Africa By Boat

Passing through Mwanza on the way back from the marathon, I decided to take the ferry for the last leg of my journey. Mwanza is in a gold-producing area with active open-pit gold mines (such as the one at Geita) and ongoing prospecting. It is geologically similar to gold-producing areas in Australia and other parts of Africa, greenstone belts sandwiched by granite and gneiss. There seems to be some debate on the origin of greenstone terrains, and if you’re a geologist you can read more about it here. Others can read it too, but gneiss will only be the first thing to confuse you.

It makes for pretty spectacular scenery, which I didn’t capture as well as I could have, had I felt more comfortable taking my camera out on the bus from Bukoba to Mwanza. I sketched some of the rocks in my journal before realizing there’s a good reason I’ve never considered myself artsy.

Crossing Lake Victoria overnight by ferry was a nostalgic experience, although by definition I suppose I can’t be nostalgic about something I’ve never done before. The voyage carried tones of steamer boats, of times gone by, of belongings in wooden trunks. As well as way too many lake flies.

The toilets didn’t smell very nice, but my top bunk was more comfortable than my bed in Kamachumu. There’s nothing I love more than sleeping in a top bunk (could this be why I haven’t visited Marc and Djoke since they moved out of the house with bunk beds? Hmm).

The girl in the bottom bunk tapped away on her laptop, but it didn’t detract from the sense of being a half a century in the past. Also, I wasn’t scared she’d steal my stuff. It’s not nearly as shiny as hers was.

The ferry pulls out of Mwanza at 9pm sharp (well, it left within 5 minutes of 9 – I checked), and rolls into Bukoba at 6am, whistles blowing to raise the dead, or in this case, the poor sleeping citizens of Bukoba. My journey would have been about 17 hours shorter by plane, but I’ve seen Lake Victoria from the sky a few times already and I felt that crossing the lake by boat would perhaps be a more valid way of experiencing it. Besides, I’ve never been one to rush my travels. The thrill is in being on the move, especially in a place where I’m starting to feel quite comfortable.

If I’d flown, I wouldn’t have made friends with Agnes at the New Mwanza Hotel, where I sat for six hours between flight and ferry. I wouldn’t have had the ferry ticket-master check up on me as I boarded, remembering me by name and asking if things were alright. I wouldn’t have seen the lights on the shores of Africa’s largest lake*, the origin of the great Nile, recede into the vast darkness, that darkness Africa always seems to suggest to our imaginations.

The only other time I’ve felt that same sense of being utterly submerged in the Africa of literature was floating on the river Niger, watching the fishermen and herdsmen of Mali pass by as if on a film. Otherwise, it never feels like you’re in Africa. It’s just Tanzania, it’s just Kamachumu. Not so different from anywhere else.


*Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest lake by surface area, after Lake Superior. Its shallowness, the density of population surrounding it (read: sewage), and invasive species, both fish and vegetation, present quite a threat to the lake’s ecology and the sustainability of its fishery. However, and this bothers me an incredible amount, whenever you mention this to a Tanzanian or a Ugandan (I haven’t tried with any Kenyans), they seem completely unaware and actually deny that the lake is polluted at all. Someone had the audacity to tell me the other day that waste being discharged into the lake isn’t a problem. If Halifax harbour is polluted, let me tell you, Lake Victoria is POLLUTED. Mwanza is one of Africa’s fastest growing cities at 12% per year and has a population of somewhere around 2 million people – and that’s only one of many major ports on the lake. Let’s compare this to HRM at less than 400,000 people and our waste is going into the Atlantic Ocean. If Lake Victoria isn’t polluted, folks, I think I’ll go for a swim in the harbour when I get home and perhaps we better rethink treating that sewage. Waste of time.

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  1. This post, could be considered African literature. And maybe you don’t think you can draw, but your writing is definitely “artsy”…in a very good way.

    Let’s do go swim in Halifax Harbour. 🙂


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