Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

On a clear, sunny Sunday, my friends and I drove down to Saga Resha, a beautiful beach about an hour south of Bujumbura. The resort that is being constructed there was not yet complete, so we brought a big picnic of sausage, sandwiches, fruit, cookies, cheese, and other goodies that we managed to put together at the last minute. As it turned out, the restaurant had just opened, and the men who met us in the parking lot tried to charge us about $50 for bringing in our own food (“the corkage fee,” they explained). We had been informed otherwise, and we discussed this with the manager, who made a point of telling us that he was dropping the charge to $20 because he was such a reasonable fellow. We agreed to pay the $20, and descended to the lake shore, with its expanse of white sand and private huts.

We all splashed about, enjoying the warm water and fresh air. After getting our fill of the heat, sand, and occasional ogling by the Burundian staff (the whistles were NOT welcomed), we packed everything up and headed back to Bujumbura. On the way, we pulled over onto a tiny, unmarked dirt road which led to one of Burundi’s few tourist attractions: the rock where Henry Morton Stanley, journalist-turned-explorer and operative of King Leopold II, allegedly “found” Dr. David Livingstone, who had been traipsing about East Africa in search of the source of the Nile River—and famously said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

To be fair, this may or may not have actually happened at this site. We know it happened near Lake Tanganyika, and the rock that marks the famous meeting overlooks the lake. Most people say the meeting actually happened in Ujiji, Tanzania. Apparently, Stanley and Livingstone traveled together for a while after their meeting, leaving markers of where they had been, and this might be just one of those markers. The large stone is engraved with their names, like strange historical graffiti. Burundi doesn’t have much in the way of landmarks, so I hope and wish for the sake of the tourism industry that this was the real meeting spot.

Nothing much is around the site (it’s really just a vista over the lake), but as we were wandering about and taking photos, children began to run up from the nearby huts to welcome us. We gave them leftover fruit from our picnic, played with them a bit, and then packed up to head back to Bujumbura before the curfew set in.