Lake Kivu

Rwanda has been dubbed the land of a thousand hills, rightly so. The road now meandered through these fertile slopes. Amidst the coffee and banana plantations. Up and down again. Our spirits rose. We were glad to leave the Genocide Memorial and Kigali behind us. Before us a days drive to the west lies Lake Kivu.  

I remember thinking, it can't be true, as the brakes went again !!! But it was.


Only two days ago we had had the same problem in Uganda and had replaced the caliper pistons. This time however there was no puddle next to the wheel and the brake fluid reservoir was full. Very strange.


By now it was late in the afternoon. We hadn't far to go and so decided to push on. Breaking down is always a pain but being stranded in the countryside is a lot worse.


A few kilometers later the brakes seemed to be behaving themselves again. Very very strange. They were by now beginning to get the better of me. We limped into Kibuye where we would spend a few days and without doubt make the aquaintance of a Rwandan mechanic. We stayed at Home Saint Jean (photo above), a simple but decent place. 

The following morning at breakfast I felt a sense of excitement and apprehension. Today we were to venture across the Lake to Bat Island (Ile Napoleon). Lake Kivu borders Rwanda and the Congo. It is a rarity being one of the few "Exploding Lakes" in Africa. It is very deep and so the weight of the water contains the gases seeping into it caused by nearby seismic activity. The Nyamuragira and the Nyiragongo volcanos in the Congo are just 20, respectively 25 kilometers away. An estimated cubic meters of pressurised carbon dioxide lies slumbering  in its depths.   


In 1984 Lake Monoun in Cameroon "Exploded" killing 37 people through asphyxiation. Two years later at Lake Nyos, also in Cameroon, another limnic erruption killed 1746 people, 3500 livestock and all the wildlife in the area. These lakes are now being degassed in order to avoid future overturns.


Lake Kivu is twice as deep as Lake Nyos and in addition to the 250 bcm CO2 boasts another 55 billion cubic meters of Methane. The Methane is being mined (The KivuWatt Project) and used to fuel power stations. The unwanted CO2 that is sucked up with the CH4 is led back into the lake at shallow levels from which it escapes due to the lower pressure. 


This valuable resource could provide Rwanda and the DRC with electricity for an estimated 50 to 60 years. Whether the degassing of the lake will ensure the safety of the two million inhabitants around it remains to be seen.

Whilst crossing the lake I couldn't help but thinking about the many thousands who had disappeared into it in 1994. Fortunatly it was such a wonderful day. There was next to no wind and in the distance we could see the Congo. The island neared. We were then told which way to go and when to be back at the boat.


The island is inhabited by thousands of fruit bats, some say millions. Basically we just had to follow the noise and very soon thereafter we stood amongst hundreds of them hanging a few meters above us in the trees. An unforgettable day oüt.

That evening the mechanic came. I had spoken to the receptionist about the van and he would organize someone to come and have a look at it for us. It was Sunday but he had a regular job and would have to work tomorrow and so only had time for us right now. He spoke very broken English and though my French wasn't any better, we got by. 


The problem seemed to be that in Uganda they had only bled the front brakes after changing the caliper pistons and not all four wheels. So we bled all four together, drove back and forth a little, breaking sharply, afterwhich he was satisfied that all was fixed. We'll just have to wait and see.