There’s something about traveling by boat that inherently equals adventure. I don’t know if it’s the wind in my hair, the bright sunshine on my face, the splash of water occasionally making its way over the bow, or the passing scenery as the ship cuts its way through the water. It’s all of those things, probably, and I love it.
My journey started out on the south tip of Lake Kivu, a deep, glassy lake in between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The sun was barely up as I hurried to the harbor in Kamembe. I made it with only a few minutes to spare. The ship was already billowing smoke out of a smokestack, and its engine was roaring. A man in a ripped t-shirt smoked a cigarette and leaned on the side of the boat. He slowly collected my Rwandan francs in exchange for a flimsy ticket, and I strode across what passed as a gangplank onto the boat.
The bow was already crowded with goods to be transported to cities further north. Bunches of green bananas, sacks of corn and rice so full they were nearly bursting at the seams, and stacks of lumber were packed in with passengers, their neon-orange life jackets already secured around their bodies. The inside of the ship was dimly lit, and I took a seat on one of the gray benches close to a window. Around me, mamas dressed in brightly colored igitenge dresses nursed their babies as young children slept by their sides. Old men sipped steaming cups of tea and gnawed on amandazi, fried balls of dough, and a couple of teenagers played scratchy American pop songs from a beat-up cell phone.
I asked the portly boat captain how old the boat is. He shrugged his shoulders and laughed a deep belly laugh, as if to say, “Old enough.” And then with a groan and shudder of the engine, we were off. It took a few minutes for the boat to maneuver its way out of the harbor, which was crowded with rusty ships long past their prime and slim wooden fishing boats.
The ship picked up speed outside of the harbor, though I still felt that I could swim faster most of the time. Unsatisfied with the view out of my small window, I headed back out to the deck. The Rwandan sun was now fully out, and I thanked myself for remembering to put on sunscreen that morning. I watched my reflection in the wake of the boat. Bright blue, yellow, and green lines of the Rwandan flag were painted on the sides, and another big Rwandan flag waved in the wind, in case one wasn’t enough.
Although the boat trip was only six hours, it was like stepping back in time. Wooden dugout canoes filled with passengers and lone fisherman paddled by our boat. After an hour or two, we stopped at the banks of a small fishing village. Women were crouched on the shore doing their laundry and bathing their children, and fisherman were still pulling in the night’s catches. There was no actual dock, so the boat simply plowed into the shore and the plank was lowered, though it barely made it to land.
A few people disembarked, but twice as many people got on, carrying an assortment of goods in big opaque bags or carefully balancing them on top of their head. The ship was now stuffed to the gills.
The rolling green hills of the southwest gave way to dramatic mountains on both the DR Congo and Rwanda. Though I could feel my skin becoming hot, and logic told me to go back into the boat’s cool interior, I just couldn’t pull myself away from the scene.
As we approached our destination, Kibuye, six hours later, I felt a bit of nostalgia sweep over me. My legs were ready for solid land, but my mind was already plotting my next boat trip on Lake Kivu.
Claire Brosnihan has served as a Health and Community Development Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Rwanda since May 2012. She enjoys yoga, adventures, Rwanda’s incredible scenery and massive avocados. She blogs at seekingclaire-ity.blogspot.com.