Destination Memories: Gisenyi, Rwanda

Members and travel writers share the places they’re travelling to, albeit in their minds

Two people playing in a lake at sunset.

Gisenyi, on the north shore of Lake Kivu in Rwanda’s Rubavu district, is known and loved for its crystal-clear waters. Travel enthusiast, Danica Samuel, finds herself longing for exactly that, most notably the Congo Nile trail, which winds through hilly terrains, villages, plantations and picture-perfect waterfalls.

By Danica Samuel    Images courtesy of Danica Samuel    Saturday 16 May, 2020    Short read

A woman standing in front of a stone wall.
The top of a paddle board on water.
This year, I wanted to return to the land of a thousand hills, because that land, Rwanda, is a place where I can fine-tune my mental and physical state like no other. A place where you can find or re-find yourself within the stillness of nature. But I can't go. I only remember the last time. Which I do, so clearly. 

Bursting out of the city en route to Gisenyi, I pass the excitement of locals dancing near gas stations – a checkpoint to fill up before heading into the highlands. The swirly paths on steep roads ascend into the clouds. The journey feels, and maybe is surreal. Windows down and morning dew breeze massages my face. The smell in the air is tea gardens and igikoma, a traditional breakfast porridge cooking in the villages.

During this drive, I stop to overlook the city from slopes high above, and listen to the music; even the laughter from the people below can be heard. It is life and nature all in harmony. ‘Mother Nature’s orchestra’, I like to say. Here, with a refreshing sip of Skol, the local beer I love, I marinate in my thoughts – the fumes of the Rwandan stew, isombe (mashed cassava leaves, tomatoes, onions, coriander, garlic, Maggi seasoning, and peanut butter), ibishyimbo beans and ibirayi potatoes. It’s such a sensation. The roadside local chefs put their heart into every meal.
A man cooking potatoes on a bbq.
A man standing on a canoe on a beach.
Steps leading up to a wooden building.
I would do anything to arrive at Lake Kivu during these uncertain times. The waters of Africa’s most significant lake always command me to be still. This pandemic has also brought us to stillness, but at Lake Kivu there's special tranquillity. The peace of the lake gives the spirit a break. It allows nature to awaken the elements of myself that I struggle to tap into at home in Toronto. When I close my eyes now, I see the locals swimming in Lake Kivu, making ripples that expand into the distance all the way away to where the sun meets the water.

Right now, what’s missing from my life is this. What I wouldn’t give for a peaceful boat ride to the border of Congo and Rwanda. The place where I can observe barefoot soccer matches, intermingling with dance routines set to hand claps, all punctuated by the smell of sambaza (sardines) frying on the grill. Times like now, I imagine I’m there, a place of peace and harmony among all the chaos.
Looking over trees to a lake with an island.
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