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Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest freshwater lake covering an area of 67,850 sq km. This vast expanse, about the size of the Republic of Ireland, forms the headwaters of the River Nile. Its Kenya focus, Kisumu is 350 km from Nairobi by road. Three nations share the waters of the lake – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Kenya’s share is the smallest (3785 sq km) but there is a busy network of waterways between the trading towns and villages which lie along the shores of the lake. Passenger boats and small cargo vessels ply daily from Kisumu as far as the Tanzanian border and north to Port Victoria near Uganda.
Kisumu, the largest town in western Kenya and the nation’s third largest (population approximately 250,000), is the home of several small industries notably fish processing and cotton goods manufacture. The town came into existence with the completion, in 1901, of the first section of the Uganda Railway five years after plate laying began 1000 km away in Mombasa. It was briefly called Port Florence. Only forty years earlier, the English explorer Speke, having traveled along the western shore of the lake reached a place he named Ripon Falls. It was these cataracts, at what is now Jinja in Uganda, which he proclaimed the source of the Nile.
Fishing for tilapia and nile perch provides a living for many of the Luo people who live along the lakeside. The fish are sold at local markets or to the processors for sale in Nairobi and for export. Most of the fishing is from small picturesque dugout canoes, equipped with lateen sails. The lake once had abundant hippo and crocodile but now these are much reduced. Sheltering behind Homa mountain, are the small towns of Homa Bay and Kendu Bay where a small inland crater lake, Sindi, offers a sight of flamingo foraging through a surface of emerald algae. There is a also a famous heronry very near to Kisumu where as many as a thousand large water birds nest and breed between March and July. Also near to Homa Bay are two famous fishing islands, Rusinga and Mfangano. Rusinga is locally acclaimed as the burial place of Tom Mboya, a great son of Kenya who was assassinated in Nairobi in 1969. On each of the islands, and also on nearby Takawiri island, there are fishing camps providing boats for hire and some simple accommodation in sublime settings.
Much of the business of these camps comes from the Masai Mara safari lodges where the agents incorporate fishing in their Kenya safaris program. Every morning, planes pick up fishermen for the less than half hour’s flight to the lake.