Sitting in my hotel room waiting for some food (it's late) to wolf down before taking the car to the airport.
So, finally got to out to Lake Tanganyika yesterday. And it's quite something. It's huge. It has surf! Sandy beaches! On the east and west sides, there are chains of high hills -- small mountains, really. (Bujumbura sits on a sort of coastal plain a couple of miles wide between the hills and the lake.)
I didn't go in, because I'm twitchy about things like bilharziasis. Although apparently the risk here is between tiny and zero; for some reason, whether because of altitude or surf conditions or whatever, the nastier African lake parasites are rare or entirely absent. So maybe I should have -- the water looked very nice and inviting.
If the lake really is safe for swimming, there's immense potential for tourism there. In the evening the sun sets over the green hills of eastern Congo and the quality of the light turns all hazy and golden for half an hour. Then at night the tropical stars come down close while the surf booms, night birds call, geckos click and whirr and bats wheel around the lights hawking for insects. It's gorgeous.
I say "potential", but it actually was a tourist destination, back in the day. Belgians and French from all over Africa came here in the 1950s to relax; there was a high-end hotel and a beach resort. Right into the 1980s there were still direct flights from France (and, of all places, Moscow) bringing a few rich or adventurous tourists to a destination that was far out of the way, but beautiful and -- then -- fairly comfortable and safe.
The hotel and the resort are still there. The hotel is a restaurant now; it has a tree to mark where one of the heroes of the independence movement was assassinated by the Belgians while he was sitting at his table. (That's this whole fascinating but depressing story. Short version, the Belgians -- though less than a year away from being kicked out -- preferred a rival, less nationalistic and anti-Belgian party. The assassin used was Greek. The assassination accomplished exactly nothing for the Belgians, but went a long way towards permanently poisoning Burundi's ethnic politics.) The resort is in pretty good shape, with a lovely pool and a playground and a huge stretch of beach, but basically it's servicing World Bank missions and like that. (We didn't stay there. Cheaper hotel, other side of town.) Maybe it'll get real tourists again, some day. Someone would have to seriously invest in the tourism sector, though, which is not happening at the moment.
Okay, no food. Hungry to the car, then, and grab some biscuits or something on the way -- and thanks to Noel for linking to these!