By David Cecil
Our delightful experience at AGS was all the more welcome, given our extremely unpleasant stay at another lodge on Lake Muhazi the night before, located closer to the small town of Byumba. This other lodge shall remain nameless, but serves as a useful point of comparison. We had only intended to come to Muhazi for one night and had heard that there was some affordable accommodation next to this incredibly beautiful, unspoiled lake, a mere half hour drive from Kigali.
Arriving after a long working day in Kigali, a little before sunset, we enjoyed a couple of liquid treats and a delicious (if basic) fried tilapia at a decent beach bar, before attempting to inspect the lodgings recommended by the bar staff. Cunningly, they delayed our inspection by a couple of hours, so that by the time we were ready to see the rooms, we were on the point of collapse and unable to move elsewhere. Their ‘luxury’ room, at Rwf45,000, would have made a Nyamirambo bar girl sneer, while their ‘standard’ Rwf20,000 rooms were below any acceptable ‘standard’, at least for homo sapiens.
Horror of the first night
Refusing to be extorted for Rwf45,000, I decided to put a brave face on and accept the ‘standard’ option. As if to avenge this miserly decision, the management decided to illuminate the light outside our bedroom door, but no other lights in the compound. Thus, at a certain cursed hour, as if by some hideous conspiracy, a particular species of monstrous lake-fly congregated outside our bedroom, clamouring for entrance.
Like a horror movie, these huge winged beasts besieged us, crawling relentlessly in through every crack in the window and door frame. Once inside, they flapped noisily from wall to wall like drunken bats, wriggling their way through holes in the mosquito netting and generally making a bl**dy nuisance of themselves.
Sleep was impossible, so, armed with a rubber slipper, I opened my laptop and proceeded to catch up with some work. Alas, this humble home had zero power sockets, so I was reduced to reading my book by feeble torchlight in the 20 second intervals between long bouts of massacring the winged beasts of the night. If it was not for my trusty bottle of Bushmills Irish whiskey, I fear I would now be safely restrained in a home for the mentally disturbed.
Dawn came and we emerged, traumatized, to the news that breakfast was an additional Rwf5,000 – each! At that price I assumed such a breakfast must consist of the finest Danish bacon, lobster from Zanzibar and perfectly-chilled champagne, all served by exotic dancers in bikinis. Alas, it was simply over-priced because they assumed we were stupid tourists who had no choice. Casting the staff a few merry curses, we took to the road regretting bitterly that we had ever come to Byumba. A few steps down the road quickly made me change my mind, however.
Lake Muhazi boasts one of the finest walks I have taken in lowland Rwanda. The road curves around the long, twisting banks, which are decked with a profusion of tall reeds, wild flowers and jungles of bamboo. The curves and indents mark a profusion of tributary rivers and streams from the hills overhead, from which the cries of herders and a thousand species of birds can be heard. It is quite sparsely-populated, so each passing local raises a hat or greets one warmly. Such a paradise has attracted some Kigalians desirous of a weekend or retirement home, so, in addition to the natural beauty of the lake, there are several tastefully-designed villas and bungalows nestling in amongst the plantations and woodland of the valley.
Such was the serenity and delight of our surroundings, that the horror of the previous night vanished from our minds. The fresh air cleansed our spirits and the sun warmed our hearts. With such positivity, I urged my companion to at least “give Muhazi one more chance” and we continued walking for an hour or more, hopeful that we might soon see a bar or tea-room where we might finally break our fast. My optimism was vindicated in no uncertain terms, when we rounded yet another bend to see the sign for AGS Country Club. Walking in, we were immediately welcomed by a charming young lady and, soon after, an extremely efficient manager. Their manners and flexibility, as well as the evident attractions of the place itself, soon persuaded us to stay the night, whereas we were due back into Kigali that evening.
Sigh of happiness
Once we saw the rooms, our decision was final. While not ‘deluxe’ in the sense of being over-designed or full of unnecessary frills, the accommodation was perfect – clean, practical, cool – with power sockets, excellent ensuite bathroom and largely constructed from natural materials. The porch outside the room was small but ideally-formed, with a view of the lake and within shouting distance of the bar. Our little cabin was built separately from the 3 or 4 others in the compound, fronted by a well-kept grass lawn with flowerbeds and backed by towering bushes behind. Within 10 minutes of sitting down, tea and (real) coffee arrived. As we looked out over the club’s wooden jetties, with their legs reaching far into the cool water, and on which tables were prepared for lunch and evening drinks, we breathed a collective sigh of happiness. This was the luxurious but natural lakeside experience we had been looking for.
The menus arrived and I was initially nervous to see a mix of cuisine – African, Indian, Chinese… Sometimes this indicates that an establishment is so keen to please everyone, that it pleases no one. Happily, I can report that over the next 24 hours we sampled each of the three continents and were disappointed in none of them.
I especially recommend the Indian food, however, which was clearly orchestrated by someone who knows their stuff. The ingredients tasted very fresh and the spices were not over-used, so that each flavor could speak for itself. We were even treated to an Indian breakfast the next day, consisting of a lightly-curried potato dish with small fried wheat-cakes, as well as cornflakes, omelette and a huge jug of fresh fruit juice. This feast was – unlike in the other establishment – included in the hotel bill and was exceedingly generous; we failed to finish all that was put in front of us.
After breakfast we took a little pedal boat across the lake, with life jackets and a pilot – just in case! It was hard to imagine what dangers we might come across, but perhaps the hotel management worried about excessive waragi consumption before such watery expeditions. The boat was complimentary – another wise bonus from the eminently sensible manager, who correctly judges that tourists dislike hidden extras. As we gently pedaled around the lake, we fantasised about coming back: with longer books; picnic equipment; more time off work…
Other hotels in Rwanda have much to learn from AGS – especially the pitiful place we stayed at the night before. The customer service, the tasteful design, the excellent menu and the supreme location all justify the price-tag.
AGS Country Club is undoubtedly one of the most pleasant places I have stayed in East Africa and, located on the banks of the stunning Lake Muhazi, is now my favourite peaceful retreat in Rwanda. In symbolic recognition of this fact, a majestic eagle perched on a tent next to our cabin and watched me sadly packing my bags, as if to say: “You’ll be back soon, my boy. We’re too beautiful for you to stay away for long.”
Price: Dbl room at Rwf55,000 (or less depending on season), including breakfast and boat trip.
Drinks: Soda Rwf1,000; beer Rwf1,500; wine Rwf3,000.