A mental day in Rwanda

Trip Start Dec 16, 2005
Trip End Jun 12, 2006

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Thursday, February 9, 2006

What a day it has been - mental. Absolutely none stop. I'm sat here in the Urumgli Hotel in Ruhengeri having traveled halfway down the country and back and paid for 2 different hotels in 2 different cities.

Up at the crack of dawn only to find the border did not open until 9am. So instead of heading out of the hotel I had pleasant breakfast with Molly, a Canadian who worked in Rwanda as a volunteer for a while - we discussed the pros and cons on NGOs in Africa and George Bush's investments in alternative energy. Took a shared taxi to the border after a bit of a fracas occurred over who would take me.

A long line at the Uganda side and it took me about an hours just for someone to simple stamp my passport with an exit stamp! The Rwandan side had no queue and as a double bonus, a welcome to the country sign, the immigration officer refused the $60 I thrust at him for my visa - he said no you're British you don't have to pay - I think I'm going to like this place even if they do speak French!

Caught a shared taxi instead of the minibus for the 80km to Kilgali. First as a big surprise the driver told me to buckle up! They would laugh at you in Uganda if you did that! Next they drove on the right - must be that Belgium influence, it did take me a while though to figure out me driver wasn't truly suicidal as the steering wheel was on the right also.

All the way to Kigali the scenery was much the same as southern Uganda, people picking in tea plantations and high terraced hills. Regardless it is always a bit thrill and always puts a smile on my face when I arrive in a new country.

Kigali looked like an interesting place, perched upon a hill with greenery all around. After booking into the Hotel Gloria I headed off to the Gorilla Park HQ to book a gorilla trek. A grand total of $375 + $50 for transport for a total of no more than one hour with the gorillas. They take $US cash, Mastercard. You can pay in Rwandan Francs, the currency all the locals use, but this incurs a 10% surcharge! You can also pay with travelers cheques but again there is a $20 surcharge. Not too friendly when you're shelling out such a big chunk of cash!
I wanted to conserve my cash and travelers cheques so I went to get a cash advance on my Visa. Well that turned into an exercise in complexity also. They would only give it in Euros, they then had to change it Ugandan francs. To not be hit by the 10% surcharge I wanted them to change it into $US - they could not do this though! Next I had to go out in the street to get this done! What a palaver, who knows how much commission I paid to the various money traders!

I'd been told the next available date for treks was 6 days time, after pushing for an earlier time once I got back to the park HQ I was told there was a cancellation and if I wanted I could go the next day! I said yes and I was on my way.

I quickly went to a foreign bookstore that sold English books before I left - I was desperate to get something new to read. It was just passed 2 and as I knocked on the door the lady kept shouted we don't open until 2! I kept telling her it was after 2 already in my best French before storming back to the hotel and then off to the bus station. The driver here said the bus would leave at 2 also - it was 2:45 by now! At this point I realized Rwanda was an hour behind Uganda - what a plonker!

My boda boda driver to the station was wearing a helmet, the minibus driver left on time and before it was full, didn't pick up people along the way and drove safely. He did however stop for a petrol top up before we departed! A bit different to the Ugandan experience! A 2 hour journey back north to Ruhengeri and the Uganda border, fantastic scenery, we seemed to drive up on a high ridge most of the route, looking across the valleys to other huge hillsides filled with terracing. On getting close to Ruhengeri 4 of the 7 volcanoes in the area, some topping out at over 15000ft were clearly visible!

Definitely more beggars on the streets here than Uganda, but after the 1994 genocides I was surprised to see what a normal country this seemed.

Well as I mentioned earlier, here I am now sat in the Urumgli Hotel with a 65cl (I told you those Belgium's had some influence) bottle of Mutzig, a 6.5% local brew. Finishing my fillet of Tilapia in pepper sauce and chips and getting ready for the big event tomorrow!
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Where I stayed
Urumgli Hotel
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