Posts Tagged ‘international travel’

Lake Tanganyika Highlights

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

Well hello again!

I know it’s been ages since my last travel log and I apologize. But let me try to right the wrong with an update here about my trip to the Tanzanian coastline of Lake Tanganyika. I’ll save some of the details as I’m hoping my travels will ultimately find their way as printed words on a published page… But here’s an overview.

Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world, the second deepest, and the oldest in Africa. It is so big, about 420 miles long, that four countries surround it — Tanzania on the east coast, Zambia in the south, the DR Congo in the west and Burundi in the north. I’ve been once before, two years ago I was on the Congo side for a story (found here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/03/02/meet-amy-lehman-the-woman-behind-congos-floating-hospital.html?cid=topic:originals2), and the lake took my breath away. I’ve been aching to go back ever since. Finally got my chance.

I left NYC on Oct. 13th and got to the Tanzanian side of the lakeshore on the 15th. Three full tiring days of travel – a long trip. But this is not an easy place to get to. I traveled through Amsterdam into Dar es Salaam, where I landed late at night, spent about 45 min in a taxi to my hotel, and got about four hours of sleep. Before the sun even rose, it was onto Mwanza, the country’s second largest city, apparently, sitting on the edge of Lake Victoria. A few sleepy hours later I flew into Kigoma, the largest Tanzanian town on the lakeshore. This is where I would start and end my trip and where the real adventure began. The fact that the journey is not exactly direct comes as no real surprise. In spots, especially along the Congolese and Tanzanian shorelines, Lake Tanganyika happens to be one of the most remote places I’ve ever been lucky enough to see.

And with that isolation comes some intensely beautiful landscapes: utterly empty beaches, graceful formations of volcanic rock, acacia tree-filled hillsides and some imposing mountain peaks. The highest of these in Tanzanian is Mount Nkungwe, in Mahale Mountains National Park, at 8,077 feet above sea level. I saw it from afar, nestled among thick, low-hanging clouds. I am pondering a climb one day… Would definitely not be easy – I’m told that you have to ascend and descend two other peaks before the final uphill push. But after the 11 or 12 hours it would take to reach the top, this would probably be an adventure rewarding as hell.

Mountain peaks not withstanding, there are plenty of other enticements in and around Lake Tanganyika. The biodiversity is spectacular: more than 250 species of Cichlid fish swimming under water, many found nowhere else in the world. I saw a wide variety on a few snorkeling outings. There is no corral here, it’s all rock, which makes for lovely, easy swimming and viewing. Next time, maybe a dive is in order? The water is reliably the same refreshing, never-too-cold, temperature year-round. It is comfortable, crisply clean, and wonderfully clear. I LOVE dipping into this lake!

If the aqueous life is not enough for you, in the jungles along the coast and at nearby national parks there are a bevy of other animals on view: chimpanzees, hippos, crocodiles, lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras, elephants, hyenas, buffalo, warthogs, vultures, eagles and more! It’s a wildlife cornucopia and I saw it all at Gombe, Katavi and Mahale National Parks. The lions and chimps came so near I could have scratched between their ears. Alas, I decided to keep my hand instead… These parks are among the most remote in Tanzania and I usually had the animals to myself – an uncommon treat.

The villages along the shoreline are mostly poor, some profoundly so. Many villages have no electricity, running water, cell phone service or even vehicle accessible roads. If you want to know what isolation looks like, this is it. Still, the settings are often stunning. The homes here are built of mud and brick and covered in thatched roofs made of local grasses. Some are upgraded to corrugated tin. They are all rectangular. The story behind this, I heard, is that the nation’s first post-independence president, Julius Nyerere, instructed people to build them thus because, apparently, only poor people lived in round dwellings! I haven’t been able to verify this yet, so who knows if it’s true, but nonetheless it’s a strange and colorful tale!

Most people in coastal villages make their living as fisherman. Many work late into the night and through the early morning plying the waters by lantern light on the hunt for local sardines. Called dagaa in Swahili, the sardines from Lake Tanganyika, and especially Kigoma, are coveted as a national specialty. Fishermen dry them in the sun laid flat on the nets in which they were caught. Shimmering silver, the dried fish are then bagged and sold on the side of the road in town, if not shipped around the country. The fishermen use a local technique to catch them: two big boats string a net between them and smaller boats with the lanterns move in concentric circles around their bigger partners. The glow draws the fish into the nets, except when the moon shines too brightly. As the night darkens, the view from shore is one of distant golden hues bobbing on the horizon. A beautiful, romantic, montage.

I think I’ll leave it here for now. There is so much more to tell about my journey: a grimy, wonderful 32-hour voyage on a 100-year-old colonial era cargo and passenger ferry; wild animal encounters; deep jungle hikes; sensational sunsets; lots of enchanting bird song; an amazing, luxurious, nearly secret, lodge and more! But this should give you a taste of the place, I hope…!

