Driving through the Muhanga-Karongi road may make you swear to never go there again. The road is sometimes referred to as ‘Igisoro’, a Rwandan board game with 32 holes, and I couldn’t agree more. For those who prefer to sleep on long drives, it is disastrous. You find yourself hitting your head unstoppably, and may be woken up by the first violent pothole. It is unbearable and may give some people backaches. I always wonder how ambulances drive for hours in that potholed road. Dwelling so much on the road, however, may make one lose interest so quickly in the beautiful and calm Karongi District. It seems boring at first sight, you wouldn’t even think residents are aware of the majestic lake in their area. Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes, which lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Its beautiful deep emerald green waters make it by far, one of the most beautiful lakes in Rwanda. It is the largest lake in the country and sixth in Africa. The air is fresh, the trees tall and Kivu shows itself majestically with its countless peninsulas. It is a perfect picture of nature, where the fish in the lake, the birds in the trees and people right at the shore live in perfect harmony. Whoever said Rwanda was beautiful, they must have gotten the impression from Karongi, because there is no way a place would look as perfect. Karongi is not as vibrant as other districts such as Rubavu, and it’s not just the night life where only frogs make sounds. Even during day, children go to school without making noise, and one wouldn’t tell they have reached a business centre when they see one. It is oddly calm, but that’s what makes the place special. When I went there for a couple of days, the first thing I regretted, besides the road, was to stay at an unsanitary hotel. It looked beautiful on the outside, with a lake view. But how I dreaded time for sleep! As if the old towel and broken TV in the room were not enough, my heart broke even more when I figured there was no hope for hot water for a morning shower. Mornings were very cold, the water was freezing, but I guess that’s the cost of being a low-end customer. Their food was also the kind that sends a message “never eat from here again”. Except the heavenly deep fried Sambaza, which made the whole terrible experience worth it. This rare small fish delicacy is usually served with onions and tomatoes on the side. To make them even tastier, a well-known trick is to squeeze lemon juice on them and add a pinch of Maggi cube. While this may be unhealthy, it does it for the taste buds. Deep fried Sambaza is something people crave for, and now that the lake is closed for fishing for two months, it is even expensive. Only the well-connected hotels have it, let alone traders. Sambaza fish are not only deep fried. Some people prepare them in tomato soup and have it with cassava ugali or corn ugali, being favourite dishes for people living around Lake Kivu. Besides the food, the lake is to die for too. You can see the fries (baby fish) from the shores swimming fast, and the lake water looks clean. Part of what makes Karongi beautiful is mostly the boat rides. Heritier Ishimwe, 20, was our guide. He told us he started working on boats when he was only 12 years old, helping his elder brother. He knows everything at the lake, from the tree species to the birds and fish. He said RDB holds trainings for tourist guides like him so they tell their customers the right information. The boat ride was relieving, although the waves got a bit stronger and I thought we were drowning. I asked Ishimwe if it was a storm, but he laughed and explained that it is mostly like that. I have never seen more beautiful houses in my life than the ones I saw by the lake, which were mostly up the hill. They were real mansions. I could only wonder how it feels like to go home to such a view of the lake and the beautiful islands. From a line-up of boats and a bar whose chairs were in the lake, the first islands we came across were tiny “King and Queen” which are less than two metres next to each other. One of the most popular and visited islands on Lake Kivu is known as “Chapeau de Napoléon” (Napoleon’s hat), which is reportedly the tallest island. Its real name is Nyamunini, but it is shaped like the historical hats that were popular in European army uniforms at the end of the 18th century. Napoleon, the French Emperor and military general was commonly seen in such hats, hence inspiring locals and tourists to name the island after them. Also known as the ‘Napoleon Island’, this mountain-like piece of land is where visitors take a clearer view of the lake and its several islands. Just like most of the islands on the lake, it has managed to save some of the original vegetation and animal life. Among other animals, there is a colony of more than 40,000 straw coloured fruit bats which Ishimwe insists are safe to be around, but Karongi residents would disagree. They reportedly think bats are bad luck, so they chase them and the only safe space for the mammals is the island. The most popular activity on this island is hiking, and it takes about 30 minutes to reach the peak for people with a normal fitness level. Another popular island is known as ‘akarwa k’abakobwa’ (the girls’ island), where pregnant girls would be banished to not tarnish their families’ image in the face of the public. A pregnancy before marriage was regarded as disgraceful for the girl. Her parents would bring her before the king who would then order that she be banished to the island. Fishermen would take her there and leave her to die, but if she was lucky enough, people from a different island, Idjwi, would come for her rescue and perhaps marry her. People back home would think she was drowned, which created a spirit of fear among women and girls to not have pre-marital sex. Today, this tiny island is a grazing land for the famous swimming cows which come all the way to enjoy the green grass and other plants. The island also has a centuries old tree called umurengarutare (scientific name ‘Capparis erythrocarpus’) which is believed to be a medicinal plant in many parts of Africa. While Karongi alone has 16 islands, Lake Kivu has about 250 islands, among which 56 are on the Rwandan side of the lake. At the end of the trip, I discovered that Karongi is not boring after all. Its beauty lies in its uniqueness, tranquillity, and green landscape especially because of the wild century old vegetation. A place where children go to school during the day and swim in the evening. Word has it that the best swimmers in the country grew up from that end, from the shores of the lake. When you get luckier than I, you will hear the sound of local fishers singing carries across the water as they paddle in unison, at dawn and dusk. Also, choose wisely the hotel where you will stay. It will make your trip even better.