Beautiful Burundi

Trip Start Jul 15, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kigoma was a wonderful stop before entering Burundi. Situated on the shore of Lake Tanganyika with the mountains erupting from all angles Kigoma really was a place to relax and recover from recent events. Tom and I checked into a cheap room, slept, washed our bikes and cleaned our soiled clothes. It was to be a relatively productive stop as we needed to gain vital information on Burundi and apply for our visa. First we went looking for the local United Nations (UN) presence in Kigoma to have a talk with the Staff about Cycling into the depths of Burundi. Up until now our only advice had been to travel only if necessary and in an Emergency (UK Embassy online). This naturally didn't bode well for Tom and my plans to successfully complete the East Africa Cycle so we decided to get another opinion from a closer source. We found the United Nations – High Commission Refugee (UNhcr) Office just south of our accommodation and along the lake. When we arrived we had just missed the In-charge. We left our Tanzanian number and left to await a call over the coming days. We then went to visit the Burundian Embassy to arrange a potential visa. Luckily they can be processed within 1 hour at any time but with the price tag of $60. We decided to sit it out until we gained travel advice from the UNhcr. The following day we received a call to attend a sit down with the In-charge at the UNhcr Office. It was an extremely encouraging talk and helped Tom and I make our decision to… Cycle through Burundi! With the recent violence on the roads surrounding Burundi skirting the Tanzanian road all the way to Rwanda meant we would be risking a high chance of attack or hi-jacking if we decided to run scared around Burundi. We headed straight to the Burundian Embassy to arrange a $60 visa to commence in 2 days and met Harold another keen cyclist currently living in Kigoma with his Wife and Children. He invited us to join him on a short bike ride through the villages of Kigoma, along the sandy tracks in-between the trees full of monkeys and down onto a hidden beach. We spent a sunny afternoon relaxing, swimming and talking. He kindly donated a fresh pair of brake pads and an 8 speed Wippermann 808 chain. We departed shortly after to pack our bags ready for the beginning of Burundi. It was a reasonably chilly overcast morning which threatened to rain. It turned out to be a blessing as Tanzania once again proved to be a battle as we climbed up and up and up until we reached the border. We stopped at one point to avoid a downpour of rain and claimed cover under a local shelter where children were playing Drafts. It became increasingly cold as the cloud cover and rains began. High altitude and rain really isn’t a great mix for someone currently used to burning sun and the heat of the low lands. Tom and I both wrapped up and sat it out. We only made the border town that day and entered Burundi early the next morning. It was a mystical transition as we glided down a paved hill out of Tanzania and onto a dirt track running through a dense forest. It lasted about 10 minutes until we reached a cluster of buildings on the exit of the forest. Greetings of 'Bonjour’ were exchanged which indicated we had arrived in our 6th country. A quick visa check with entrance stamps added and we were allowed to pass. First we cycled up and around a few bends in the hills before descending magnificently for about 15km all the way down towards Nyanza-lac a small lake town once again on Lake Tanganyika. It was midday and so we decided to relax and eat. We celebrated with a large cold Primus beer (72cl) before pushing on. It reminded me of a small convenience store back home in Halesworth where I used to work called Norris Stores which stocked Primus beer. We had planned on sleeping here but with the long downhill to the Lake we had clocked up good distance allowing us to continue a little further. The Lake promised to be flat all the way to the capital of Burundi, Bujumbura so we aimed for a Lake town a little further north called Rumonge. It was a beautiful road winding and swerving all the way to Rumonge. We must have been only 5 meters from the Lake at times and only tackled the slightest of hills as the road cut corners just slightly inland through village settlements.  Our first encounter when we arrived was with a Court Judge relaxing at the guest house where we found a cheap room. He helped refresh some of our French and spoke a little about the Genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi. He spoke fondly of his country as we all relaxed and joked together. Burundi from our initial experience really is a country to be proud of. The locals stop to interact and they happily acknowledge your presence. We left the next day for the Capital and encountered many more happy locals along the way. Fishing families lined the Lake Shores whilst farming families lined the hill side. We reached Bujumbura before lunch. It was a very fast paced city with traffic speeding past, people swiftly maneuvered along the pathways and high rise building climbed into the skyline. We had no Idea where to go to find a safe and cheap room or restaurant. We were kindly offered advice from Bettina an America girl who is working with an International Adoption Service based in Minnesota, America called Lutheran Social Service. She was currently in Bujumbura to help aid the growing orphanages and establish international adoption links with the Burundian government. We got a room at le Hotel Del Lamite for $30, a little over our budget but the cheapest in town. Bujumbura is a city very much influenced by the many Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) and Aid charities. You can buy European dishes and luxuries just as easily as you can find a plate of rice and beans. However you would be a fool to visit Burundi and not try their local meat Brochette’s. Crisp baguettes were also baked in the bakeries whilst fresh cheeses and meat were stored in the butcheries due to the French/Belgium/German influences. This allowed us to create monster subs for lunch. We also got in touch with Simone (a contact given to us by Emily who we met in Malawi) a Global Health volunteer from the USA who is based in Bujumbura along with a few other volunteers all involved in different projects throughout the capital and surrounding villages. They kindly took us around the capital to some nice places, offered good local advice, translated most of our bad French and also invited us to relax with them at their house. We very much appreciated the social interaction as we rarely find opportunities to talk with other volunteers whilst cycling the extended distances. We left with directions to Rwanda through the hills and 3 votes against holding on the trucks to get pulled up the hill but 1 vote of maybe. We were yet to understand what this really entailed but figured we would find out soon enough. We left Bujumbura and began tackling the hills into Rwanda with our first encounter of cyclist and truck combo when we heard a loud bang and cracking sound. We looked over to notice a cyclist had slipped under the rear wheel of a large construction truck which completely flattened his bicycle. Luckily the cyclists had been thrown of his bike as the trucks wheel crushed it and he escaped uninjured but bike less. I quickly remembered the 3 votes of no to truck pulling and added my own to create 4 sound votes of NO. We continued for the rest of the day sweating as we winded up and around the many mountains. It was a pleasant cycle albeit quite slow going. Once we reached the top of the initial steep climb and had covered our days estimated distance we searched for a bed. Bukeye was only a short ride further ahead and we were told it would have a place for us to rest. We glided along the now reasonably flat road on the top of the mountains and found Bukeye. Bukeye is a very small village town with basic huts selling local bits and bobs with the odd bottle of water. We rested and fed on beef brochettes before continuing to Kayanza the next morning. Kayanza was a much larger town near the border of Rwanda. It was set on a nice mountain side offering panoramic views all around. The entire stretch of the road could be seen from the top of town all the way out as it curved from the face of one mountain to the other back on itself but slightly dropping in elevation. We stopped over, washed and prepared for our 7th addition to the East Africa Cycle, Rwanda. With Burundi being a great success we grew extremely excited about pushing into Rwanda. With stories of stunning views, friendly people and untouched lush forest we couldn’t wait. Burundi has been a nice surprise for Tom and I and a country I would recommend to fellow travelers considering a potential visit. Burundi has amazing mountain views, beautiful landscapes, friendly people and a stunning lake that runs along its entire West side. The NGO and Aid Charities also create a pleasant experience within the capital, Bujumbura with every western luxury you could think of for the more pampered traveler. I would 100% say go for it.
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