76 – Oh man…where am I again?!

Wed 10th Feb, Hotel L’amite, Bujumbura, Burundi

Ok, so i am now in the capital of Burundi, very french, very developed, thus very weird. Where is this place and how come no info online or in guidebooks talks about this place. As it is, hardly anyone comes to this country, there is nothing spectacular to see, yet it is so fascinating how like Kigali or Kampala, it has boulevards, locals in weekend white tennis/golf garb as well as the nicest hotel i’ve been to since Somaliland.

Started the day earlier in Kigali by making my way down to the Nyabugogo station. The bus sets off at 9am, except i was more than an hour early. It was only 730am, and i have been living in the wrong time zone for the past 3 days. Rwanda is GMT+2, and no one (even my guidebook), bothered to tell me that.

The trip. Kampala Coach here decides to pull a fast one on me. While the first trip with them from Nairobi to Kampala was smooth, for this trip they decide to make major stops everywhere. Which meant that my 6 hour bus ride took 8 hours. Events on the trip can be broken down into discrete sections, since they are not chronological.

First, the border proceedings. Unlike elsewhere over the past couple weeks, i need a visa to get into Burundi. It was painless, a transit visa for 3 days cost US20. You get a stamp on your passport, as well as some sort of receipt, which i read online i need to keep for when i leave the country. There was a long stopover once we cross the Burundian border, lunch and something. There were a lot of stops for “something”.

Next, there was the Kenyan man sitting in front of me. He travels from Eldoret in Kenya to Bujumbura to find business opportunities. He has a small plastic crushing machine and heard that in Buj, there is no proper plastic industry. He asks me about extruders and injection moulding machines and whether he can get those in Singapore. I suggest he try the Japanese made machines and tell him there are probably little ones that small businesses like his can get to start up. I promise to send him some info i’ll dig up online. He tells me there are good investment opportunities here. I tell him i don’t have money to invest. He tells me you don’t need money, you just need persistence and balls (well not his exact words) and what you want you will get. Like him, he doesn’t speak French, does not know anyone, yet he makes his way to Burundi, tells his wife he is going somewhere. These kind of people will be successful. Food for thought.

Then there’s the Rwandan lady in the next seat who’s pretty hot and who i chatted up. She’s going to Buj to do business with some supplier. If she gets it done, she goes back to Kigali tomorrow. Otherwise, she’ll stay another day.

Reached Bujumbura before dusk, and unlike previous places, this time i’ve no idea where the bus dropped me off. LP guide isn’t useful at all. Tomorrow morning i shall have to orientate myself properly. In the meantime, i took a cab down to the hotel (Les Petit Bandits hang around after dark, so its a good idea to take a cab and stay safe) but the Hotel Le Doyen was apparently closed. Instead, i ended up at the Hotel L’amite, cheapest rooms at 20 USD (25000 BF) with free wifi. =) I think it is a shared room, it has three beds, but since no one comes here, i got the whole room with attached bathroom to myself.

75 – A Lesson on Genocides

Tue 9th Feb, Belle Vie Logement, Kigali, Rwanda
I spent the first half of the day trying to decide where to go from here. After all, my initial plan was to just do Kenya and maybe Tanzania. Instead, i find myself traipsing through Uganda and now Rwanda as well. From here i could go back into Uganda then Kenya, or i could go south to Burundi. Another option was to detour to DRCongo. I was also contemplating whether to go gorilla tracking. I didn’t want to initially, but it is oh so tempting, since i am already here. In the end, common sense prevailed and I decided that i should respect my budget. I did a bucketload of research though. And found out that besides Uganda and Rwanda (500 USD for either), it was also possible to track the gorillas in DR Congo (400 USD). Additionally, there was also the new possibility of tracking Eastern Lowland gorillas in Kahuzi Biega NP, in DR Congo (400 USD).

For lunch, i headed towards Nile Grill. At 1600 FR (fish and chicken) or 2200 FR (for meat), the buffet spread was a steal. There was rice, spaghetti, cassava, matoke, some bean stuff, coleslaw, my fish fillet in sauce, chips and more to pack my plate. Apparently, Belle Vie restaurant where i was staying did the same lunch buffet as well, since it was packed to the rafters when i went back there after lunch to drop off my laptop.

After lunch i took a taxi motor down to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Entry is free, though donations are welcomed. The tastefully done centre exhibits from the start the origins of the Hutu/Tutsi conflict, the massacre, the history, impact and effects on the people. It included graphic retellings as well as short films and interviews with victims of the genocide. You can really get emotional reading and listening to their accounts. The other exhibits in the centre had skeletal remains of victims from the mass graves, clothing, and tools used in the killings on display. It reminded me of Tuol Tseng prison in Pnomh Penh.

