Posted: under Rwanda.
After lunch, I checked out of the Auberge do Gisenyi and went to catch my 1.30pm bus. I went with Virunga Ponctel, a company that is a bit more expensive but their medium sized buses are very comfortable and they don’t stop much. I had 2 seats to myself for a while and my large backpack on was the floor under a neat near me so I could keep an eye on it. I was on my way to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda and my last stop before going to Tanzania. The road to Kigali backtracked to Ruhengeri and rained most of the way. In Ruhengeri we picked up more passengers and they bus was now full but not cramped. 2 hours from Ruhengeri and we reached Kigali. As side from a few potholes, the road was in great condition and there were never ending views of clouds and culitvated hills.
There was a bit of traffic as we entered Kigali but it tapered off as I got further away from the bus station. I took a motor taxi to the Gloria hotel, even though it wasn’t far, I didn’t feel like walking the hilly streets with all my stuff. Before going getting a room at Gloria I checked out 2 local dives for a really cheap room. They both offered tiny, dank, windowless cells with smelly shared facilities for about $8. I thought I would check out the better Gloria after seeing what was on offer for cheapest of the cheap. The room at Gloria was slightly larger, on the second floor with 2 big windows and an attatched bath. The guy was asking too much for them but I asked for a discount and got the room for just over $10. It wasn’t even worth that but I wasn’t going to find anything else decent for this price. The place had been neglected for a while, there was no longer running water and the light in the bathroom didn’t work, but it would do for 2 nights and was in the center of the city.
I took a cold bucket shower and headed out to find food. I treated myself to channa masala, rice and a large Mutzig beer at the Ice and Spice restuarant. It was a tasty meal, though expensive. I was supposedly in the center of town but was surprised at how calm it was. Hardly any traffic and people walking the streets. Maybe it’s just because it was the evening, I thought.
I just relaxed in my room for the evening.
Sunday morning I woke up at 8.30am and had to search while for a place to find breakfast. After breakfast I went to check the city’s best bookshop and then some places for souvenirs. The bookshop was open and I didn’t buy anything but wrote down a few titles to look for later. This being sunday, all the souvenir shops were closed as was mostly everything else. I walked up and down the streets of the center. Kigali is the least busiest of any capital city I’ve ever seen. I liked it. No traffic, no pollution, no crowds and hardly any litter on the streets. I went by the famous Hotel Des Milles Collines, the real Hotel Rwanda, though most of the movie was filmed in South Africa.
In the afternoon I went to the Kigali Memorial Center, dedicated to the Rwandan genocide and genocide around the world. It was a sad but informative place. It started with all about the Rwandan genocide and then genocides around the world and ended with life size photos of massacred children and their favourite food and toys. Very depressing stuff but everyone should see it so nothing like this happens again. Anyone unfamiliar with the genocide should at least watch Hotel Rwanda and Shake Hands With The Devil to get an idea of the madness that unfolded there for 100 days in 1994.
I didn’t do much the rest of the afternoon since nothing was open. I liked just walking around the city. Tomorrow I have to begin the long journey to Arusha, Tanzania. From there I’m going to arrange a safari. After that I go back to Nairobi and come home in 10 days.
Mar 08 2009
Posted: under Rwanda.
I left the Ian Point Motel around 1pm. I wanted to leave earlier and do a few more things in town while everything was open, but it was raining till almost noon. I took a boda boda to the border, 10km away. Public transport was infrequent and I didn’t feel like waiting around. The road to the border was untarred and it terrible condition in some parts. It took almost 30 minutes to reach. Along the way kids waved at me and I tried to wave back without falling off the bike. I had to keep one hand on the bike to hold myself on while wearing my large pack.
The border was very low key and hassle free. A few money changers approached me and I changed what little I had left of Ugandan shillings into Rwandan francs. I had bought a large quantity of francs that Tom and Rich had leftover. I entered the immigration building of Uganda. It was a small office with 2 desks and a guy sitting at each desk, with country music playing softly. It the first time I had country music in Uganda and although I don’t like country music, it was refreshing to hear and very listenable. I commented on it to the officers and then said the singers wore a hat like mine. No, I don’t wear a cowboy hat but I can see the resemblence my tilley bears to it. I had stayed in Uganda for 89 days, but my visa said 60 days. I handed the guy my passport and in a few minutes he handed it back without question and said I was free to go. Sweet! I walked around a gate blocking the non existent traffic and headed to Rwandan immigration. I filled out the entry card and within minuted had my passport stamped with no problems or questions. Since I wasn’t staying long in Rwanda, I didn’t care how much time my visa allowed.
