Kisumu and Lake Victoria: the Lakeside sunset bliss
Situated on the shores of Africa’s largest and the world’s second largest freshwater lake after Lake Superior in the USA, Kisumu has one of the most breathtaking sunsets. On December 20, 1901, the last sleeper of the famous Uganda Railway was nailed in by Florence Preston, the wife of Ronald Perston, the chief platelayer of the railway. The point, on the shores of Lake Victoria was named Port Florence – but was not after Florence Perston. It was named after Florence Whitehouse, the wife of the chief engineer, George Whitehouse.
The name Port Florence only stuck for a year and reverted to Kisumu, which means ‘a place to look for food.’ A good starting point discovering the town is the Kisumu Museum on the Nairobi Highway. The main two-way traffic road, named after the famous ‘son of the lake’ – the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga – runs down the middle of the town. The road leads to the Industrial Area and further down to the golf course and the airport.
The port of Kisumu, off Kendu Road, is not set to handle tourists, but it gives an interesting voyage into history. The original sleeper seems to be lost somewhere on the grounds of the harbour overlooking the beautiful Maragoli Hills, which are full of granite rocks. The first steamships built in Kisumu in 1905 were the SS Sybila and the SS Nyanza. In 1907, the English political leader Winston Churchill visited Kisumu, the most important harbour in the lake until the collapse of the East African Community in 1977. Passenger services ceased in the early 1990s.
From the link span, you can see the Sunset Hotel, which was built in the 1970s on the lakefront from where guests can watch the sunset. It is a beautiful view that a first time visitor should not miss. Next to the hotel is Impala Park, which houses the town’s ‘original residents’–the remaining impalas and stray animals, including leopards and hyenas–in pens. Hippos walk around at night. The park is a rich ground for birds like African fish eagle. A few metres away is the Nyanza Club. The budget traveller can camp at the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya grounds, within walking distance of Sunset and Nyanza Club.
The Kisumu Municipal Market, built in 1935 is a must-see. Earthen pots and all the vegetables in season are on display here. Moving out of town, a drive along the lakeshore takes you down the members-only Yacht Club, through the Impala Park to Dunga. There is a restaurant and the local anglers might just lure you to a boat ride. The boats are not always fitted with lifesaving jackets, so you ride at your own risk.
On the other side of the lake, roads lead to Kakamega and on to Kakamega Forest, the only remnant of the Guinea-Congolian rainforest that once stretched across the entire expanse of Central Africa. The forest is about 240 sq km and great for bird lovers and those who want a quiet retreat. Accommodation comes in the form of the Rondo Retreat under the Trinity Fellowship and the Isecheno Bandas for visitors who prefer camping or self-catering. There are many circuits to drive in and out of Kakamega Forest. You can drive out via the gate that leads to Kapsabet and on to Nandi Hills and Songhor, passing through the tea hill slopes to the sugarcane plains of Chemelil, Miwani and Kibos. There are some fantastic sites around this route, like the South Nandi Forest, the prehistoric sites of Fort Ternan and Songhor, the high hilltop forest of Tinderet, down to Koru and Muhoroni. Driving through the sugar belt of Kibos, you can visit a typical Luo village at Kajulu. It is very picturesque and the surrounding hills are great for hiking. However, there is no tourist facility in the vicinity.
If you decide to break in Nandi town, drop in at one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country – Nandi Bear Club – where there are self-contained chalets. Nandi Bear is so named because of a story about an elusive animal that looked like a bear that used to come from the forest and kill the villagers. In the 1950s, the manager of a tea estate in Nandi shot two animals that pretty much resembled bears. The skeletons were sent to the Nairobi Museum but got lost. It is said that the animas could have been giant forest hyenas. The myth remains. If you happen to be driving to Kisumu from Kericho, you can stay at the Kericho Tea Hotel, which was built in 1958 by the Brook Bond tea estate. The hotel has seen better days but it is still a good choice overlooking the tea plantations and the Mau escarpments. Guides can take you for a walk on to the remaining tract of rainforest left in the area, which extends from the Mau ranges. It is a delight to see the red-tailed colobus monkeys and other animals of the wild.