The excellent memorial centre had a second floor where more murals briefly explored other genocides in the 20th century, including those in Cambodia, Armenia, Bosnia, Poland and Namibia. Outside, the memorial garden provided excellent views of Kigali.

It was almost 6pm when i walked back to the city centre. I was still musing on whether to go up to Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu, when i happened to pass by Kampala Coach’s office. That  settled it then. They had rides to Bujumbura (5000 RF). I will fork out the 40 USD visa at the border and will make my way down to Burundi. The bus sets off from Nyabugogo terminal at 830am.

I did a spot of self-catering by getting myself a baguette and instant mushroom soup. The hotel tonight was again empty. I must have met the manager only once, when he collected the room fees. Tomorrow i head towards Bujumbura. Let’s hope i don’t have to create an entry: Bujumbura drowning. I am still trying to recover my wet things.

On a side note, Ecobank in Kigali has ATMs that accept VISA, contrary to what is said in LP.

74 – Kigali Drowning

Mon 8th Feb, Bellevie Logement, Kigali, Rwanda
Again, i will by the end of the day, and this entry, regret taking the day bus into a new city & country. Today’s plan was to go from Kampala to Kigali, a nine hour bus ride through the Ugandan countryside before emerging into the Rwandan hills.

Kampala Coaches’ 4 seats to a row allowed more room than this one, 5 seats to a row. It was still fairly comfortable though, since the bus was half empty. We passed through some bad roads on the early part of the trip, which delayed the bus by maybe an hour. Include with that the constant traffic police stops, and you have a bus that will reach Kigali after dark.

Clear skies amid rolling hills

The terrain again was lush green leafy trees set against a hillside landscape. Passed by Ntungamo and Kabale, towns which are bases for gorilla tracking. We reached the border at around 5pm. Again, as with all the East African countries so far, border formalities are quick and painless. Visas are available at the border, though i didn’t need one for Rwanda. The money changing touts at the border were all there, but they offered much better rates than the forex back in Kampala. Selling Rwandan francs at 3.4 instead of the forex’s 3.9.

They were showing movies on the bus. However the English movie had been dubbed over with what i think is Kinyarwanda language. They did not dub over each actor’s voice though, instead a narrator said out the whole story. For example: “The big strong guy punched the little guy in the nuts till he keeled over. An action packed movie!”

Darkening skies

The fun started as we got into Rwanda. It started to rain, heavily. The vehicles on the main highway slowed down and by the time we got to Kigali, the town was drowning in rainwater. Ok, i may be exaggerating, but when we got into Kigali, it was dark, pouring and i had no idea where we were. The bus pulled into the bus park at Nyabugogo bus station, 2km away from town. The bus park itself was calf deep in rainwater, and the local passengers were protesting at being dropped off there. I got off, grabbed my bag from the luggage compartment under the bus, and made for shelter, with a horde of other people. The rain didn’t seem to subside, and this was a stupid location in the dark to wait, so i got out my poncho, slipped it over and ran across to the well lighted petrol station.  Here at least there was more room and it’s a better place to ask for directions.

All out assault at the bus station!

My options were to grab a minivan shared taxi to the city centre where all the hotels were, or to take a taxi motor. The latter was out of the question, since most of them were taking cover in the petrol station, not being suited to go out into the heavy rain. So i decided to wait, for a full hour hoping for the rain to subside, before asking for directions to the minivan that goes to town. The problem here was hardly anyone around the bus station spoke English, and even though the signs were in French, no one i asked spoke French either. So i stood  in my poncho in the rain on the side of the road i figured led to the city centre. Do that long enough and someone who could help would come over to help. And that was exactly what happened, true story.

I took the minivan (150 RF) down to somewhere where someone told me to drop off. Actually it was the passenger beside, and the somewhere was in town. I tried to find a landmark with which i can use to orientate myself on my map. I looked for Hotel Gloria, but it had closed down. Instead, a little further down the road was Belle Vie Logement, and across the road from it was the New Modern Guest House. I stayed in the former, a peculiar place behind the restaurant which was closed at night. The place was dark, with only one or two lights, and had 4 rooms in the back corridor of the restaurant. But it was in the centre of town, and at 6000 RF, was probably the cheapest i will get staying in Kigali.

I was too tired and wet to try another place anyway. The rooms were basic but comfortable enough, and since my prerequisite of a working power point was there, i am fine. I set out to boil some hot chocolate and had my last pack of instant noodles for dinner. That one single pack of instant noodles left in my bag from Addis probably saved my life. Warm and contented, i slept.