Underwhelmed in Rwanda.

Trip Start May 15, 2013
Trip End Sep 17, 2013

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Flag of Rwanda  , Kipili,
Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I will preface this post by saying that I did enjoy Rwanda. It was nice and I'm really glad we spent some time there. Just not my favorite so far.

We left Kisoro in the early afternoon. After some breakfast and a quick stop at an Internet cafe, we were ready for the 10 minute drive to the Rwanda border. Yeah, it was that close.

A guy from the place we camped at organized a taxi for us and helped maneuver us across the border. Our island friend said that we could catch a dala dala on the Rwanda side for super cheap to the next town where we could hop a bus to Gisenyi. Homeboy was right, and as soon as we got across, there were a few different buses fighting for our business. We jump in the front of one with our bags on our laps (crammed much?) and head out.

First crazy thing about Rwanda: they drive on the right side of the road. So confusing! Especially since some of the cars go through countries like Uganda that drive on the left, so some have the driver on the left, some on the right. Crazy!

We get to the next city, Musanze, and hop on another bus to Gisenyi. This one was about the size of the little bus we took between Arusha and Nairobi. But this one doesn't tie luggage on top and the boot is super small. Oh yeah, plus the isle gets filled with flip down seats, so there really is no isle. So we got to spend another three hours, crammed on a bus, with our bags on our laps. Gotta love budget traveling!

Rwanda is super hilly and the roads are constantly turning and bending around. Which makes it difficult when you're crammed next to people with a 40 pound bag on your lap.

We arrive in Gisenyi, a small town on Lake Kivu which borders the DRC near Goma. First thing I notice? Paved sidewalks! Awesome. Well, only on the main roads, but still. We got settled and headed out to drink some beers (shocker) near the water. Our island friend told us about this cool Thai restaurant that has live music at night and has a fun vibe. Plus it's right on the water. Perfect.

We take a 20 minute stroll through town, down to the water, and find Thai Jazz. As we walk up, we notice there's no one there. At all. Is this the place homeboy was talking about? Since we were already there we decided to have some beers and take a look at the menu. Ruh roh. It's all in French. Did I mention they speak French in Rwanda? Weird. I guess not really, since they were colonized by the French back in the day. But still. French.

With some help from Zach's Swahili skills, we work out a few things on the menu. Just gotta risk it and hope something edible shows up. We actually did pretty good and the food was yummy. But there was still no one else there. A little odd, but whateves. We enjoyed ourselves and indulged in a plethora of new beers.

Day two in Gisenyi was nice and productive. We spent a chunk of time at an Internet cafe looking up tons of info for our upcoming destinations. Then went to the big local market and bought a few things, with the biggest purchase of the day being Zach's hat. Seriously. He was so stoked on that hat. His head is slightly bigger than the average Joe's noggin and he has a hard time finding hats that fit him properly. So when he saw this one, and it fit, he was a happy camper. Literally.

For lack of other options, and with a little laziness, we decide to give Thai Jazz another shot for dinner. There were a few other people there this time and a group of American high school volunteers. We sat in the sand and drank the most disgusting wine I have ever had. First sip almost made me vomit. But I still drank the rest of the bottle. Duh. This is Africa, you can't just send it back. We were paying for it, so I was gonna drink it.

The next day we ventured to Kigali. I was excited and had heard really good things about it. About Rwanda in general, really. Very developed, modern city. Yay!

After four more hours of extremely hilly and winding roads, we get to Kigali. The city looked awesome coming down from the hills. We get dropped at the bus station and immediately hit an Internet cafe to find a place to stay. We had banked on camping at the only hostel in town, until a guy we met in Gisenyi the night before said that it was under construction and not open. Fail.

Zach was able to find a place online that offered camping so we set out to find it. The cab drivers at the station wanted way too much money, so we jumped in a dala dala, with our bags on our laps, again, and head in that direction. We printed out a map of where it was, but it was still hard to read, so we got off the dala dala near all the embassies and started walking. It was supposed to be off this road, and not too far from there. Should be easy.

