While Lac de ma Vallée is always packed on a Sunday afternoon, Lac CEMKA, which you pass along the way to Lac de ma Vallée, is almost always empty, and it’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.
When you turn off the paved road, you’ll experience a bit of up and down bumpy road before it flattens out and you circle around the lake to the restaurant area. The lake is in the midst of a pretty open valley punctuated by a big hill rising to a plateau with a Catholic church on top in the distance.
Last time we visited the restaurant it was much swankier than similar picnic spots, with fancy chairs on a tiled patio. It’s a great place to sit and have a drink overlooking the lake and the surrounding countryside. You can also order food. When we went, they had fish, goat, plantains, and fries, and it took somewhere between one and a half to two hours to get food.
While you are waiting for food, you can enjoy a boat ride around the lake. They have a big wooden boat with a bunch of plastic chairs inside that you can go for a ride in.
There’s also lots of places to walk nearby. If you go for a walk around the lake, you might run into the crocodile (don’t worry, he lives behind a fence), monkeys in cages, and a few small duikers in a pen.
Farther afield, we recommend a walk up to the church. It’s a pretty straightforward journey, either by road or finding paths that make their way up the hill. The church, Sainte Marie de Kimwenza, is interesting to check out with some cool artwork and a map of the parishes of Kinshasa. The current church is 60 years old this year, but the Jesuits founded the mission way back in 1893 and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur set up a girls’ school in 1894. There’s also a school and Jesuit spiritual center in the complex. The University of Kinshasa (before it was called that) was located in Kimwenza from 1951 to 1952 before it was established in its current location.
Just outside of the complex, under some trees, you’ll find ladies selling palm wine. This palm wine is some of the best we’ve ever had, and we have very different opinions on palm wine. It’s nice and fizzy. Not too strong. Not too weak. The perfect reward for climbing up a big hill.
You can either head back to Lac CEMKA the way you came or meander a bit through the next valley over. This way you will eventually make it back and enjoy some beautiful scenery, but beware it’s a lot farther than it first seems.
What to Bring: Sunscreen, there’s not a lot of shade to be had, some francs to buy palm wine with, and some bottles to put your palm wine in.
When to Go: Any time though the road requires 4WD/high clearance some times of the year.
How to Get There: Take the Matadi Road to the Bypass Triangle (the road seems to split left and right, there’s an Engen in the center), continue on the Matadi Road past the triangle, take the first left (there’s a big billboard in the center of the turn), take the first right (there are signs for Lac de Ma Vallée). Stay on this road and after about 5 km (not sure on total distance because we haven’t been there in a while), you’ll see signs for Lac CEMKA. There are two signs, and the turnoff is on the left. (If you reach the where the paved road ends, and you cross the railroad tracks on the way to Lac de ma Vallée, you’ve gone too far.) When you turn left at the second sign, stay on that road until you arrive.
Travel Time: Depending on traffic, 45 minutes to 1 hour from Gombe.
Risk Assessment: Watch out for the crocodile!
(Again, thanks to hash photographers for their work!)