Arrival in Kigali
Trip Start Sep 15, 2011
26Trip End Oct 21, 2011
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Where I stayed
Step Town Hotel, Kigali
I flew first to Detroit where I had a short layover before catching the overnight flight to Amsterdam. The fellow sitting next to me was on his way, solo, to a Smithsonian tour of the prehistoric cave paintings in the south-west of France: Lascaux, Font de Gaume and the others. Since I had already visited several of them we were able to discuss them, and the region, which I know pretty well since we've organized one of our annual Church festivals there several times. The first time I went to the area was on assignment to do research in advance of a television special that was going to be shot there. The special was never made but I did get to make a fascinating trip through several of the caves, which boast very striking paintings of, among other things, animals that no longer exist in Western Europe.
This was this fellow’s first trip to Europe and he was quite excited about it. I’m sure he’ll enjoy his trip.
I had a three-hour layover in the sprawling Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. I can’t help thinking when I land there, that the airport is located on land reclaimed from the sea. The airport is over 4 meters (about 12 feet) under sea-level. The engineering on the Dutch dyke system which holds back the English channel is quite impressive. I paid 5 dollars for .75 liter of water (yes that’s Europe) to rehydrate, before boarding the flight toward Kigali, Rwanda. We left a little late, but hoped to make up time on the way. The plane was less than half-full, a rare occurrence these days and not to pass unappreciated. I had an empty seat next to me which makes the trip much more pleasant.
During the 8 hour-flight I had time to work on my laptop on various upcoming projects until the battery ran low. I kept an eye on the flight map also. It’s enjoyable to me to try to imagine the places over which I fly on these long flights. We flew over Munich and the Alps, then down the coast of Croatia, passing not far from Sarajevo where the spark occurred that lit World War I. We appeared to take a detour to avoid flying over Libya, which was fine with me! We continued over Tirana, the capital of Albania, over Greece, and then the Mediterranean Sea before reaching Egypt and following more or less the valley of the Nile. We passed almost directly over Khartoum in the Sudan, with its colorful, heroic and still-violent history.
Finally we landed on time at 7:00 pm in a moderate rain in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. The rain slowed down many things. They had our plane park far away from the terminal, so we truly would have been drenched had we tried to walk. But there is apparently only one 24 seat-shuttle bus at the airport and we had arrived just after a large Brussels Airline Airbus. So we had to wait until that plane load was shuttled in groups of 24 to the terminal before we could start. So after am 8-hour flight from Amsterdam, we just stood in the aisles of the plane for an additional 30 minutes before we had our turn. Customs went quickly and my suitcase was already on the belt so I was out of the airport quickly.
I chose a taxi driver, who gave his name as Charlie, and told him the name of the hotel, asking if he knew it. "Yes, yes, of course" he replied. So we started off through the rain with the old windshield wipers doing little more than rearranging the water on the glass. At least we drove slowly. Charlie drove with one hand on the wheel and one on his cell phone. It rang constantly and he carried on animate conversations in Kinyarwanda through most of the drive. He referred to whoever called him as “chéri” (“my dear” in French): “bonjour chéri”; “hello chéri” and the end of the conversation was often “tank you, tank you, merci, merci.” After a whilte he started calling someone, it was pretty clear, to get directions. He didn’t know where my hotel was. In the dark and the rain we took four wrong streets. “Streets” is perhaps a rather optimistic term since they were deeply crevassed dirt paths turned to slippery clay by the falling water. We bounced around, and turned around; Charlie stopped every passerby he saw to ask where the hotel was. Finally after 45 minutes of what should have been a 15 trip we found the hotel. The room is small but inexpensive and clean. I’ll have to wait until morning to see how the rest of the hotel is.
I called Mr. Mundeli and we agreed he would come to pick me up at 7:30 tomorrow morning so we can drive up to Giti. Hopefully the rain will stop. Driving up the mountains to Giti on rain-slick roads can be a truly white-knuckle experience.