Today we are due to tackle our next border, but there is a slight hiccup. A slow leak in our front LH tyre. Not to worry countless guys stop to help and 30mins later we are back on the road.
At the border post a bus has just arrived, so it is a long queue before we are stamped out of Burundi. It gives John time to negotiate with moneychangers while I queue. The same long queue is of course at the Rwandan side. When it is our turn things turn messy. Our approved East African visas do not show in their system. Anyway, the whole process takes over an hour. The poor people in line behind us are breathing harder and harder down our necks and we are engulfed with people and their body odour. Phew After that, vehicle paperwork is a breeze. No money required at all, just a quick inspection inside the truck. Welcome to Rwanda, Land of a Thousand Hills!
Our first impressions are excellent. The country is clean, tidy, and organised. People seem to be moving with purpose. After a late lunch we head into the city of Butare/Huye. Even though it is Sunday we get a sim then diesel. Later we head to the impressive Ethnographic Museum for a guided tour. The display of village life, crafts, weapons, drums, and clothing is excellent. Time to leave, but we discover the wet season has officially started today and it is bucketing down outside. As the rain eases, we head out of town to the Huye Coffee Plantation where we can camp in their drying area. It is a tight squeeze as we are led down a narrow track through villages, just skimming beneath overhanging power lines! Still, it is a quiet night and makes an interesting stop.
The morning is crisp and clear making for magic driving as we head up, down and around thousands of hills. The road is excellent and traffic sparse. There are crops as far as the eye can see. Miles and miles of terraces with people out hoeing or harvesting. Potatoes, beans, corn, cabbages, pineapples, bananas, pawpaws, mangoes, tomatoes, rice. There is an abundance of food, but there is also a huge population to feed. And then we reach the tea plantations, shimmering green and running in layers down the hillsides.
The main road traverses the stunning Nyungwe Forest National Park, so we can see it from the main road for free. A different story if we want to do any of the walks to see monkeys (the main attraction here) Interestingly there are fully armed soldiers guarding the park. We see groups at regular intervals walking 50m apart. They are not too keen on us stopping on the side of the road for coffee and we are told to stop at the visitor centre, which is where we stop later for lunch. There is a nice camping area here, but to use it we must pay entrance fees as well as camp fees (totalling over $200US), so we pass. Fortunately, we do get to see a few different monkeys and stop briefly to check them out. Once out of the park we head through more tea plantations, then down to Lake Kivu near the town of Kagano where we find the lovely Maravilla Kivu Resort. We can camp beside the lake and set up before 40 Dutch tourists arrive. They are walking 100km of the Nile Congo Trail that roughly follows the lake. While they set up tents a storm rolls through. Once we get our awning down and washing inside, we watch their tents been blown over! We had planned on using the lovely restaurant, but with 40 tourists the kitchen is in chaos, so we head back to our truck for a simple meal.
Still more magic driving with views of the lake to add to the mix. We stop at a boat building workshop just on the side of the road. They are hammering together lengths of wood to make more long boats. Another stop to watch men loading sacks of sand onto big metal boats that will ferry the sand across the lake to DRCongo. Late morning, we reach the lovely town of Kibuye, again beside the lake. But first we must find a tyre shop to fit our puncture, and I need to find an ATM for some Francs. Both jobs accomplished we head out on the gorgeous peninsula to find a campspot, and succeed beyond our expectations when we reach the Livalana Hotel and find we can camp on the grass right beside the lake. We settle in and enjoy. Of course, John cannot sit still so he blows up the boat, gets the motor going and heads out for a short ride. We do not have any extra petrol, so it is short!
The next day we head off at 8am for our official boat ride. Lots of islands to explore, fruit bats and monkeys to spot and wild waves to ride as the lake chops up on our return. Chatting to our guide gives us more of an insight into this country. For example, there are trees growing down the sides of the roads (much to my annoyance as they get in the way of taking photos!) and large new plantations. The people are not allowed to cut them down, only cut off branches. All in all, a lovely trip. Our driver and guide are thrilled when John gives him his fishing reels that he never uses. Time to move on. Our road now goes away from the lake as we head north to the border town of Gisenyi, which is also on Lake Kivu. There are no camping areas on our App so we drive along the waterfront and when we find a restaurant/bar with a big enough carpark we stop and ask if we can park for the night. We enjoy dinner and drinks at the restaurant while we watch the sun setting over DRCongo. Later when the noise dies down the gates are shut.
