With a little extra effort we ended the second day of classroom work in time for a boat trip to the island a couple of miles away that rose perhaps 500 feet from the lake and that had beckoned us since we first set eyes on it on Sunday. A rather battered looking long wooden boat, powered by an equally battered outboard motor, was driven onto the sandy beach to allow us to board without getting wet feet.
Small waves caused little in the way of movement as we motored for 20 minutes before circumnavigating the home of 500 villagers and thousands of nesting and feeding birds – among them egret, sacred ibis, kite and fish eagle. A colony of pied kingfishers clung to the lower cliffs, several of them displaying their skill by diving repeatedly into the water from maybe 50 feet or so. Egrets occupied the higher cliffs while sacred ibis, crane and marabou stork preferred the trees surrounding the village. We watched an eagle take a large tilapia and fly lazily to its perch on a small headland where it grasped the fish in its talons and tore at the flesh for its supper. Several villagers were washing naked on the lakeshore unconcerned at our passing while others were completing their day’s fishing in little boats like ours before heading ashore to sell or prepare their catch for supper or for market in Bukoba and beyond – each flight to Mwanza carries several sealed plastic tubs of fresh fish.
After a full circuit we landed at the village and were immediately mobbed by countless small children mostly dressed in very dirty clothes – rather surprising to us after seeing the ablutions of adults and the abundance of fresh water. We climbed the narrow stony paths between the wooden houses with children hanging onto our fingers and appealing for sweets, nuts and bottled water. Divested of our consumables, we left them behind with the village and the little orthodox church and made the short steep ascent through long grass and clouds of harmless lake flies to the shrub covered crest of the island, stopping short of the cliff tops we had seen from below. Kite and malibu stork soared in lazy flight in the rising air currents above our heads, swift wheeled and dived acrobatically catching flies on the wing and yellow weaver birds flitted among the shrubs around us. We could see for miles in all directions but the light soon faded as the sun descended into low cloud over the hills behind Bukoba in the west. A few photos and a rapid descent brought us back to the shore where the latest catch in the bottom of a fishing boat was being haggled over by a group of men. Photos could be obtained at a price but there was little interest in that form of bargaining from either party and the offer of a sharp pencil with rubber in exchange for a picture was no temptation to the owner of the boat and fish!
It was dark when we reached the mainland and made our way back to the hotel, avoiding large potholes and puddles in the road as best we could. No running water for a shower this evening before we head for our meal. Our appetites have been good this week and the food pretty satisfying, even the grasshopper snacks have been tasty!
What matter that we had abandoned the classrooms and left our equipment in a muddle? We’d had a boat to catch!
Anyhow, the interlude had recharged all our batteries in readiness for another busy day tomorrow…