September 2016 Published 12 November 2016

At Mbita Point by Victoria’s shores

Lights flicker in the dark as lanterns appear on the lake. At first it seems like city lights being turned on. It’s a spectacular sight, the fishermen spreading their nets in the lake, attached to floating lanterns whose light will lure the tiny omena into them.

We’re standing high on the only light house at Lake Victoria Safari Village on the shores of Winam Gulf – an extension of Lake Victoria on the northeastern side. The lights increase filling the horizon and look amazing while the sky sparkles with constellations, the Scorpian unfurling its tail in the dark night.

Sailing to Sindo past the volcanic Gembe Hill
Sailing to Sindo past the volcanic Gembe Hill – the lakebed has a layer of volcanic rubble Copyright picture by Maya Mangat

It’s a beautiful night with a breeze but for the fishermen it’s a hard life having to battle the waves and the winds.

Sleeping in the Light House is amazing – built by Odd Bredo, a structural engineer – using a toy model for proportions.

In the morning l’m amazed to find no beach by the light house. In the last few years on the west coast, the lake levels have risen submerging the beach and the base of the lighthouse. Young students from the nearby university take a break to enjoy a swim in the lake and marvel the iconic lighthouse.

Being on the lake is fantastic. Sailing on the speedboat to the far end of the gulf to the tiny town of Sindo, Bredo wants to show us the volcanic outcrop, discovered using Google map. It’s interesting sailing along the shoreline passing the rural homesteads of the Nilotic Luo and the Suba who are Bantu.

Few fishermen are out now. An anchored boat bobs on the lake full of Short-tailed cormorants and Greater cormorants perched on it.

“That is the volcano,” points Bredo to the high peaks of the Gembe Hills and further the Gwassi Hills as we near the town of Sindo that is 18 kilometers from Mbita Point by road.

He fishes out the post card that clearly shows the formation of the crater on Gembe – an almost 360-degree circle but with a quarter of it in the lake.

“This means that there is lava on the lake bed,” states our Captain.

These hills were at one time forested and l’m really fascinated reading a research paper published in 1972 that the Luo had sacred forests called gumbas that were protected. Many of the hills then boasted luxuriant woodlands of fig trees and other large trees that provided large timber for local canoe manufacture. Now the trees are gone and timber brought in from Uganda. I make a mental note to explore more of the hills in search of these sacred groves that seem similar to the sacred “Kaya” forest groves of the Mijikenda at the coast.

The wind begins to whip up the waves making the smooth ride now really choppy. Plans to sail to the twin islands of Mbasa – so full of monitor lizards and rich in birdlife – are abandoned.

Back at the Safari village, the sun begins to set over Rusinga island. One of the most spectacular sunsets happens on 23rd December when the sun sets between the twin islands of Mbasa – and l’ve seen that. It then travels back to Rusinga and on 23rd June, sits on the peak of Rusinga and then turns towards Mbasa Island.

In the glow of the sun, there’s a movement in the water. Tiny faces bob out playfully slipping in and out of the water. It’s a family of White-necked spotted otters – a mother with her brood. We watch enchanted.

At one time these these beautiful creatures were common in the lake. Now they are increasingly rare, caught in the fishermen’s nets or poisoned by them simply to stop the otters competing for fish.

But in the safety of the rocks around the lighthouse, one family has taken residence. We toast to the day and keep a watch for Janyiero the laughing god of the Luo whose statue welcomes guests to Lake Victoria Safari Village.

When at Mbita Point

Stay at Lake Victoria Safari Village –

There’s only one luxury room in the Light house – so it’s in demand. Otherwise there are comfortable ensuite bandas dotted in the garden with space for camping.

It’s a must to sail to the many islands of Victoria – including reaching the border of Uganda. In addition, Ruma National Park, the only home of the rare Roan antelope (with fewer than 50 left) is 30 minutes from Mbita. See the postcard.

Easy option: fly to Homa Bay and catch a taxi to Mbita Point (30 minutes).