In the morning we drive along the waterfront to admire the sandy beaches (hmmm not so exciting) and then up to the main drag where we park and head to the bakery. The chapatis’ we got there were excellent. When we return to the truck there are at least 50 people milling around. They are all very inquisitive! Time to leave the lake and head into the mountains. There is lot more tea growing, and we pass the huge Pfunda Tea Factory and stop for a coffee break and buy some tea. Much later, at the town of Rugengeri we turn onto a side road and head towards the Volcanoes National Park, famous for its volcanoes and gorillas. Unfortunately, there is a lot of cloud cover today, so not a volcano tip in sight. We can camp at the Kinigi Asoferwa Lodge, so we settle in and hope the clouds will blow away. Sadly, they do not, but in between showers we explore the massive gorilla statues made from bamboo (very impressive) and replica huts, then later the local village. A local boy offers to show us around, so a group of teenage boys give us a guided tour of this very poor village. Surprisingly they must pay for their water at the water station. And we get shown their crops and how they rotate them. Our group of boys are mad keen soccer players and desperately want a new ball, so we head to the tiny village shop to get them one. John of course tries to barter the price down, unsuccessfully. In the end I say “just get it for them” and they are rapt. Such happy smiles on their faces.
In the morning we drive more of the back road in the hope of spying the volcanoes and we stumble across the amazing new Dian Fossey Research Centre. We stop, fill in a bit of time until they open and then have a look through. It documents Dian’s work with the gorillas. An amazing place. They are selling permits to trek with the gorillas, but at $1500US each, just for a permit, we will not be doing it here. It does not take John long to do the sums! At 22 groups of 8 people every day. Well, you work it out! By the time we leave the clouds have cleared a bit so we can now leave having finally glimpsed the volcanoes. No hikes as they are mainly trekking the volcanoes, and very pricey too.
Time to move on to Kigali, the capital city. Again, magic driving with great roads, huge, cropped mountains and valleys and minimal traffic. Our first stop is a big insurance company. So far, we have been unable to get vehicle insurance and it is now a priority. Finally, success, and we are now insured for Rwanda, Uganda & Kenya. The city is amazingly modern with lots of green spaces and modern highrise. And clean! Plastic bags are forbidden here, and we are really impressed when we buy food that everything is put in paper bags or wrapped in waxed paper. Not even egg boxes. Oh, and straws are spaghetti tubes. They are miles ahead of us in Australia in this respect. We eventually head out to the outskirts of the city to camp at Fazenda Sengha Country Club set high on a hill.
After a quiet night we head back into the city, this time to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Most towns have their own simple Genocide Memorials that also serve as mass graves, but this is the biggest one. A very sobering place with horrific details of the appalling genocide that killed over 1 million people here not that many years ago. What is awesome is the way the people of Rwanda are working at forgiveness and unity. They are all now called Rwandans and are proud of their country. Well, our original plan was to head south to visit two Churches that are also memorials, but we feel we have had enough, so simply head east towards a lake where we can camp over the weekend. There are no signs and its on a crazy back track, but we eventually make it. Lovely and peaceful with water views. By 10am the next day John has finished his chores and is getting restless, so we decide to head back to the city and camp at the Country Club again. That will make it quicker to get to the border on Monday morning.
Our final day in Rwanda we head through the city in crazy rush hour. Not so much cars, but hundreds of people, loads of motorbike taxis and plenty of coaster sized buses. Once out of the suburbs there is very little traffic and we enjoy the fabulous scenery. It just keeps coming. The bonus here is the cleanliness of the country. Work teams are out this morning cleaning the sides of the road, weeding, and sweeping. AND on the last Saturday of every month everyone is involved in cleaning up! How awesome is that. Rwanda you are a legend.