About a week ago, I returned to Mukungwa River to try something new and bond with nature. Contrary to the reality, available literature doesn’t portray Mukungwa as a rich source of amusement and knowledge.
Mukungwa flows from Lake Ruhondo to Nyabarongo River. However, its source is linked to Rugezi swamp found in the highlands of Buberuka. It is a wildlife sanctuary offering visitors an opportunity to encounter a variety of birds and other harmless creatures.
I joined a small group of domestic tourists and participated in a canoeing expedition, courtesy of Kingfisher Journeys. We were picked up from downtown Musanze and driven to the river bank somewhere in Gacaca Sector, approximately 10 kilometers out of town. I was the only one in the group who had never done canoeing before but clear instructions from our guide made my life easy throughout this thrilling activity.
Propelling my canoe was easier than I expected, thanks to the gentle stream. I shared the same vessel with the instructor. Every now and then I would let him do the paddling while I took pictures and admired adorable birds. As we paddled, our canoes glided down the tide leaving behind trails of twisting whirlpools. Kids from neighboring villages gathered on both sides of the river cheering us up.
The wider wetland area has been invaded by farmers who grow their crops there. Subsistence fishing is also carried out by individuals residing near the river. They use hooks to catch one fish at a time. Some of them set traps and attend to other duties leaving behind their instruments fishing for them. Our guide instructed us to avoid paddling near those hooks but it wasn’t always easy for us to stay on our lane.
The current had a way of speeding up and slowing down our canoes at different stages of the meandering watercourse. As gentle as they looked, those waves overpowered us from time to time. I remember being swayed astray several times. Whenever I lost control, I took it easy and let the velocity of the water get me back on track.
The team behind us experienced balancing issues at some point and their canoe turned upside down. They were thrown onto the water causing a splash and loud screams. Nonetheless, they seemed to enjoy their unscripted swimming session. When order was restored, we resumed our 3-hour journey. Participants wear life jackets to ensure safety.
I fell in love with canoeing the moment I put the paddle in the water for the first time. Until the 1800s, canoes were commonly used by explorers and traders. Today, these light vessels are mainly used for recreation and sports. In northern USA, Canada and New Zealand, the canoe remains an important cultural symbol.
The highlight of the day was the whitewater stage under the bridge. At this point, the flow is rapid and the turbulence is more violent. When we were approaching the bridge, helmets were distributed and more instructions were given, a gesture that prepared my mind for something more intense.
Farther downstream, the river splits into two channels. We pursued the one on the right hand side, following recommendations from our guide. Here, water flows more rapidly and corners are sharper. We had to work harder to keep up with the twisting and turning.
The last hour of our memorable experience was relatively easy. When we crossed the finish line at Nyakinama, the driver was already there waiting for us.
As I got off the canoe and walked to the car, I started digesting lessons soaked up during this fulfilling excursion. This experience was a rare opportunity to observe birds’ impressive work ethic, attention to detail and resilient spirit, to name but a few. I will shed more light on the lifestyle of the birds of Mukungwa in one of my upcoming posts. In the meantime, I will sit back and reminisce all the little moments that highlighted my first ever canoeing tour.