Ben – On the face of it Rwanda is the cleanest, tidiest, most well organised country we have been to so far in our Africa adventure, with the most careful and considerate drivers who seem to adhere to the law (eg: we never saw more than 2 people on a motorbike, they were always wearing helmets. Yes I was surprised too!!
Prior to being here in Rwanda we journeyed through Uganda where the driving is some of the worst I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, it seems to be a country of risk takers. But we survived.
Maybe Uganda’s risk taking mentality is the result of, or the reason that it has the reputation of being Africa’s adrenaline sport capital? Or maybe that is just because it happens to sit on a very wild section of the Nile river as it leaves it’s source at the massive Lake Victoria. (We’ve effectively been driving round it for the last 4 weeks and haven’t seen it yet! – we plan to put this right in Tanzania in a couple of days time).
The Nile rapids near Jinja, Uganda are grade 5 stunners, with walls of water 3 meters high or more, perfect for the rafting industry that flourishes around them and draws other craziness to the area (Bungee jumping, quad biking etc). In the bar on our first night in Jinja there we got talking to Mathia & Sasha from San Fransico, they’d decided not to go rafting, but to tackle the rapids in the front seat of a tandem Kayak (the back being occupied by a pro paddler). They said it was “Awesome” (I think that’s the word they used, if not then they should have because they are from the states!). We were sold, it sounded incredible, so we signed ourselves up. Paulo Babi (great name) was my Kayak Pro, he told me he came 64th in the World Championships, and it seems from a bit of Googling that this is probably true. He assured me I was helping not hindering progress, and we managed to get through the day without capsizing once (apart from practising beforehand), as did Jen & Peter, but how I don’t know, the water was huge. All I can say is it was indeed Awesome, and it’s a pretty unique experience to tackle that kind of challenge with no skill or experience. Anyone going to Jinja should have a go, but close your mouth in the big stuff, Jen swallowed a load a Nile water and was ill for a few days after, I got away with a nasty cough & cold type thing!! Kayaking did mean a day without a camera though, so no 11 O’clock shot (only the second one missed to date), I’ll try to find some Youtube footage of kayaking near Jinja to fill that gap.
In Uganda’s capital, Kampala, it was more shock absorber Hokey-Cokey (you put the right one on, take the left one off etc etc). Our Disco runs with extra shocks on the back, so 4 rear shocks in total, and it seems the mounts for extra ones are inferior to Landrovers originals. I spent a long day in a workshop trying to get some more welding done to a decent standard. Now it depends on your definition of decent, but its all back together and hasn’t cracked or rattled loose again yet (that’s nearly 3 weeks).
In Kampala we also met Clive & Tanya who have a pretty identical “Footloose 4×4” converted Discovery and are approaching year 4 of there eighteen month trip !! (Sounds like a project I once worked on!!). They’ve come down the west side of Africa, and are now on their way back up the East, and there trip does seem to have suffered some “Slippage”, but good on them. (Incidentally they’re not running extra rear shocks, they have an “Air Lift” after market air-spring system which looks dead simple and has given them no issues, might be worth looking at it by any chance your considering a trip like this).
By complete chance in the same camp ground in Kampala was another “Footloose 4×4” built car, Chuck the Land Cruiser and his owners Alison & Richard. They are really good fun too, but sadly also heading North so we won’t see them again on our journey. We did spend a couple of days with them in the stunning Queen Elizabeth National Park (NP) though, and got a chance to see first hand how stressful being a bird spotter/watcher can be. Ali was furiously trying to record all the new spots as we cruised along the channel between lakes Edward & George but her hard work seems to be paying off as she’s up to 355 different birds so far.
Uganda is a beautiful country, we also visited the Sipi waterfalls in the North, some Crater lakes near FortPortal, and did a crazily steep “Hill walk” near the RwenzoriMountains that nearly finished us both off with our post-rafting ailments. The lakes in the South-West (Bunyonyi & friends) are gorgeous, and when you cross into Rwanda, it just gets better.
Jen: On our travels we’ve met the odd other traveller, and even more occasionally other overlanders. We really enjoyed Uganda where we met lots of different people and seemed to spend each night chatting to different people (great news as after 4 months on the road Ben and I don’t have a lot left to say to each other!). Things started well when we were stood at the Kenya to Ugandan Immigration office and heard an Aussie accent trying to sort out his paperwork – hello to Ray and Avril, a great couple who have driven up the West Coast in their Landcuriser, over to London to check out the Olympics and are now driving back down the East Coast. We shared some good stories, meals, nibbles and drinks for a few nights with Ray and Avril whilst putting the world to rights on various subjects. Unfortunately they’re travelling a bit quicker than us in order to meet up with their kids but with a bit of luck a bit of luck we’ll catch up with them again sometime soon.
Rwanda is known as the “land of a thousand hills”, and you can see why. In our first 4 days in the country we stayed on the west side, up against Lake Kivu & the Congo. In 4 days the steering wheel only pointed straight as you changed from turning right to turning left. The roads just wind on and on through the terraced hills of tea, coffee & rice fields, or miles of trees when your inside the parks.
