at a nearer part of the shoreline, where JC was handed a plastic container with enough fuel to get us safely ashore.

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