It’s 6 in the morning but Nyamyumba Sector in Rubavu District is already busy. Night shift fishermen are returning to the shore from their respective work stations. Women are delivering fish to the market and moto riders are ferrying early birds to work.
About fifteen people are partially submerged in the hot springs’ water popularly known as amashyuza. Their mineral-rich natural spa is believed to be endowed with unmatched healing power.
The underground water bubbles its way to the surface of the earth through porous rocks. After being discharged, the said water is then gathered in a small pond attracting a good number of people every day.
My tour guide, Izibyose Desire, is a firm believer of the restoration effects of the hot springs. He is convinced that amashyuza heals back pain, headache, flu and skin diseases. He also claims that the seething panacea strengthens weak muscles and removes toxins from the body. "When consumed orally, the special remedy we are blessed with cures sore throat, hangover, constipation and urinary track infections." He adds.
Despite a strong belief in amashyuza, authorities in Rubavu have been quoted repeatedly sensitizing the people to seek medical care from licenced hospitals and health centers instead of relying on the hot springs.
Last time I was here, the magma-powered spa lifted my spirits and speeded up the recovery of sore muscles after two days of vigorous hiking in the Virunga mountain range. This time round, I have chosen to kick-start an adventurous week and a brand new month with yet another invigorating amashyuza experience.
Near boiling point water is emitted from the ground a couple of yards from the pond. This is where orally administered doses are procured. The hot water is also used to boil eggs and simmer potatoes, bananas, fish and other kinds of foodstuff.
Where does this water come from and what makes it hot? My guide answers this question without sounding as scientific as your boring Geology professor.
When rain water enters the ground and sinks deeper towards the mantle of the earth, its temperature rises. The deeper this water goes, the hotter it gets because there is a very hot fluid substance down there. Your old Physical Geography teacher used to call this fiery molten stuff magma.
As the heat rises with depth, it builds steam pressure which in turn, pushes geothermally heated water, measuring up to100° Celsius, back to the surface of the earth.
In ancient Roman and Greek communities, soaking in hot springs was considered a reliable treatment regimen. In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States built what was popularly known as the Little White House at the hot springs of Georgia. President Roosevelt used to pay frequent visits to the area for treatment of his paraplegic condition.
In Japan today, hot springs are flocked by numerous health freaks in pursuit of a better blood flow and metabolism. The Japanese credit their hot springs, commonly known as onsens, for curing digestive disorders, constipation, diabetes, gout and liver malfunctions.
Back in Nyamyumba, plans are underway to construct a $ 30 million Hot Springs Eco Resort. The proposed investment will attract more tourists, boost revenue and create jobs but some members of the local community are concerned. "The upmarket resort will cater for the high-end foreign clientele. Since we won’t be able to afford its services, we will lose access to the source of our magic potion." Says Bikorimana Jean Bosco, a regular fixture at the site.
I have been soaking in the hot tub for about thirty minutes. What follows is a distinctive physiotherapy session, unlike no other. I am about to be buried in the sand from neck to toe and feel the thrill of the steaming amashyuza liquid penetrating the organically composed sand and nourishing my skin.