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Lake Burera was mentioned in ‘The Guide Book’™, saying that you could have a DIY adventure there if you were an adventurous traveller, up for a bit of wild camping and happy to catch a ride from a fisherman across the lake. ‘That’s us’ we thought, tightening our rucksack straps, stocking up on supplies and practicing our best Kinyarwanda in preparation for having to negotiate with the elders to pitch our tent in their village.
The reality, of course, was totally different.
We got a minibus to Kidaho, the village nearest to the lake and walked down to the shore. That was an experience in itself. To say we were conspicuous doesn’t really do it justice. The attention we got was all friendly, welcoming and good natured. We’d been rehearsing how to say ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ (Muraho, amakuru?) and I reckon must have said it about a fifty times in the first thirty minutes alone. It was a nice ice breaker, and seemed to make people laugh. By the time we actually made it down to the lake my face hurt from smiling.
We were hoping to get a canoe across the lake to Butaro, which is where we hit our first snag. There was a little bar by the lake, run by a lovely girl who told us the price for a boat across the lake was an eye-watering RWF 50,000 (£50) which didn’t sit well with our RWF10,000 a day budget. (Joel and Laura are budget freaks. Joel in particular got very excited about ‘rollover’ days where we hadn’t spent all the kitty from the day before. Sorry for outing you guys!) We found out later on that the high fee was intended to put us off because they didn’t want to take us in the boat – as unlikely as it seems, the fisherman are terrified to take passengers because they don’t have any insurance.
While we were umming and ahhing about what to do, the lovely girl gave us a handful of fish food each and showed us where we could feed the fish in the new fish farm they’d built, explaining that they didn’t actually have any fish yet. This won us over, and we decided to camp there.
This turned out to be a brilliant choice – it’s a stunning place. It’s so lush, with flowers, avocados, sorghum and a load of other stuff growing in overabundance, African kingfishers chasing one another over the lake and the volcano towering over you in the background…it’s like nature is just showing off.
We were lucky on the company front too – as well as the lovely girl running the bar, we met two blokes who insisted on feeding us (rabbit and chips – I didn’t eat the rabbit, naturally) and watering us (vast quantities of banana beer, which tastes like sherry). One of them also came back to buy us breakfast and help us with the next bit of our journey. He also told us his frankly astonish life story, which I can’t do justice to here (it involves rebel armies, peacekeeping missions, mining, tragedy and crocodiles).
The next day we got a bus to Butaro and then walked the 12km to Kirambo. This was just stunning – super-steep terraced hillsides, and wide, flat valleys breaking up the landscape. Every inch of land was being farmed, nothing is wasted. I can’t get across just how steep these hills are – you see people working on them, and you can’t believe that they’re not falling off.
It’s easy to idealise that kind of life, because it’s such a beautiful place. You find yourself dreaming the stupid Western dream of a simple rural existence. Then you see a ten year old boy carrying a huge bundle of firewood up the hill, or a two year old with a tiny scythe cutting grass and you realise just how hard it is. It’s not an idyll; it’s hard work that everyone in the family has to join in with.
Lake Burera was pretty much my favourite part of the whole trip.