On Saturday myself, Brian, Adrien and an American called Pamela went for a road trip down to Nyanza-Lac in the very south of the country – nyanza meaning ‘lake’, and lac meaning, um, ‘lake’, meaning the province translates as ‘lake-lake’. It took an hour and a half to get there, which tells you just how small this country is. The drive was utterly stunning, the road winding through tiny villages along the edge of the lake, with views across the blue clear water, the Congolese mountains, purple in the distance, and the terraced hills on the Burundian side stretching into the horizon. Great Ocean Road, eat your heart out.
Once there, we had fresh grilled mokeke at a restaurant by the beach – a delicious Lake Tanganyika fish. They also have Sangala, which is very flavourful, and Capitaine, which is a perfectly good white fish, and some tiny little ones which are also tasty but a bit disconcerting to eat – eating their heads and their little eyes looking at you. I had a swim – amazing to be at the beach and able to swim – without salt. I’m definitely a convert to inland beaches, although I’m told there are crocodiles so I wasn’t about to strike out into the deeps! The temperature was great – cool enough to be refreshing but not in the least cold – and the wind means it’s a gift for windsurfing, and I’m told the waves are occasionally big enough to surf. Driving back, we stopped to watch the sun set, turning orange and glittering across the water, before dipping below the mountains. Burundi’s so-far-nonexistent tourism industry has a lot to work with.
It was a wonderful day out, and Nyanza-Lac is stunning. But, as ever in this country, there are sobering notes. The vast number of flags for political parties that flutter along the road speak not only of political pluralism and multiparty democracy, but also of a fragmented opposition that struggles to effectively hold the government to account. The kid giving us a thumbs up as we leave the restaurant has the pot-belly of malnutrition. As we judder over the holes in the road (happily I’ve remembered Africa Lesson #101 = if you’re driving anywhere, wear a sports bra), Brian tells me that some of these were created deliberately by the rebels during the war to slow you down – then they would shoot at you. Most notably of all, we have to rush our beers to get home for fear of the road blocks along the way. This country has spectacular assets to market to visitors – apart from the beaches, people keep telling me about plans to reintroduce gorillas* but until it has its house firmly in order, people will stay away.
* Apparently many of Burundi’s gorillas were taken to Rwanda during the civil war to protect them, and the Rwandans are making vast amounts of money from them. Like Burundians’ insistence that the reason Rwandan coffee is good is because they steal it from Burundi, and the story that the Queen of England only drinks Burundian tea (or is it coffee – no one is sure!), I’m sceptical on whether this is true or even possible, but I’ll keep my ears open.
Posted By Laura Gordon
Posted Jun 29th, 2009