I took a minivan for 45 minutes to the town of Ruhengeri, now called Musanze but still commonly referred to by its original name. Ruhengeri is the base town for visiting Volcanoes national park which contained 2 virunga volcanoes I wanted to climb, Bisoke and Karisimbi. I went to the ORTPN office which is in control of the national parks. It would cost $75US for a day climb of Bisoke and $150US for a 2 day climb of Karisimbi. Although this was more expensive than the climbing in Uganda, I thought I would splurge to do anyway but I was only prepared to pay so much. I got a shock when I asked about how to get to the park. From town it was about 10km and then from there another 10km or so to the trailhead. It would be difficult to hire a motorcycle taxi to do this and and carry my guide and I. I could hitch with fellow hikers but I didn’t know anyone or when anyone would be going. I didn’t have a lot of time to hang around to wait for a ride that might not come. My only other option was to hire a vehicle for the day which would cost $80US! I thought this was way too much and as much as I wanted to climb the volcanoes, I couldn’t justify this extra expensive. It would cost $155US for a day climb of Bisoke and this wasn’t including my food or accomodation. I was pissed that there was no budget option of getting to the park. I was saving the rest of my ‘big’ money for a safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania and didn’t want to spend a lot of cash on a volcano day hike.
There was nothing else I wanted to do around Ruhengeri, so I left the next day for Gisenyi. I was angry I couldn’t climb the volcanoes but I guess this gives me a reason to come back some day now that I know the costs. This disappointment didn’t give me a good impression of Rwanda which I already thought was not good value for food and accomodation.
Gisenyi is Rwanda’s resort beach town for rich locals and expats. It sits on the shore of Lake Kivu on which DR Congo sits on the other side. It was only 2 hours from Ruhengeri and the road was in excellent condition. The landscape along the way was very hilly. All the hills had been cultivated extensively and the only trees I saw were the non native eucalyptus. Most of the natural forest left in Rwanda lies in its 3 national parks. I took a room at the Auberge de Gisenyi for 6000 Rfrs ( $11US). It was a nice enough self contained room but the same in most parts of Uganda would cost much less. The Auberge also had a restuarant with a popular buffet. I had also seen this in Ruhengeri and led me to believe buffets are quite popular in Rwanda. But they are not the stuff-yourself-till-you-can’t-eat-anymore affairs they are back home. These buffets have strict rules. You are only allowed one plate, which I saw some people so high, I thought they would charge a fee if you wanted to climb their mountain of food. Vegetarian buffets are the cheapest option but if you wanted to add meat or fish the price went up accordingly. In the end though I came to realize the buffets weren’t so bad value afterall. For instance, I would load up my plate with chips, veggies and salad and add a piece of fish and a beer and it would cost about $5US. The popular beer here is the locally brewed Primus beer. I thought the 500ml bottles of Nile beer in Uganda were big but here Primus comes in a thrist quenching 750ml bottle! I have seen it on some menus for just over a dollar US, which makes the beer very cheap.
I had come to Gisenyi with the hope of going to Goma, DR Congo, just a few minutes away over the border. Koenraad, a Belgian I met while on safari months ago in Murchison Falls, has been working in DR Congo for 8 years and told me to contact him if I wanted to go to Goma. He knows people everywhere. The time had come and I decided to take him up on his offer. I emailed him when I arrived and waited for his reply.
My first evening in Gisenyi I thought I would go to the Palm Beach hotel for a beer and a meal on the beach. I started to walk there but got a little disoriented with the roads. I stopped a moto driver and asked him about Palm Beach. He said it was open. Ok, that sounds good, but what he really meant was that it was closed. Besides local language, French and English are the main languages here. Most younger people can speak both with most older people only know French. This moto driver was still confusing the languages but he realized his mistake and told me correctly that the hotel was closed. He suggested I eat at the Auberge where I was staying! I walked back to the Augerge and had the buffet. So much for trying to eat somewhere else.
Gisenyi is at a slightly lower altitude and I didn’t have to wear a longsleeve in the evenings. A warm breeze blew, which I really appreciated after being in slightly chilly places for the last few weeks.
After my breakfast my second day in Gisenyi, I went to the internet cafe hoping for a message from Koenraad. I had only one unopened email and it was from him. He said that he had arranged accomodation for me in Goma and that a friend of his was waiting for my call. This was the news I was waiting and hoping for. I went back to my hotel and checked out but left my large pack behind. I had only planned to stay a few days in Goma and wouldn’t need to haul my large backpack. I got on a motorcycle taxi and headed towards the border, 5km away.
Mar 07 2009