Travellers visiting Rwanda will only tell stories of the robust, courageous and quite amazing mountain gorillas in the north, the beautiful scenery of Akagera national park –home to the big five in the East.
Others will tell their compatriots back home the stories of traditional culture of Rwandan dancers, leave alone canopy walkway in the Southern province, just to mention some samples in the country’s heavy tourism package.
Truth be told, a few of them will tell stories of a hidden away beauty of Rwanda that could be rarely heard of Nkombo Island .
This Island is deep in Lake Kivu,some 12 kilometers away from Kamembe town, Rusizi district in Western Province.
I am not a seasonal traveler, but could not hesitate to visit this breathtaking island when I got a chance to cover a special health story in Kamembe town, the headquarter of Rusizi district for three (3) days.
My journey started at 7:15 am from Kamembe. My colleagues and I took a muddy road to the stunning Lake Kivu, but one is not scared. The eye-catching view of the Lake makes you forget it all and gives you courage to proceed.
It takes an estimated thirty minutes to ride to the port from Kamembe, but, well aware of the schedule of the boat to Nkombo, the driver made his best to put less time to the trip. The captain is always punctual; he starts the engine of his wooden body boat at 8:00 am. with or without people on board.
“Mwinjire……mwinjire’ meaning ‘enter’ and this was my very first experience-to board a boat. He started the engine and we went off the shore. At first, I was scared, thinking that the boat is shaking for failing to find balance on water.
Adjacent to our boat, men, women, and girls at majority age were also busy loading bags of fish and avocados on their canoes. Trade is the main businesses of the Nkombo Islanders. Nkombo traders get avocados from Kamembe and transport them to Bukavu in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
After all the travelers got on the boat, they were given directives to put on lifejackets that could prevent them from drowning in case of an accident.The helmsman starts the journey with travelers asking various questions like: “is Lake Kivu deep……..how deep is it?”
The helmsman said, “Some places are as deep as 1000 meters, you cannot survive if you do not know how to swim, that is why you put on a lifejacket.”
“Water accidents are minimal here because marine patrol keeps controlling movements on the lake, punishing those overloading boats, over speeding and people sailing without lifejackets,” Samuel Nsengiyumva, our helmsman said.
After 40 minutes, we disembarked to Nkombo Island safely. The most eye-catching thing you see at the Island is a green vegetation, banana plantation on Lake Shores and people speaking a rare language, the ‘Mashi’. This language is common in DRC, but not often in most parts of Rwanda.
The inhabitants of this dazzling island speak three languages including Kinyarwanda, Mashi, and Kiswahili. French and English are not common as they are in inland Rwanda.
At the shores, islanders were loading bags of fish and avocados taking them to DRC.
Others were ferrying passengers across in DRC just five kilometers away.
“I have been selling Avacados to DRC for 15 years. Congolese do not grow them, so there is a good market opportunity. This Island is an Avacados and bananas basket, good for business.”
“I am able to pay school fees for my five children and all other family necessities, it is a profitable business. I buy a 25 kilograms of Avacado at Rwf30,000 and sell it at Rwf40,000 in Bukavu.”
At the Lakeshore of the island, canoes keep ferrying residents and visitors to the Island. Men and women offloading heavy loads are a common sight. The movement of the boats on the lake starts as early as 5:00 am and ends late evening, at around 9:00 pm.
Nkombo Island is undeniably one of Rwanda’s beauties with flourishing green hills, a peaceful breeze blowing from the lake and an exciting, calm and quiet nature. It has a shape and colour of an emerald, with traditional life-styles, fishing boats and hills.
Available infrastructure at Nkombo include schools, health centers and marram roads, which turn muddy during rainy seasons. The roads become absolutely impassable for people. For instance, we were advised to buy gumboots, a day before our journey to the island, it is not optional.
On the Island, none drive – no single vehicle. A few motorcycles seen there are used by sector officials and those of Nkombo health center.
Walking around the Island, chances of getting a restaurant or a bar are very minimal; for people expecting to spend much time on the island it is advisable to pack your food and drinks at Kamembe before sailing.