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Kisoro’s soda water flows from streams

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th January 2004 03:00 AM

It is an extremely hot afternoon, and after walking for nearly an hour, just to get here, we are dying of thirst. It is a place, in the middle of a tiny village, where soda water sprouts from the ground.

It is an extremely hot afternoon, and after walking for nearly an hour, just to get here, we are dying of thirst. It is a place, in the middle of a tiny village, where soda water sprouts from the ground.

By Oscar Bamuhigire

It is an extremely hot afternoon, and after walking for nearly an hour, just to get here, we are dying of thirst. It is a place, in the middle of a tiny village, where soda water sprouts from the ground.

“Pass me the bottle,” I call out to Michael Ruranga, who is gulping soda water with such enthusiasm, relish and excitement, that he can barely hear me. The clear water in front of us bubbles incessantly and lets off some moisture, which appears, from a distance, to be like steam. Quite ironically, this water is freezing cold.

Finally, I get the bottle and fetch my share of soda water. I gulp, and after some seconds, with my thirst quenched, I stare at this tiny soda pond in disbelief. The water tastes like soda water, with the exception of a tiny tinge of salt that is not found in soda water.

The villagers here have taken to drinking this soda water like there is no tomorrow. Every after five minutes, a tiny group of villagers swamps the scene with anything from five-litre jerry cans, to plastic bottles, to saucepans, to fetch their share of soda water. Once stored in their containers, they place a thorny plant, called Itovu (in their local language), inside for preservation.

“We call it amakyera,” says Charles Kwizera, a resident of the village of Ruhezamyanda, Bunagana, where this tiny soda pond is located. “People like this water because it is like soda, and also helps in the treatment of stomach illnesses,” he says happily, gesturing towards the bubbling pond.

“Even Bazungu have come here to taste the water, and they take some of it in the bottle back to their homes. Many other Bazungu come here and even place long metallic poles inside the pond to measure its depth. I don’t know what they are looking for, but they have been measuring the pond and leaving clear marks around.”

So, as it turns out, we are not the only people thrilled by this rare site. It is, in reality, a major tourist site, not yet well publicised by tourist organisations.

“They are looking for oil and petroleum,” says Alsad Bigirimana, LC1 chairman of Bunagana trading centre, gulping a little more soda: “They believe that this carbonated water must be having oil reserves under it. They have actually said that it has several underground tunnels leading deep into Rwanda!”

Charles and Alsad both reveal the fact that these curious and mysterious European visitors started coming to visit the soda pond in the 1970s.

We all fall silent for a while, as the bottle of soda crosses from one person to the next, its contents being emptied with an unprecedented appetite. After a while, some more information surfaces.

“There are more of these soda ponds inside the DRC,” says Joseph Nsaba, a resident of Bunagana trading centre, married to a Congolese wife.

My sources further reveal that these ponds are connected to River Nkangagura, which we passed, in the middle of thick shrubs, tall grass, and shrubs. This river is swamped by the spectacular sites of rushing water, in form of miniature rapids, and magnificent rare plant species, that stretch from all around, and in its midst.

River Nkangagura has its own breath-taking tale. “It is connected to the crater lake on top of Mt. Muhavura,” says Alsad Bigirimana. “That’s where its water comes from. It enters inside the DRC and it is believed to contain carbonated water.”

“It hardly has anything inside it,” says Charles. “It only has mud fish because its waters are very shallow. Other fish cannot survive inside it.”

Finally, my sources acquaint me with the interesting myths attached to this soda pond.

“We call this pond Amizi ga Ruganzu”. They say. “Ruganzu was a great Rwandese King in this area, in about 1910, long before our borders were drawn to what they are today. The king used to drink this water, and that from another nearby spot called Nyamugale, for breakfast. No one else was allowed to drink from this pond.

“He had supernatural powers, and could enter inside this pond, disappear and later emerge several miles away.”

Their mention of King Ruganzu, brings to light other major tourist sites. They take me to some rocky caves, where, they say, the king had certain drums made out of stone, naturally embedded in the rock. These drums, called Engoma za Ruganzu, even had a special stone seat, and stone drum sticks, that were used to beat them.

These drums, they say, had always attracted European tourists from as far back as the 1960s. Just as important is the fact that the rocks onto which these drums are found, contain certain tiny stones that the villagers use for the treatment of heart problems.

They call them ‘Omutiima guisi’, meaning heart of the world. Tourists are known to carry these stones along with them back to their countries.

Quite unfortunately, both drums were recently shattered by curious villagers, who hit them with stones in the attempt to find out why a rock sounded like a drum!

“King Ruganzu was so powerful that when he stepped on a rock, his foot prints remained there,” they say. “And if his arrow landed on a rock, water sprouted out of its midst. He had so many dogs, and some of the foot prints of his mysterious dogs could also be sighted on some rocks around here.”

We move deep into the surrounding bushes in search of the stones that have the foot prints of King Ruganzu and his dogs, but when we get there, sadly enough, we find the entire place covered in water and swampy shrubs.

“We used to see those stones when we were kids,” says Alsad, “but bushes and water have since covered the place.”

In the days that come to pass, we visit Lake Mutanda, another breath- taking water reserve, which has also become a major tourist site.

Hotel Mushengera rests securely on its banks, and offers a range of services, including canoe and boat rides. The beauty of this lake is further enhanced by the presence of numerable islands that are habitable.

Kisoro’s water reserves are strengthened by its favourable climate. It is situated on the shoulder of the Western Rift Valley, where the land rises in altitude. The rains here are high and occur in two peaks. The rains are more protracted, non intense, and average between 1500-2000mm.

This area is cold with temperatures ranging from 22.5 degrees centigrade to as low as 10 degree centigrade. In addition to this, there is considerable forest cover.

Kisoro’s soda water flows from streams

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