07 Jan

Upon his arrival from present-day Tanzania, Henry Stanley reportedly pitched his tent on the shore of Lake Ihema in the 1870s. His tent became a monumental landmark along the shoreline. Eventually, the lake was named Ihema, a Kinyarwanda word that means tent.

This was Stanley’s second expedition to Africa. The objective of his tour was to complete the exploration and mapping of the great lakes and rivers of Central and East Africa. His journey was part of the grand exploration project designed to circumnavigate lakes Victoria and Tanganyika in a bid to trace the source of the Nile.

There are 10 lakes in Akagera National Park, Ihema being the biggest one. The said lake is also the second-biggest in the Land of 1,000 Hills, behind Lake Kivu.

Lake Ihema is rich in biodiversity. It is home to a huge population of hippopotami and crocodiles. Akagera's marshland area is the biggest protected wetland in Central Africa, and home to about 500 species of birds.

Luxury eco lodges are set up to reflect the environment in the park. At Ruzizi Tented Lodge, several deluxe tents are erected in the middle of swaying palm and fig trees. The reception and dining areas are grass-thatched. From there, wooden walkways lead to a stunning deck hanging over the surface of the lake.

Karenge Bush Camp, found in the northern part of the park, encompasses six canvas tents. The tents contain beds, camp chairs, reed mats and solar-powered lights. The newest accommodation trend on the banks of the lakes that embellish the surface of the park is a tented affair.

Pitching a tent, literary, was Stanley’s easiest way of building his makeshift shelter. He probably lacked options. Today, a tent is embraced by tourists in pursuit of an ultimate wilderness experience, including the high-end clientele.

After sojourning at Akagera Rhino Lodge, I spent my second night in the area at the community-owned Ihema View Campsite. From my tent, I had a clear view of the lake and its pristine environs. Plans are underway to upgrade the campsite to ensure the esteemed guests bond with nature without compromising comfort. As tourism evolves and luxury is redefined, the tent concept is here to stay.