Ndere Island, the ‘hidden’ wonder of Lake Victoria

Monday March 1 2010

The 10 minute boat ride to Ndere Island. Photo/JACKSON BIKO

The 10 minute boat ride to Ndere Island. Photo/JACKSON BIKO 

By JACKSON BIKO

The smell of fish hangs in the air at Kaloka beach, in the northern shore of Lake Victoria. Fresh fish.

And these fish — hundreds of them — are laid it out in the sun to dry on white polythene. Their glassy eyes stare up at the sky; stunned by death.

Robust women — as most women in this part of the country are — in headscarves and khangas wrapped around their waists chatter and guffaw.

They scale, clean and salt the fish to preserve them, before laying them out in the sun to dry. Flies buzz everywhere.

And their men, the fishermen, bare-chested, dark, tall, sinewy and louder than the women — as men from these parts are known to be — mill around mending their fishing nets.

Beyond the hustle and bustle of this scene lies what brings most people together in this part of Kenya: Lake Victoria. After all, this is Ndere, which means meeting place in Dholuo. The lake sparkles blue in the midmorning sun.

If you look farther across the lake you will see Ndere Island which was declared a National Park in November 1986.

It covers an area of 4.2km square and is home to a variety of bird species, hippos, baboons, crocodiles (including the lesser known Spotted Crocodile), and lately impalas.

Plans are underway by the Kenya Wildlife Society to translocate zebras and giraffes to the park.

The island looks lush and serene from the mainland and that’s where we are headed.

“The wonders of this country are sometimes hidden in corners like this,” comments Ann Kanini from the Kenya Tourist Board. The board is running a campaign to open up and market Kenya’s western circuit as a tourist destination.

To get to the island, we take a motorboat lasts the ride to the island lasts 10 minutes.

The KWS official accompanying us called our tour of the island “nature walk,” but most in my group thought it world be more a serene stroll in the park smelling flowers and feeling the sun in our faces. Hardly.

To get to the top of the island we huffed and puffed — in a long single file — up a gentle hillside, for two kilometres.

As we walked through the grassland, hundreds of birds circled above and around us.

“When you walk through the grass you disturb insects in the grass which the birds feed on,” the park warder explains.

Finally we get to the top, panting. The view is spectacular, and the cool breeze tickles our faces. A ship from Tanzania sails by in the distance. Homa Hills tower close by.

The warder finds it appropriate to point east and says, “That is Obama’s home,” as the jaded and still breathless lot looks around eagerly. “Where?” we ask in almost unison curiosity.

“Well, you cannot see it from here, it’s way over those hills,” he smiles. I bet “way over those hills” could also be Illinois, I think to myself.

The KWS, we are informed, is planning to throw top dollar at revamping some national reserves in Western Kenya, Ndere Island being one of them.

The warder points out a spot on the shore where Serena Hotels is planning to build a hotel.

The island attracts campers some of whom stay out here for even a week exploring or just fishing. Ndere, which means meeting place, thus seems like the ideal place to get together with nature.