Trip Start Jun 29, 2006
Trip End Jun 29, 2007

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Monday, November 6, 2006

I arrived in Rwanda on Friday 29th September on a small aircraft from Kilimanjaro. What stuck me as I flew over the country to Kigali was just how much of the land is utilised. I have never seen anything like it - every single inch of land used. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa with a little over 8 million people. Its people are mainly farmers - hence the terraced hills up and down the country.

It was only a brief visit but as Rwanda is a small country you can see a large proportion of it in a small time. Public transport is well organised and the distances between places of interest relatively short.

My first morning in Rwanda, I was walking around the town centre looking for breakfast. Saturdays are "cleaning" days so nothing opens before 11am. It didn't help that I had forgotten to adjust my watch so was wandering the streets at 7.30am! I met some of the local money changers in town who upon hearing what I was looking for took it upon themselves to find me somewhere to eat. We ended up in some hidden restaurant behind a shop (which to find they had to jump a wall), and settled in for breakfast communicating in a mixture of broken English/Kiswahili and French - quite an interesting mix!

I managed to book myself to see the Gorillas in Parque National de Volcanes on the Tuesday which is the park in which Diana Fossey first habituated a gorilla group. I trekked the Susa group, which "Digit" who was part of the first group of Diana Fossey's originally belonged. It is now the time of the short rains here so we were lucky not to be caught in the rains on the mountain. We were even luckier to spend the full hour with the Gorillas (a max of 1hr is the absolute limit to keep the stress on the animals to a minimum). We stood about 4m from the group as the juveniles chased each other around a tree and bashed each other gently as they played. It was so beautiful to watch :) I had a fantastic day up there but came down with malaria whilst on the mountain so I struggled a little not to pass out. A quick trip to the local clinic after the trek confirmed my condition so I decided I needed somewhere to rest up for a few days.

I moved myself to Gisenyi on Lake Kivu, a small but beautiful resort town which borders Democratic Republic of Congo and stayed at a great place overlooking the freshwater lake. From here it is a mere 2km to the border town of Goma which was the site of a lava flow in 2002, which cut a 50m wide hole in the town. During the 90's it was home to thousands of Hutu refugees and genocidaires of the Hutu Power Regime. Today Goma is a thriving central trading zone and a makeshift headquarters for the UN.

In Gisenyi I met a fellow traveller called Melissa who is also touring by herself. The proximity of Congo and our combined curiosity got the better of us so we decided to cross the border for the afternoon. We took a special hire taxi into Goma with 2 makeshift Rwandan guides (we did suggest they might like to make a business out of such journeys). They were great fun and especially helpful dealing with money changers and the like. The height of excitement for the afternoon was our departure from the market - a child, no more than 12, threatened to smash a large rock he was holding though our window as he wasn't happy with the money he was given by our driver to watch the car. We all agreed it was a fair price but then again, with 2 mzungus in the car, he probably thought he could get a better deal! In the end we reached an agreement unscathed and headed back to the sanctuary of Rwanda for a quiet beer. We were glad we took the plunge. It was a fantastic afternoon ;)

Back in Kigali, I visited the genocide memorial - a brilliantly arranged and informative museum on the grounds of one of many mass burial sites of the genocide victims. More disturbing than that was a visit I paid with Melissa and another new mate Craig to see the church memorial at Nyamata. The church has been left as it was; bullet holes in the roof, blood stained altar, brain stained walls where they threw the children against and a room full of clothes piled high to the ceiling of clothes taken from the hundreds of bodies slain there. The sculls and bones of the victims are laid out in underground crofts. Looking at them you can see crushed areas from machete or bullet wounds. It was so very distressing - you cannot begin to imagine the horror of the genocide.

If you ever read any of the books on the Rwandan genocide you can walk around the centre of Kigali and pick out certain buildings of "interest" during that time. The most famous for you all would be the Hotel des Milles Collines which was the "Hotel Rwanda", a movie certainly worth seeing if you have not done so already. I sat in the grounds beside the swimming pool and imagined people taking their drinking water from the pool when the water was cut from the property. Interhamwe were camped outside, waiting for an opportunity to slaughter the "cockroaches" inside.

There certainly is a strange vibe in Rwanda, but given all that has happened the country seems in reasonable shape (It is certainly one of the cleanest countries I have had the pleasure of visiting). I hope Rwanda will be a peaceful place for many years to come! I met many wonderful people there - most understandably under 25 years. There are many Rwandans who were born in the refugee camps of Uganda, Tanzania, Zaire and Burundi in the 70's and 80's that returned after the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), seized control of the country. Together they make up the new Rwanda - let us hope it can grow and prosper into a great nation eventually free from the suffering of its past.

Ten days and a shed load of money later, Melissa and I headed for our next country on-route Uganda. Despite the issues of the north, I had heard many great things about Uganda, another small, landlocked country on the shores of the great Lake Victoria...
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