It’s not often that a say that I’ve been blown away but this time, in all honesty, saying so would be an understatement. It’s amazing just how beautiful this nation that we call home is. We have the forests of Nyungwe, the savannah of Akagera and the hustle and bustle of Kigali. However, there is no place better to unwind in than the shores of Lake Kivu.
While some people prefer the picturesque town of Kibuye, I prefer Gisenyi. Sure Kibuye has lovely little islands but nothing can beat the sandy shores of Gisenyi. And that’s where I went.
Honestly, I’m not one to leave Kigali on a weekend; I mean, why should anyone? Kigali’s fun, vibrant and fast-paced. However, sometimes all the hustle and bustle just becomes a little too much.
The dust, the noise…it all becomes a tad bit too mind numbing. And the perfect cure for this malaise? A weekend out.
So, with a friend in tow, I packed some shorts, a swimsuit and sunglasses, hopped on the first bus I could and off I went. As the bus zoomed by all the hills, I came to realise just how beautiful our nation is.
Hill after hill, valley after valley, smiling child after smiling child, the stresses of ‘big city life’ melted away. And as we got closer and closer to the destination, a palpable excitement built up in my chest.
I was going to spend three days and two nights in Rwanda’s own resort town. And the icing on the cake? Well, not only was I going to spend those carefree days in Gisenyi;
I was going to spend them in Gisenyi’s crown jewel. The Lake Kivu Serena Hotel.
While some people will say that there are plenty of other, less expensive hotels in Gisenyi, only this one could cater to my wish for a smidgen of decadence.
I wanted five-star treatment and I had only heard good things about this place.
With my backpack in tow, and my companion’s hand in mine, I entered the hotels opulent reception and was immediately taken aback by the smile that the lovely lady on the counter gave me.
I thought her smile was merely a gesture of welcome but for the entire weekend I got a warm smile from everyone; from the waitresses, chambermaids, cooks, I mean everyone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’d booked a double room and within a minute of two, I was being led to it while, in the background, the sound of waves lapping on the shore made me feel like “yeah, I’m finally here!!”
The room; how can I describe it? Well for starters, the bed was big enough for five people to sleep in comfortably. Okay, I jest, but it was quite large.
And the pillows? Heavenly. Honestly, I have never, in my twenty-eight years of existence ever rested my tired head on a pillow so soft. And, I needed it.
The journey had been a long one and before I could even think of getting out of the room again, I needed a nap. It was hot outside, but the air-conditioner in the room was turned on just right.
After a sip of the hotel’s complimentary mineral water, I was in dreamland.
Honestly, I would have continued sleeping, quite happily I might add, if my hunger pangs had just let me be. But they didn’t, and with a turn, I was on the telephone asking for some room service.
I’m not the kind of person that will order something that I’m not familiar with; but the menu, which was placed helpfully on the bedside table, spoke a language I understood. The language? Cheeseburgers and French fries, pork chops and spaghetti Bolognaise.
It was impossible to choose just one dish, so I ordered two! Call me what you like, but if you could see the meal when it finally came you’d understand. I’m not a trained gourmand; however, I know what tastes good. And this meal was of the highest class.
With a square meal, or two, in my belly I was finally ready to see the sights. It was getting dark by this time and I was loath to just stay in the confines of the hotel, tempting though it was.
Did I mention that the winding road right next to the lake shore looked a bit like something you only see in the movies? On one side is the lake and on the other mansions that would be right at home in Beverly Hills.
And the majestic palm trees everywhere remind you that you aren’t anywhere familiar.
Let me tell you something, if you haven’t gone on a stroll on the beachfront you don’t know what you are missing. I personally didn’t know I had been deprived; but I assure you, I finally did.
My friend and I walked for about half an hour until we reached one of Gisenyi’s landmarks: a nightclub that I learnt was called, and forgive me if I spell it wrongly, “kwa-Nyanja”.
