Serene island on Lake Kivu where only bats live

For someone taking a boat for the first time, the experience of travelling from Kibuye to the small islands on Lake Kivu can be an unforgettable feeling.
Bats resting in clusters. (Louisa Esther Glathaar)
Bats resting in clusters. (Louisa Esther Glathaar)

For someone taking a boat for the first time, the experience of travelling from Kibuye to the small islands on Lake Kivu can be an unforgettable feeling.

Yet for those familiar with boat rides, a tour of Napoleon’s Island and Peace Island near Kibuye can be a trip in the nature to remember.

Recently, I organised a boat trip to these Islands together with some friends. In a group, we hired a boat and a conductor and took a day off to relax and cool off in the water of L. Kivu and on its islands.

After lunch time, we bravely went to the landing to start our boat ride — determined to face the little turbulent waves that came with the heavy wind that day.

As we approached the boat, the initial bravery with which everybody started with, vanished from our faces almost spontaneously. It was a wooden kayak, with its blue and white painting peeled off already on the sides. Its roof was made out of an old plastic awning and its body appeared too big and heavy to be powered by the relatively small engine at the tail-end of the vessel.

But once we were at the landing site, there was no turning back.

Dressed in large orange rescue jackets, we took our places on the surprisingly comfortable benches on the boat. Before takeoff, our tour guide explained that we’ll first buckle on Napoleon’s Island and then pass Peace Island.

As we floated over countless big and small waves that made our long boat seesawing each time it hit one, I realised some of us had been anxious over nothing. Indeed, as we struggled to contain fear, our guide stayed completely calm all the time, maneuvered the boat reassuringly into direction in a way that looked like it was intended to quickly restore calm to even the most fearful in the group. 

Napoleon’s Island 

Appearances were deceptive during our tour on the water. The island seemed to be very close, yet it took us about half an hour to reach there. As we got closer to the biggest of the islands in this area, strange noises started getting audible. On a closer look, some flying mammals hanging on tree branches in clusters could be seen. They are bats.

Napoleon’s Island is the bat’s island. Our guide explained to us that bats are often associated with the devil. The dark history associated with this island seems to vindicate this myth that has been passed on from one generation to another.

During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, over 80 people fled to this island in an attempt to hide from the murderers. Unfortunately, the killers followed them there, killed everybody and set the whole island ablaze.

Under the bright sun, turquoise water glitters and different colour gradations of green and brown give the hill in the middle of the lake a graceful atmosphere.

After drinking some water, we then started our 40-minute walk up hill on little dirt tracks.

Some bats were already circling over us; one was just landing directly in front of me. I could then admire the furry little bodies and mice-like heads and the enormous huge wings of the tiny bats.

But more impressive was the heavy noise and strong smell on the island. Nonetheless we went there during daytime, when bats are usually inactive, but made extraterrestrial noise that just flushed our minds.

We were still on our walk on the rocky island up to the summit, but the deeper we went into the forest, the stronger the smell became. 

And then, at a little clearance of the forest, there were suddenly not only one or two bats flying far away over us, but hundreds of these amazing mammals hanging on trees in clusters. Upon sensing our movements, some flew off in big groups almost simultaneously but only to return shortly.

Uncountable mammals covered the sky so that at some point we could not even see its blue colour anymore and bats circled over the natural forest, some making exciting maneuvers for us and our many cameras.

But for most of us, we just stood motionless in the mixture of strange noise, strong smell and untouched nature not being able to take them on photos because of their high speed while on the sky.

As I got ready for the next Island, it turned out that I could not personally recognise anything demonic in the mammals that all Napoleon’s Island, home.

Peace Island

After a short relaxation moment on the coast, cooling our feet in the clear water, we set off for our next destination, Peace Island on our way back to Kibuye. As we gently sailed past, watching some indigenous birds and the thick green vegetation, groups of children played on beautiful beach o the island.

Unlike Napoleon’s Island, some farmers live here cultivating crops and rearing cattle. 

We opted to disturb theirepeace and stayed in the boat and to continue our journey back to the shore, after all the waves were becoming stronger making the ride even more bumpy. Under such circumstances, the right thing to do is to quickly get out of the turbulent waters and return to the safety of the land. 

By the end of the tour, we had spent three hours on Lake Kivu, yet on budget.

 

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