I just spent an idyllic three days in Homa Bay County by the shores of Nam Lolwe, eating fresh fried fish caught from the lake every day, and enjoying magical sunsets. I found my hotel through a quick internet search, Victoria Sands Lodge, and confirmed its existence and quality by scouring through pages of google reviews.
Everyone seemed to agree that if you can brave the rough 20-minute drive from Mbita Point to Victoria Sands, you’ll be rewarded with a small but charming hotel sitting right by the lake and boasting its own private little sandy beach. They were right. The Mbita-Sindo road that leads to the hotel is barely a road at all. You can see some half-hearted attempts at laying murram in some sections but nobody has bothered to grade it or smooth out its gullies and bumps. It’s best navigated by a car with high clearance, strong shock absorbers and good tires. But don’t blame Victoria Sands for the road, blame the county government.
An old Probox with exposed springs in the back seat got me there just fine. I arrived at noon to a sharp overhead sun offset by manicured grass that they have miraculously managed to keep green through the prevailing drought, and a sizeable blue swimming pool that sparkles in the sun. The rooms are simple but clean. What they lack in style they more than make up for in a big comfortable bed and a fan that blows warm air at you aggressively to give the illusion of cooling you off.
I would have loved nothing more than to spend my days lounging by the pool and working my way through the books gathering dust in my kindle, but this was a working vacation. I’d need internet good enough to get on zoom calls and say “nothing from my end”. The manager swears that the wifi works perfectly but really it’s hit or miss, so you’re best served by tethering to your phone carrier hotspot whose 4G connectivity is reliable and consistent.
The thing about traveling alone as a woman is that sexist microaggressions follow you no matter how far away you get from Nairobi. I was working through a generous-sized fish on my first day when a youth group docked at the lodge, their bluetooth speaker and loud conversations drowning out the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. Annoying, but not criminal. I was fine until one of them swaggered up to me, demanding attention.
“Sema babygirl, mambo?” he said, extending his hand for a fist bump. Perhaps the polite thing would have just been to return the greeting and return to my fish. But something about how he’d singled me out from everyone else eating their lunch in peace grated against my sensibilities. And I simply wasn’t in the mood. “Please leave me alone,” I said. He left, but since he was determined to have the last word, he returned a few minutes later to tell me I should accept greetings because “I never know”.
Later that evening, I went back onto Mbita-Sindo road for a walk, trying to quicken digestion so I could work up an appetite for more fish for dinner. It was 5.30pm, the sun had mellowed and started to set. I asked the guards at the hotel whether it was safe to wander about on my own (solo female traveler, remember?) and they assured me it was, provided I got back before dark. The road was busy with boda boda traffic as people made their way home, and the occasional herds of cattle and goats browsing by the roadside with their minders watching close by.
It would have been a good walk, except for the group of male teenagers who tried to deliberately cut me off on the path (for laughs, I suppose), and the elderly lady who stopped me and demanded to know where I was going, and how I intended to get there. Rude, but I suppose in the village your business is everybody’s business? The icing on the cake was the dreadlocked man with a huge backpack who made his boda boda stop so they could offer me a ride. When I declined, he too wanted to know where I was going, and what my name is. He didn’t like that I told him to leave me alone, and he rode off muttering about how in this life “you just never know”.
That vague threat again. It’s a curious concept, that you should accommodate intrusions into your privacy because otherwise some form of retribution might meet you somewhere down the road. Men wielding happenstance to coax obedience from women. Honestly, I’m happy to never know.
Go tell someone else.
To get to Victoria Sands from Kisumu, drive up to the Luanda K’otieno pier in Siaya County (takes about 2 hours). From there cross the lake to Mbita Point on a ferry or aboard a waterbus curiously named MV Koome (takes 30 minutes). Once you’re in Mbita find someone to drive you to the lodge, or take a boda boda. Long trip but worth it. I’ll be back.