The place was quite pretty but I wasn’t in the mood for dancing. I was sleepy and the siren call of my bed was irresistible.
A walk back, a “goodnight” from the receptionist and I was in dreamland once again.
I woke up to the sound of birds chirping. After slipping on a bathrobe, that I promptly fell in love with, I slid open the balcony door and was met with a sight that I thought could only be found in a hotel PR magazine.
Two rattan chairs awaited me, and the view, which I enjoyed while sipping on good espresso coffee, a buttery croissant, yoghurt and ham omelette, was breathtaking. On my left I espied faraway hills that took on a blue hue, while on my right the morning sun’s refection on Lake Kivu’s surface made the water seem almost golden.
If I had checked out at that very moment, I’d have said that I had gotten my money’s worth. But it was only Saturday morning and that meant that I had two days left in this tropical wonderland.
I hadn’t been to the beach the previous evening and I was loath to miss another moment.
With a towel and a bathing suit on, I strode through the foyer, past the grassy bits and sunk my toes in the warm sand. Finally!
I actually felt the stress of Kigali seep out of my body and, like osmosis, just get absorbed by the sand. I’m not a good swimmer, not many Rwandans are, but I couldn’t resist jumping into the lake.
It was a futile exercise in self-restraint and I gave in, it didn’t help that my friend dared me. So, with a loud yell, I jumped in fully expecting to freeze but to my pleasant surprise, the water was warm. But, I’m not a ‘water’ person;
I got out, ordered a beer, lay down, soaked up some sun and watched happy children playing ‘mini-foot’ while their parents just lolled about.
After a scrumptious lunch and another session on the beach I started feeling antsy. I needed some exercise, badly.
When I told a helpful member of staff (they were everywhere- these guys took good customer service quite seriously) about my predicament, he ushered me to a fully equipped gym that guests could use, free of charge. I couldn’t get enough of the treadmill.
That evening, which would sadly be our last, we didn’t order room service but instead had a buffet meal poolside. To say that I was overwhelmed would be putting it lightly. The salad bar, the grill and the dessert table all contrived to jumble my sensory organs.
The smells, the sight...it was all too much. And personally, I think the fried ‘sambaza’ they had is a sure-fire winner. That, along with the scrumptious chocolate cake. The glass of chilled to perfection Bellingham Sauvignon Blanc was the perfect companion to a perfect meal. And as I savoured this moment, the in-house band played Rwandan ‘oldies but goodies’.
A perfect end to a perfect day; the only dark cloud that entered this realm was the fact that we would have to check out the next day.
We didn’t want the day to end, so we padded to the beach again, with our wine in hand, lay on the beach chairs and listened as the surf roared and the tide brought the waves halfway up the beach.
We hadn’t tried the breakfast buffet, but we made it a point to enjoy our last morning with everyone else. 8 types of fresh juice, 5 types of fruit, cold cuts, cereal, dairy products, baked goodies, hot dishes and strong coffee, tea and hot chocolate made this a breakfast to remember.
Have you ever had a full body massage on the lake shore? Well, I have and I can tell you that it’s a once in a lifetime kind of feeling.
I actually fell asleep as the masseuse’s trained hands kneaded my tired muscles.
Well, that was the last activity I did before I packed my bags, handed in my keys and said my goodbyes. “What is my lasting memory of the weekend”? Not the food, sand, water, bed, balcony or palm trees.
I have never felt so ‘VIP’ in my life and the personal service that the staff availed me, with smiles to boot, made every single coin worth it.
In fact, I think I got undercharged.
I didn’t use the hotel’s free wireless network, go catamaran or wind sailing, didn’t play tennis on the floodlit courts; I didn’t do any water aerobics or play water polo or go kayaking.
But I will be back…there is the famous ‘Jungle Party’ three times a year and it’s the perfect excuse.
Give Gisenyi a try and, in all honesty, if you don’t spend a night or two at the Lake Kivu Serena Hotel, you’ll have wasted a perfectly good weekend.