Our Boma ‘camp site’ marked the start of the tarmac road to Kigali, however it was more potholed than tar for almost the entire way to the border. (We had travelled nearly 900km continuously on gravel (some of the worst roads I have driven on!). We jostled for space and right of way with huge numbers of heavy vehicles which have obviously done the damage to the roads.
Our transition into Rwanda was a breeze (relatively speaking). The border post was clean, well sign posted and had helpful officials. This set the tone for a surprising first experience of Rwanda which has continued to present the same impression. The country with a 1000 hills (which is what the name means) is truly beautiful, green, mountainous, clean and friendly. Predominantly French speaking, with driving on the right hand side of the road, the country is one of most densely populated in Africa with over 11 Million (2014) people (compared to Zambia’s 11 Million – maybe an old figure). Look at a map and compare the sizes! This became apparent on the 150Km drive from the border into Kigali. There was hardly a stretch of road that did not have people on it – nor were there many straight and level stretches of road! The trip took over 3 hours despite the good road. The contrast with Tanzania has been amazing – starting at the border gate!
Our home for the next 2 nights was St Paul’s, a Cathedral and hostel complex in the center of Kigali that played a key humanitarian role during the Genocide. Still run by Nuns, they provide very basic but comfortable accommodation for Mission workers and travelers alike. They also had a very basic ‘restaurant’ and workshop.
Mechanical issues continue to be part of our lives. One of our spotlight’s mounting broke off leaving the light dangling by it electrical cable. Our French travelling companion (in a well kitted Defender 110 Land Rover) lost a wheel nut on his rear axle and we had to fashion a wire ‘circlip’ to get him to Kigali. He has also had to have a steering bush replaced. The balance of the South African clan arrived today. Bennie had broken a bush in the front left wish bone (causing his front wheel to wobble about) and set about trying to ‘make’ one. He seems to be satisfied with his solution – I remain unconvinced!
So far, everyone we have come across have had vehicle breakages. The worst was an East London couple in an old Cruiser who broke an axle coming into Kigoma and spent 3 days on the side of the road whilst a bush mechanic worked his magic. They are 7 weeks into a 9 month trip! Another passing Cape compatriot broke a tie-rod end on his Fortuna.
We had an extra blade fitted to our rear suspension leaf spring packs as our new Old Man Emu set have been bowed the wrong way and Al has been very afraid of breaking a blade.
Whilst our vehicle was in the workshop, we took a couple of motor bike taxi (by far the most common form of public transport in the cities) to visit the Genocide Memorial. As one can imagine, it was a very moving and thought proving experience. Some 250 000 people are buried on this site.
The French, Germans and Belgians all had a part to play in laying the ground work for this tragedy and as is usually the case, there are two sides to every story. Sadly, reading between the lines and talking to a wide range of strangers (locals, mission and aid workers) we have come across, the peace and reconciliation that seems to be in place may be a bit tenuous.
Kigali is a large, mountainous, populated (1 million), vibrant and modern city. Modern shops, well stocked with most of what anyone would want – a lot of South African brands, good road infra-structure and as clean as you could wish. Apparently, community service was a primary sentence handed out during the post Genocide hearings. This may account for the good roads and cleanliness!
Our South African, French and Dutch fellow travelers went their separate way into Uganda on the same day we left Kigali. It has been quite fun meeting up with them occasionally during the last few days and sharing ‘war’ stories, meals, camp fires, tools and advice.
We struggled to find the market on our way out of the city as the road names seem to differ from those on the GPS and the poor city maps we have. However, we did eventually find it and Denise managed to get some fabric she was after. We headed for the town of Gisenyi, a border town on the north shore of Lake Kivu. This lake marks the border with the Congo (DRC). Gisenyi and the Congolese town of Goma are almost one town with a border post in the middle! As with the rest of Rwanda, the town (and everything surrounding the Lake) is perched on the side of hills and mountains. We have been blessed to stay at a lodge called ‘Hakuna Matata’.
The short drive way required 4 wheel drive to get in and out of and although there is no convenient place to camp for people living out of their vehicle like ourselves, our hosts were REALLY keen for us to stay. (We have been the only guests for the 3 nights here). They arranged for us to camp outside one of the lodge’s rooms, letting us use the room’s ablutions and electricity for the fridge. John the manager, Rafiki the chef and Osama the assistant chef have been at our beck and call all the time. This morning John ‘guided’ us on a walk through the town along the beach and to the border post. A tree lined, bird paradise. He then led us into the country along another VERY bad road to see the tea and coffee plantations that cover both the valley floors and cling to the sides of the mountains.
Everything is beautifully terraced with very little signs of erosion. It seems that every square inch of this country either has a building on it or is cultivated. We have seen tea, coffee, maize, sugar cane, sorghum, cabbage, carrots, cassava, bananas (hundreds of banana trees) and stuff we haven’t recognized. Rafiki the chef used to work t hotel in the Volcano National Park to the north – our next destination and has arranged for someone from the local village to act as a guide for us in the area. We look forward to the experience.