Jen: It seems only right at this point that I add a bit about Rwandan trucks (some of you at home I know appreciate truck news). There’s a great bit of brand new tarmac road near Nyungwe NP, courtesy of the Chinese (in fact Ben says it’s better than some race circuits he’s driven on) that winds up and down into the rainforest. There’s very few vehicles on the road but as you proceed all you can smell is burnt out truck brakes, then as you go around the odd corner there will be a whole load of tree branches in the road to alert you to the next obstacle – the carcas of a truck that clearly cooked his brakes and has come off the side of the road. My favourite one of these was actually the trailer sat in the middle of the road with flames leaping out the side of it, the driver and tractor unit (cab) no where to be seen… we thought we better tell one of the rangers as there are signs all over the forest warning of the dangers of fire in a National Park!
The parks are famed for their Monkey Business, the most famous of all, the worlds last remaining Mountain Gorrilla’s. As most people visiting Rwanda/Uganda do, we umm’ed and arrghed for a long time about spending the 500-750 dollars per person to trek into the forest to spend an hour with them. This is undoubtedly a unique experience, but we finally we decided not to, and to save the cash for other things. Instead we spent a morning with Christian (a forest guide) and 4 “trackers” in the Nyungwe NP in search of Chimpanzees. More super-steep hills to contend with, and this time through the rain forest, well off any kind of path for much of the time. We did get some heart stopping glimpses of the Chimps about 10 meters away on the ground and in the trees, but sadly glimpses was all we had. Apparently the “Fruit season” starts again in March, so at the moment food is scarce for them, and this makes them break into much smaller groups than is normal making them hard to locate & more shy of humans. It was still a great few hours.
Eastern Rwanda is hilly, but much less so than the west. Even the capital Kigali is built on top of about 10 good size hills, so getting across town involves more weaving right & left. On the last Saturday of every month it is law across the country that everyone does 3 hours of community cleaning (8-11am), so the streets are spotless. The out of town piles of rubbish you see in the rest of Africa & the developing world just don’t exist here, and plastic carrier bags are banned too. We were in Kigali on the last Saturday of the month, and walking across town was eerie. Because everyone is in their own neighbourhood cleaning, the city streets are empty of people & vehicles, it feels like a ghost town.
When it’s not cleaning morning Kigali is a really pleasant modern feeling city. I was musing this on Saturday night as we sat in a bar overlooking the city supping a “Primus” beer to wash down one of the best curries I’ve had outside of India, and waiting for the band to come on………
… Less than 20 years ago an evil force so strong was unleashed in this country, that in 100 days, 1 million people were killed by death squads trained by their own government. The night-cityscape we were looking over would have been stacked full of dead human bodies apparently being eaten by the hungry street dogs, whilst the rest of the world seemed to be looking the other way. We visited 3 memorials to this terrible event over the past 2 days, one in Kigali where 250,000 victims are buried in mass graves, and two others 30km south of Kigali where over 50,000 more bodies lie. In Kigali a Museum of the events sits next to the Memorial with an account of events that lead up to this Genocide and others in Kosovo, Nazi Germany, Namibia & others. No sense can be made of any of it in my head, and it leaves you thinking that it seems incredibly easy for one small group of evil evil people to brainwash enough others do this kind of thing. May it never happen again in the world, but chances are, it will.
On that cheery note I’ll bid you farewell for now, sorry if it put a downer on your day. Maybe Jen can lift the mood ??
Jen – As Ben said we had the most amazing curry (which is worth a second mention) and then decided to follow the advice from our hostel for some live Rwandan music. It was all slightly odd as we wandered down a deserted but very nice street in a pretty affluent area of Kigali, the type of road that houses a few embassies. We then found the bar and wandered in, they confirmed there was live music and it started “when the band turn up” – very useful indeed! Things were looking promising however as there was a drum kit and a bass guitar set up with somebody checking that the microphones worked. Whilst waiting for the band I enjoyed looking over the very orderly streets of Kigali and doing a bit of people watching of the well off locals enjoying the bar. The music being played wasn’t really our thing – raga type music (no idea what it was actually called – think I’m showing my age now!) but Ben and I spontaneously burst into laugher when a few tracks were played, so similar to Flight of the Conchords – She’s so Hot – Boom, that they it was scary… Anyway after quite some waiting and laughing at the dj’s choice of music the ‘band’ came on. It wasn’t quite the authentic Rwandan music we were looking for, instead 3 guys dressed up as gangster rappers came on talking over some backing tracks that intermittently kept turning off – a cross between a bad karoke and a bad X Factor audition – we made a pretty sharp exit and headed home for the night.
As much as we’d like to spend more time in Rwanda it’s pretty hard as it fits more or less inside 200km square so we’re now heading to Tanzania for, our seventh African Country.