In the boat at Nyamyumba: (l-r) Me, Danielle, and Beatriz, with some very
nice fishermen and a 6-year old who posed like a rapper.
The population of wazungu in Gisenyi increased to 3 last weekend, as two of my friends came to visit me--one from Kigali (Beatriz) and the other from Byumba (Danielle). The entire weekend was spent stuffing our faces with food, spending money, and working on our tans. I was responsible for arranging the weekend’s activities, so I decided to bring them to Nyamyumba, a neighboring district a 20-minute drive from Gisenyi.
Situated along the water, Nyamyumba is home to the monstrous Bralirwa brewery, with bright lights, cranes, and fancy vehicles—it seems like it was plucked from the United States and dropped in the middle of a poor lakeside village. It produces most of Rwanda’s beers—the infamous Primus, the fancier Mutzig, and my favorite, Guinness.
You have to arrange a tour in advance, but to be honest, I’ve seen breweries before. We were more interested in the grilled tilapia at Hotel Paradis (rumor has it that it is the best in the country) and trying to find a boat to take us around the bay.
We succeeded in both. I’ve had grilled tilapia in Nyamyumba before, and it’s quite an experience. Fishermen bring their fresh catch up to the riverbank, where it’s placed into a shallow bucket and brought to you. For $2 (sometimes less), you can pick a fresh tilapia, and for 80 cents more, you can have it grilled with spices until the skin is crispy and the meat tender. You can also order fries or grilled plantains on the side, which are delicious when dipped into the hot pili-pili!
The fish I had at Hotel Paradis, for whatever reason, wasn’t as good as I had expected, but I imagine I’ll give it another try in the future. My friends ordered tilapia kebabs, and we all agreed that nothing goes better with grilled tilapia than a Mutzig ikonje (a cold Mutzig).
The Hotel Paradis offers boat lifts out to a tiny island for a fee of $5, which we thought was too much, particularly since the boat looked like it might sink halfway. Instead, we walked down the beach until we reached a fisherman’s wharf of sorts, with tens of fishermen fixing their boats or taking a swim.
There are a couple different types of fishing boats here. The most prevalent is a canoe carved out of a single tree, much like those of the Native Americans. They’re only big enough for one person. There are no large oaks near here, only banana trees, so the boats are all made much further south (in Cyangugu) and brought up here. Fishermen in these boats often use a piece of string tied to a reed to fish; some only use a string.
The second type of boat is made of planks of wood. These, of course, tend to be larger, and can accommodate up to eight. Often, this type has a long stick, about 12 feet long, tied to the front. They use this as their fishing rod.
The third type is almost not worth mentioning, because I’ve seen only two, and I bet they dock in Congo. Motorboats sometimes make their way around the lake; for $100, they will take you from Gisenyi halfway down the lake to Kibuye. For $300, they will take you all the way down to the southern town of Cyangugu. I can’t help but think that someone must be making a hell of a profit—it costs me $300 to fly to New York from DC!
My friend Fred was with us that day, which certainly made our lives easier, because he served as our translator. He convinced some fishermen to take us around the bay in their boat for $3.
The muck inside the boat was thick, and a sea of water filled the bottom. A young boy, perhaps 6 years old, was diligently scooping out the water as fast as it entered. We crossed the lake to the presqu’île (peninsula), where there is a famous hot water spring. Several people were bathing in it when we arrived. Apparently, it’s said to have mysterious healing powers.
Soon, a large crowd began to gather around us, and some fighting cows started running in our direction. We thought it wise to get back into the boat.
We paddled past an association of fishermen (as a member of the association, you are only allowed to fish during certain times and in certain areas, and all profits are shared), where we received multiple marriage proposals. When we landed on the shore again, we were welcomed by a crowd of kids yelling, “Agacupa! Agacupa!” (“Water bottle! Water bottle!”) before we made our way back to the hotel for another drink.
While we were enjoying our Fantas on the grass of the hotel, we watched the fishermen close up for the day. Often, they would strip down to their underwear and dive into the water for a bath. (I admit that I couldn’t bring myself to look…these were 16-20 year olds and it looked like a Calvin Klein ad!) Others were tying their catch to a line, and others were enjoying a Primus.
One fisherman tethered his boat to a pumice rock. When I took a sip of Fanta and looked up again, the boat had disappeared. It turns out that the fishermen here fear that their boats will be stolen during the night—so they tie their boat to a rock, and then fill the boat with water, sliding it deep under the surface so you can’t see it anymore. Only the owner knows exactly where it is. Pretty clever security system.
That night, we had dinner by the Kivu Sun pool as my friend Fayçal sang (the Saturday night buffet has all kinds of Western comfort foods that I never knew I missed…like beets. Who knew I missed beets so much? And potato salad…And feta cheese with tomatoes! *sigh*). We spent the next morning at the beach before Danielle and Beatriz had to return. Danielle swears she’ll be back in three weeks. With fresh fish, sun, and the beach, who could blame her?