More to come!

Driving to Goma

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

10.Oct.2010

A new route, this time, from Kigali to Goma, the northern route. Alphonse is ferrying me there again, cheerful as always, and tells me he likes this way best because the scenery is more striking. Initially that’s hard to imagine because the road to Bukavu is a winding, hilly one that is complete the entire way with striking countryside. But it turns out that driving to Goma takes you past Musenze, a tourist hub at the Rwanda base of Virunga National park and home to six (I think) volcanoes. This is where the mountain gorillas on the Rwanda side reside. It is also where, according to Alphonse, one of the hotels deep in the jungle charges $1000 per night for the privilege of volcano and lake views.

We drove on a Sunday, kind of a grey day, but pleasant. The roadsides where fairly busy with church-goers: women in silky finery and radiant parasols. These are the large umbrellas that seems to be unique to the area, vibrant colors, intricate designs – especially of flowers – used not only to protect from the rain, but in Victorian fashion to shield the women and the babies on their backs from the sun. I’d love to find one and bring it home. This trip, with the venture to Lake Tanganyika is probably not the one…

It felt like a quick ride and Alphonse dropped me at the border. We bade goodbye and I walked to the immigration counter. Roger found me there and we proceeded to the hotel, Cap Kivu again, same room too! The receptionist remembered me! Cute little spot with a slanted ceiling and balcony overlooking the beautiful gardens and lake. I read and slept and tried to regulate my body from the jet lag. Roger and Dobs and I had a nice dinner at Ihusi hotel and then it was off to bed for a day of planning my coverage on Monday. Uneventful. Good.

And so?

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

What now? I leave Congo this time frankly depressed.

In my three weeks there I certainly had some “up” moments — good interviews, jolly gorillas, lovely scenery along Lake Kivu with a temperate breeze going through my hair. It was great to work with Roger again. I enjoyed seeing Goma. And there were moments when I met women who were finding their way again, finding some satisfaction in life and pride in their children. They were becoming healing and that was uplifting for sure.

But there was also what sometimes felt like a barrage of bad. So many stories of rape and murder and loss; inescapable poverty, hopelessness; people barefoot on mud-choked roads, children in tatters playing with objects tossed to the ground, the boy on Idjwi so painfully hungry. It just got to me this time. Perhaps this is getting to know the place better and being able to see more.

It doesn’t stop me from wanting to return for more reporting. There is much to write about here and I intend to be back in a few months. I think the only way for me to resolve my own feelings of despair and fatigue is to go back and put down on paper what I see and how I feel; to use my words as my tool. Nevertheless, as I sit in Kigali having a slow day of reading, a bit of walking and not much else, I’m acutely aware of how tired and drained of reserves I am. My patience is frayed. I need to turn my brain off. I am sad. Congo is sad.

The sun sets magically over Lake Kivu and Goma

The sun sets magically over Lake Kivu and Goma

all continues apace

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010
A view of Bukavu from the shores of Lake Kivu

A view of Bukavu from the shores of Lake Kivu

I am now entrenched in Bukavu having spent two days reporting and this third one writing, editing and soon (hopefully) filing a story. It’s been a good way to get started. The piece is about local women’s activism. Is there such a thing, you might ask? Well, despite the many reports we get about Congolese women existing primarily as examples of the horrors of rape, the woman’s movement here, especially in the Kivu’s, is quite vibrant. It should be out soon, so if you are so inclined you can have a read at www.womensenews.org.

I also just met Lisa Shannon, founder of Run for Congo Women, a project of Women for Women International, which has gained a lot of media attention lately. Nick Kristof wrote about her in a recent column and Oprah has featured her work on her tv show. She’s a super interesting lady and I’m having dinner with her and another journalist writing about her tonight. There will be lots of brainstorming about writing and travel in Congo going on. Should be nice to have some dinner dates too — lately it’s only been my computer and me and looming deadlines!

Internet connection today has been the best yet and the persistent leak in my bathroom at the guesthouse seems to finally be stopped up. Things are looking good.

Congo, round two!

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Well, I’m off again. Leaving tonight for the DRC by way of Brussels and Kigali. I sincerely hope that a) the snowy weather in NYC right now doesn’t screw up the flights tonight. Called BA this morning and was told it was going on time for now. Let’s hope… and b) that there are no more adventures involving Brussels and Frankfurt and Adis Ababa this time!

I should get to Bukavu on Sunday, early afternoon, and will be geared up for three weeks of good reporting and story-hunting. I’ve got a lot to do, but much more time on this second trip, so I’m hoping it won’t be such a mad dash. And maybe, I’ll have a little more time to take in some of this fascinating place and see it a bit more too.

I’ll add posts here as the stories accumulate. So, more anon!