We walked. With our big heavy bags. Up and down the same road. In the hot sun. For three hours. Then we found a guy who kind of spoke English. He was worthless. We took a guess and turned down a road. A few more guesses and another 45 minutes later, we got there. The map was totally wrong by the way, and the street number was wrong as well. Oh, and once we got there we find out that they are closed, too. Seriously? Kigali sucks so far.

We walk back out. Uphill. To the main road and finally hop in a cab. The guy speaks some English and between that and Zach's Swahili skills, we make it work. We checked out a few hotels and finally settle on one in town, close to the center, with a bar and Indian restaurant on the bottom. Double score. Oh and free wifi. Yesssss.

Having not eaten all day, we unload and head strait to the restaurant. We grub on delicious Indian food and plenty of much needed beers. Longest. Day. Ever.

We could only afford one night at that place, so we looked for other options. I decided to call the original place that was "under construction" just to make sure. Sure enough, someone answers, says they have room for camping, and they provide breakfast. Seriously? Seriously!! Had we just done that the day before, our problems would have been solved much faster. Although, it was nice to spend a night not in a tent. Spoiled.

We got to the hostel, and found a construction site. Oh my god. This is not happening. On the side of the gate was a small map and address to their interim location. Ok, this we can work with. As we are taking down the info, a guy comes up, apologizes for the inconvenience, and pays for our cab to the new spot. Finally something good happens! The annoying part? It was super close to where we were walking the day before. We could have found it way easier had we known. Ugh. But so goes traveling. Looking back, it's a funny story. But I wouldn't want to do it again.

Once we got settled, we headed into town on some bodas and hit up the Kigali Genocide Memorial. So devastating and heart wrenching what happened here, not long ago. Hearing people's stories, seeing horrific pictures, and reading about the indescribable methods used to kill so many innocent people. Just awful. And to think, that people my age, and even younger, experienced that. Everyone I saw around town, I knew that they went through it. I can't even imagine what must have been like. It's an interesting feeling to visit a place like that, with such a recent tragedy like the genocide. It's still present, and many of the people I passed on the street, or sat next to on the dala dala, could have watched as their families were brutally murdered. Or worse, been doing the killing themselves. There are no words.

The following day was filled with more memorials. This time we ventured about 45 minutes outside of the city to the Nyamatta area. There are two churches there, which during the genocide, served has mass killing areas. A few years earlier, during previous mini-genocide episodes, many people went to these churches and found refuge, were safe from the killings. The local Tutsi people fled to these churches again during the genocide, with the same hope of safety. This time, they were betrayed and once locked inside, the rebels threw grenades at the doors and windows, got inside the churches, and brutally murdered everyone inside. Mainly women and children.

The churches have been left in that condition, pretty much untouched, with mass graves outside, and the clothes of all those killed lay inside the church. The main doors still torn apart and the ceiling with holes from the grenades. Blood stains on the floor. Broken windows. It was very eerie and intense from the moment you step inside. Being right there, at the actual place where such horrific things happened, brought a wave of sadness, empathy, and anger. How can people do this? To other human beings? Simply because they come from a different tribe. It boggles my mind that this happened, and continues to happen, just across the border in the DRC. When will it stop? Will it ever?

That night it was back to the Indian restaurant from the hotel our first night. Anytime there is good Indian food around you can't keep us away for long. With both our hearts and bellies full, we headed back to the hostel to get ready for the following day.

Our plan was to get to Butare, a southern Rwandan city, which is basically a small college town. Spend a day or so there, and then off to Burundi! Fingers crossed it goes well.
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swettcc on

So many thoughts as I read this...
Zach's Swahili helped with French. Yes, of course. ?!?!?! I get it. :)
Amazing how good beer tastes when traveling abroad. I never drink it otherwise, but Chip and I always have beer on the top of the agenda.
I remember a few years ago serving Indian food on New Years Eve to a very suspicious young lady. Traveling is oh so educational.
Your hearts will remember Rwanda in ways you may not yet realize.

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