The land of sun and lake

Saturday February 2 2019

Sunset at Lake Victoria Safari Village in Mbita.

Sunset at Lake Victoria Safari Village in Mbita. PHOTO | MAGUNGA WILLIAMS | NMG 

MAGUNGA WILLIAMS
By MAGUNGA WILLIAMS
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For the past two years, I have been taking people to my home area, Nyanza in western Kenya, in December. I use the annual Rusinga Festival as my anchor, and so we organise a trip that culminates in attending the festival.

Nyanza has five counties — Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Siaya and Kisii. Each of these counties offers a great tourist experience.

First there is Kisumu. This is the nerve centre of all activities that take place in Nyanza. It is also where I grew up, so naturally, this is where my annual tour begins. Kisumu City was built between the Nandi Hills to the east and Lake Victoria to the west. The result is magnificent sunrises and sunsets.

Kisumu port was founded in 1901 as the main island terminal of the Uganda Railway. Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya, after Nairobi and Mombasa.

Kisumu is a genuine pearl of tourism. You can go rock climbing and hiking in Holo, visit the Kisumu Museum, walk around the Impala Sanctuary that houses big cats (in cages), eat at lakeside cafes called lwang’ni, catch the sunset at Hippo Lovers Point, play golf at Nyanza Club, ride the bodabodas called ngware, or relax at a hotel in the city. If you’re in town, I recommend the Acacia Premier Hotel.

While Kisumu is perhaps the most modern of the counties, for me Homa Bay is the most beautiful. Driving into Homa Bay, you see the changing landscape of the lake and the hills in the distance. If you find yourself here, you can stay at the Cold Springs Hotel, and enjoy their fruit juice and continental breakfast.

In Homa Bay there is the alkaline lake, Simbi Nyaima, which literally means “the village that sank.” Folklore has it that the lake was formed after an old woman cursed a village that sank into the ground after a heavy downpour. In the middle of the year, flamingos from Lake Nakuru can be found here.

Then there are the islands — Rusinga, Mfangano, Takawiri and Mbasa. Rusinga is the most popular because of the festival. Mbasa is visited by over 90 species of exotic birdlife. Mfangano holds the ancient secrets of the Suba Community in the Mawanga Caves. And Takawiri is known for its white sandy beaches and palm trees.

Accommodation options on the islands include Takawiri Resort, Governor’s Camp on Mfangano, Rusinga Island Lodge and Lake Victoria Safari Village. If you want to de-stress, I recommend Safari Village — book the room in the watchtower where you will fall asleep to the sound of waves gently lapping the shore.

The Ruma National Park in Homa Bay is the only place in the world where one can see the Roan antelope, an endangered species.

In Migori County, you will find more Luo history at Thimlich Ohinga. This is a complex of stone ruins from the 16th century and is a Unesco protected site.

On the other side of the lake is Siaya County. It is a place rich in political history as it is the birthplace of Kenyan politician Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his son Raila Odinga.

It is also the place where the second largest ox-bow lake in Africa is found — Lake Kanyaboli — part of the depleted Yala Swamp. It is considered a habitat for fish species that have disappeared from Lake Victoria.

Around Lake Kanyaboli is where the Sitatunga antelope is found. It is a highly endangered species that can only be found in Yala swamp.

These are but a few of the treasures of Nyanza. Do take a trip and discover more for yourself.