If you prefer camping, the Kericho Fishing Lodge next door is ideal. It also has a restaurant and rooms. Do not miss a short walk at the Chagaik Botanic Garden by the tree estate just before you enter Kericho town. A visit to Ruma National Park can be very refreshing. Ruma can be reached through many circuits; form Kericho via Kisii and then through the fishing villages of Homa Bay and Kendu Bay. Or take the ferry from Luanda (on the way to Bondo) to Mbita Point. It is a welcome relief from the rough roads. At Mbita Point, stay at the Lake Victoria Safari Village on the lakeshore, a delightful, cheap lodge with beautiful gardens, and a strip of private beach and boats.
Ruma is the only park in the world with the sub-species of the roan antelope, the hippotragus equinus langheldhi. There are fewer than 100 remaining. That should make you want to visit this handkerchief of a park. You can camp or just visit for the day and return to Kisumu. Spend an extra day to drive to Rusinga Island via the cause way and visit the hotspots, like the prehistoric site, home of the Zinjanthropus Nyanii, an apelike ancestor that lived almost two million years ago in the forests that once covered the island. Visit the Tom Mboya’s memorial or sail to the twin island of Mbasa, uninhabited by people and full of monitor lizards, birds, crocodiles and snakes.
There are many Luo villages along the bays like the Uyoma Peninsular. Take the ferry from Luanda, past Maseno or the Luanda on the Homa Bay road. The ferry from Luanda to Mbita Point leaves at 8:00am, 11:00am, 3:00pm and 6:00pm. From Mbita Point to Luanda it leaves at 7:00am, 10:00am, 2:00pm and 5:00pm. If you take the ferry from Mbita Point to Kisumu, stop at the spectacular rock formation of Kit Mikayi, the sacred rock. Kit Mikayi means ‘big woman’ in Luo. For a fee, one can climb the rock to see the wide expanse of luoland.
If you have a friend with a speedboat in Kisumu, sail to Ndere Island. It’s uninhabited by humans save for a translocated baboon, the rare semi-aquatic sitatunga antelope, monitor lizards, African fish eagles, pied kingfishers and the jeweled beauty of a bird, the malachite kingfisher. You can also take the alternative route to Kisumu via Maai Mahiu through Narok to Sotik, and then to Kisii. From Sotik, you can turn right to Kericho/Kisumu. Alternatively, from Narok, drive into the Masai Mara National Reserve and spend a couple driving to the western vistas. From Kisii, the road continues to Ruma.
On the islands of Rusinga, Mfangano and Takawiri are up market lodges. Your travel agent should be able to book you in. or stay at the inexpensive lodges. Another circuit to explore is Kisumu to Eldoret, an easy two-hour drive, and the Kerio Valley viewpoint overlooking Tugen Hills. The floor or Kerio Valley spans 2,000 feet below Lake Kamnarok in the Rimoi Game Reserve, which is frequented by elephants and buffaloes.
One can drive across the valley to the Tugen Hills and combine this circuit with Lake Baringo, Bogoria or the Cherangany. The Flourspar Company is on the floor of the valley. The Kerio Valley Lodge is built on the escarpment. Not very far from Eldoret on this route is the High Altitude Training Centre at Iten, where Kenya’s famous athletes like Peter Rono, Wilson Kipketer and others train.
For a bit more adventure, drive further a field to Lodwar, via Kitale, with a stopover at the Saiwa Swamp National Park. Lodwar is near the western shores of Lake Turkana, which covers 77,000 sq km. this is the easiest road to Turkana. Trips to the central Island can be arranged and a night on the island is out of this world. You sleep under the stars, as the only structure on the island is a tin toilet. In Lodwar, stay at the Catholic Guesthouse. Also, visit the Ille Springs and Kalokal. A journey to the Mt Elgon National Park is as exciting as it is adventurous, especially to the elephant caves. Stay at the KWS bungalows complete with kitchens and barbeque jikos.
Enjoy your visit to Kisumu. You can do so much from there. Kisumu has a mix of restaurants and even boasts a German one. So, eating out is not limited to Chinese and Indian. It is important to carry lots of insect repellent because the lakeshore is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Kisumu is hot and humid but the nearby towns like Eldoret, Kitale, Kakamega and Nandi hills can be cold.
About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.
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