Rubondo Island – Africa’s very own version of Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs (I think) but with a pretty ethnic blend of other wild-&-woolies… Where, you ask? Rubondo (don’t you just love how that word rrrrrolls off the tongue?) Rrrrrrubondo is a small-ish island in the far south-west of Lake Victoria (yes, Africa’s biggest and second in the world to Lake Superior – duh) and home to some pretty crazy biodiversity… but more on that later.
For now, let’s focus on the lake and its hidden treasure, the Nile Perch – an enormous beast of a fish which, as luck would have it (cos they taste so good and cos they are being caught a lot by local fishermen), are actually introduced to the lake and regarded as one of the most invasive fish in Africa… hah!
So for once, I really didn’t feel so bad pulling in hundreds of kilograms of this delectable fishy (well, maybe more like 10kgs – but they do get over 100kgs!) Those who spend more time in the equatorial regions of Africa will tell you that the perch is an incredible game fish and will fight you until your forearms cave in… they obviously have not spent enough time ‘trawling for tiger’ (Tiger Fish) down in our part of the world.
In comparison to the Zambezi’s tigers, the perches of Lake Vic are a bit like the BFG’s of the game fish world – big, lumpy, clumsy & not great fighters (one jump does not a fight make – just ask anyone who has lost a tiger on the third, fourth or fifth jump). But they are yummy (I think I have alluded to that already) and for that reason, and for the environmental good I was doing on a daily basis, I really did not feel too bad about raking the depths of the lake, even if I never pulled in the “Big One” (the one that got away, you understand).
The giant fillets grilled lightly with some lemon, herbs & garlic is pretty much heaven on a plate – and on the bright side, your forearms are still strong enough (cf. Mr Tiger-Fisherman) to hold a bottle of Kili to help wash the whole lot down.
And what of this Jurassic, tongue-rolling island around which the search for this elusive perch was taking place… Rrrrrrrrubondo – coming in to land in the little plane on the island’s incredibly tight airstrip (think: landing a dung beetle on a pin-head of poo buried in a rainforest), only adds to the craziness of the place. As the plane door opens, you’re hit in the face by the thick & heavy, rainforesty air, alive with the sounds of a bazillion bugs, birds, critters & creatures of every sort.
The whole island is a national park (Tanzanian) and over the past 50 years or so, the island has been used as a relocation and research center for a number of pretty cool species from African Grey Parrots to chimps to elephants to sitatunga and everything really inbetween. The wildlife list reads like a guest book at Fawlty Towers – not all of it really matches up and some of it is just plain unbelievable (giraffe on a rainforested island in the tropics anyone?) But as with many of these Great African Lakes forests, Rubondo has a goldmine of the little critters which make the world go round without our knowing… six legs, eight legs, wings, feathers & antennae – these are the creatures of Rubondo that are really worth checking out, when you’re done trying to figure out whether the little bambi you’re watching is sitatunga-cross-bushbuck or vice versa… (yes, hybrids are everywhere – it’s an island after all!)
The otters are cool. So are the hippos that come out each evening onto the beaches (a lake this big has a tidal system so there are waves which make for some pretty cool images of hippos ‘surfing’ onto the beaches in the evening). The crocs that patrol the island fringes are not cool. But they have perch to keep them happy – or so I was told by the beaming local scout after he watched me cavorting in the waves for a full 10-minutes before calling me out the water and pointing out the driftwood like shape not 100-yards from where I was playing hippo. Not cool. But a morning chorus of parrots, hornbills & just about every bird imaginable (Double-toothed Barbet anyone??) followed by a leisurely stroll with local guide extraordinaire, Habibu, to check out the island’s resident flutterbies and other forest beings is a great way to start the day. Just to stand under the massive canopy of Lord-of-the-Rings-ish giant trees in the forest is worth the ticket there – it’s a natural tree-cathedral that will blow your mind. One can kayak the island shores or do a boat or vehicle safari. There’s the fishing, and there are some interesting forest hikes one can do to the far reaches of the island to explore the chimp and elephant habitats a little more. The place has a weird yet entirely cool feeling of being so out-of-this-world, that you sometimes catch yourself thinking perhaps you are on another planet (the Jurassic Park theme is strong here) – but it’s all a good feeling and one that makes you feel the way you feel when you wake up from a good dream and want to climb back under the covers and rejoin the adventure where you left off before your 2-year old shook you awake for milkies… (or is that just me?)
Rubondo – check it out. Say it out loud with your tongue rolling around in your mouth. Rrrrrrubondo. Then when you done – try see if you can stop by there inbetween a classic East African safari of Serengeti, etc. Like a spoonful of fresh sorbet between courses, Rubondo is the perfect palate-cleanser to the migration madness going on next-door…