Sunday in Kigali

Trip Start Apr 10, 2008
Trip End May 12, 2008

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Monday, May 5, 2008

This morning Dr. Swartz, Mr. Mundeli, Flavia, and Rahab left at 3:30 am for the drive up to the Virunga volcanoes to see the gorillas.
Dr. Kirkpatrick and I left a little after 9:00 to visit the genocide memorials at Nyamata and Ntarama. Those villages used to be a challenge to visit because the roads were so bad. It often took 2 hours to travel the 30 kms (about 20 miles) out to Nyamata, and it was a tiring trip because of the washboard patches of road and the potholes. Three months ago, a new road was finished by Chinese (again!) road crews. It is now a very smooth ride, and even though Etienne, our driver drove slowly so we could enjoy the views of the green hills and the river valley, we still made the trip in only 40 minutes. Unfortunately both sites were closed for Sunday! We had checked around in Kigali and were told they would be open, but.... I told Dr. Kirkpatrick we'd try to come back Monday if we had time after a special meeting we were to have.  We drove back to Kigali, stopping briefly at a arts and crafts center where it is possible to find locally made souvenir carvings, paintings, baskets, leatherwork and so on. Dr. Kirkpatrick drove a hard bargain on a small ebony box, though the happy expression of the seller afterwards led us to believe the bargain wasn't too hard.
I had a counseling session in the afternoon with a church member who lives in Kigali. Our gorilla gang came back about 6:00 tired and muddy, but beaming with joy over their close encounters with a silverback and his "harem." Some "single" males had been hanging around the edges of the group trying to pick up some females, so the silverback boss moved his females quite far up the mountainside to keep them away from temptation. This meant a great deal of hiking, through damp bamboo groves and vegetation on muddy tracks, but they all said it was well worth it. They saw the silverback up close, and the several females some with babies.
They showered and changed quickly and the five of us (Mr. Mundeli had some errands to run) took taxis to the Mille Collines Hotel for dinner. The Mille Collines was the hotel around which the story of the film Hotel Rwanda was based. During the genocide of 1994, the temporary manager of the hotel, Paul Rusesabagina, managed to prevent any killing from occurring in the hotel. Bribing the génocidaires, as they were called in French, mostly with alcohol from the hotels well-stocked cellars, he kept the hotel a sort of safe zone during the carnage. The film is well done, not too gruesome even for older children, and well-worth watching.
When I first came to Rwanda in 1996, it was the only safe hotel for Westerners in Kigali, so I've stayed here many times. But now that things have stabilized, I've moved to less expensive digs at Chez Lando. The restaurant at the Mille Collines, which is located on a hill top near the center of town, has a fantastic view of several other hills and the valleys in between. At night the lights twinkle, and the even temperatures of Kigali allows one to sit on the open terrace and enjoy night air without getting cold. Since the Serena hotel has opened and displaced the Mille Collines as the best hotel in town, prices at the Mille Collines have come down a bit, and the meals are a fairly good deal. We had a 4-course meal for about $20 US each: salade niçoise (a French salad with lettuce, raw vegetables, and anchovies in a vinaigrette), followed by a vegetable potage (thick soup), followed by either beef in a brown beer sauce or grilled captain fish, and topped off with a selection of French pastries. It was all delicious, and the chance to hear all the gorilla stories among others, made the evening very enjoyable.
We just got back to our hotel around 10:00 which was late for the adventurers who had been up since at least 3:00 am. I'm a little concerned about how early they would be starting again tomorrow morning.
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