Lake Victoria is a great place for backpacking to for some relaxation after visiting the big national parks in Kenya.
This is about a trip I did there after spending time at Lake Nakuru.
Nakuru to Kisumu at Lake Victoria
Leaving Nakuru National Park we waited around for a matatu to leave, which is an eleven seater minivan commonly crammed with twenty odd people
We eventually hit the road in a surprisingly comfy matatu and it was a five hour journey to the city of Kisumu in Western Kenya.
The road passed through the lush countryside of Kenya’s tea plantations, cruising along good and typically bad roads all at once it seemed, until the sound of a pop and the smell of burning rubber signalled a flat tire.
Coming to a halt to put on a new tire on as the sun was slowly setting as we hit the road again, and ended up on a seriously chaotic dusty road with bustling traffic as Kisumu by Lake Victoria was upon us.
Needing to get to the guest-house at the end of the city in the dark, in a packed out matatu, with fires burning on the side of the road as people barbecued their dinners, and cars racing in and out of a narrow road, we finally ound our home for the night in a slightly strange area.
Some food and mosquito avoidance tactics that came later on and we were ready to get some sleep and ready ourselves for Mbita, the town we would base ourselves by the lake.
Waking to see our surroundings in daylight we were thankful we were not staying in the rather humorous mini ghetto hotel opposite our guest-house.
Jumping into what may have been one of the more hilarious matatu rides ever as twenty-four people were squeezed into an eleven seater van, we zoomed down the road for two hours to get to the shores of Lake Victoria.
Lake Victoria is one of the biggest lakes in the world and is massive and surrounded with small fishing villages and larger towns.
We waited for a ferry for the one hour trip to Mbita, the final destination.
While we were waiting we killed time by eating, devouring huge sodas ,and a mission to find something for dessert. Being a small fishing village there was not much, actually there was nothing in the way of sweets.
So a rather shady looking pack of old biscuits was all we could manage, and after a quick bite they were quickly thrown away as they were some of the worse biscuits ever encountered. Having some more biscuits to compare, things did not improve.
The great biscuit debate was upon us, well not so great as we only had to decide between three packs, and the digestives won, if only by default.
And thats how you kill time as a backpacker while waiting for your cheap transport to arrive, biscuits. Well a deck of cards would have been handy as well, but we were not that sophisticated.
With the ferry arriving everyone started scrambling on board, so we joined in, and getting a rather pleasant spot on top went cruising for the first time across Lake Victoria.
With the sun burning our bodies and the lake breeze then cooling them down, the ferry meandered along.
We could see the outline of one island that we would visit the next day, and then Mbita itself appeared in the distance.
Mbita! We made it.
Escaping the ferry and believing we were in the middle of nowhere we asked a local where the centre was.
‘Here is the centre’, he said.
So what appeared to be nothing was in fact the centre of town, I liked this already, the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere and no other tourists in sight.
Motorbike taxis flew past on the streets as we searched for a Mbita hotel for the night.
Finding somewhere to sleep we then feasted on rather dry, but good tasting barbecued beef. Then we wandered to the water to see some local fishing boats and watch them bringing in big catches from the days fishing.
As night came a lot of twinkling lights could be seen far out on the water. These were fishing boats using lanterns to attract flies to the light. The flies would then fall on the water and the fish would come to eat them helping the fishermen catch the fish.
It was a very serene scene in the dark, with dozens of lights all across the bay on the boats. We drifted to sleep with the view of the boats from the hotel balcony.
Waking up on Lake Victoria we took a slow ferry to one of the islands dotting the lake, in this case Mfangano island.
The people of Mbita and the general atmosphere were a welcome relief from overland travel already and they are exceptionally friendly and don’t try to sell you anything, and when you need something the first price given is the right one.
So after the ferry to Mfangano island, which is way of the beaten path, it was exciting to see how the people there would be.
Arriving with a hungry stomach we grabbed some food in a small local restaurant. Being on Lake Victoria fish was naturally on the menu.
Delicious fresh fish in sauce and barbecued marinated pork did the job perfectly.
And all this will only set you back $2.50.
Meeting some local guys with motorbikes they gave us a ride to the small local museum to get a guide for a 45 minutes hike up the side of a hill, to see some ancient rock paintings.
Cruising past small villages on the motorbikes, with children waving and people saying hello, you get to the start of the hike.
With the midday heat it is a bit of a hot walk up but is worth it for the view across part of Lake Victoria to the mainland.
You soon realise that you climbed for the view and not the paintings,as they were not that impressive. But the guide was very friendly, as was everyone in the area, and enthusiastic about explaining life on Mfangano Island.
Enquiring about the local fishing practices the guide happily showed the way to an area where the people were fishing.
Straight away a man was showing part of the days catch.
The people pulled in a large net that was set out in the lake and they all shared the catch.
There was not many fish that day but it was very peaceful watching the whole scene play out.
Even a small catch is shared.
Leaving to get the last small local ferry back to Mbita we rode one more time on the motorbikes to the beach.
With one last drink we boarded the boat and slowly moved along, with dark clouds overhead and a rainbow across the sky, and the threat of a heavy storm looming.
But just a light shower came and the boat ride was very relaxed and easy to drift of in thought.
Back on land again we said goodbye to the boatmen, who were very jovial, as the sun set behind the hills and the creeping darkness came.
With thoughts of food as we headed up the road to our hotel we saw the final rays of the sun vanish.
A very friendly, beautiful day, on Lake Victoria.
Visiting Mbita and Mfangano island is a great example of off the beaten path travel.
You will not see massive sights that the big tourist attractions provide, such as the Masai Mara, but you will meet very friendly people, find a great vibe, and just general peacefulness.
That to me is better than seeing any big tourist attraction in the world. In fact some of my best memories of Kenya come from this visit.
If you’re heading to Kenya for a few weeks check out my 2 week backpacking Kenya itinerary.
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