Rwanda, the Land of Magical Adventures
Rwanda is the land of magical fairytales, just when you think the country can’t offer anymore there is a surprise for you around the corner. Sheila and I had a two back-to-back weekend adventures. The first weekend was a bus adventure to Muhanga with an overnight stay in Cyeza village. The second weekend was a road trip to the Western Province including Nyungwe Rain Forest and Lake Kivu.
Catching a bus from Nyabugogo is not an easy task, there were no other Mzungus (foreigners) in sight. As with all things in Rwanda, everything works out perfectly – a drunk gentleman came to our rescue, he made sure we didn’t get hit by moving buses, trampled by crowds and guided us to the ticket counter. He even made sure we got good seats on the bus. For his trouble, we paid him 200 RWF ($0.25 USD) – he gave 100 RWF to a homeless man and the other 100 RWF he used to buy us chewing gum for our journey. This is how service works in Rwanda! We’re off to Muhanga!
Outside of Muhanga is a village called Cyeza that has no running water or electricity but we are determined to go there for a full day of adventure and stay the night. We arrived in Cyeza at 8am and were greeted by six women who welcomed us with open arms. We started the day with a prayer of gratitude for bringing us together, the day continued with Sheila and I doing some manual labor – weeding, cutting grass with a sickle, feeding the cow and fetching water from the well – that was just the morning.
We then helped the women prepare lunch and had a feast of cassava, beans and avocado followed by a siesta, personal space is not a concept well understood by villagers, Sheila was cuddled up with one of the village women as she napped. In the afternoon we went for a long hike to meet the village chief who was a woman, gender equality is prevalent in Rwanda.
We enjoyed an evening of singing, dancing and feasting with the villagers. Sleeping in a village was less than ideal but we survived. There is a severe shortage of clean water, Sheila and I felt extremely guilty when we washed our face and brushed our teeth before going to bed – it’s a luxury the villagers could not afford.
Our second weekend started off with navigating Kigali traffic on a Friday morning trying to get out of town – I had to dodge motorcycle taxis, bicycle taxis, other cars, crazy bus drivers and pedestrians. Once I learned how to pass other vehicles and when to use my horn on the freeway, the Toyota Rav4 we rented was a breeze to drive. We call Rwanda magical because it’s safe, unbelievably clean and the landscape is stunningly beautiful. Being 2 degrees south of the equator, the temperature fluctuates between 75°F - 85°F (23°C - 29°C) with no humidity – perfect weather year around. The villages and towns we passed were impeccably constructed as though we’re driving in a fairy tale. We stopped in Huye, AKA Butare the 2nd largest city in Rwanda for a bite to eat and helped a restaurant move a fridge across town in our vehicle.
In this magical land, the police pull you over to chat with you, innocently flirt with you and give you travel advice. We were stopped three times our first day and each stop was a friendly encounter. As we reached our destination Nyungwe national park our landscaped moved from rolling hills to tropical rainforest, we started to see different primates along the road. A row of colobus monkeys greeted us on the side of the freeway. A few miles later we picked up a hitchhiker, Everiste, who was also a park guide, he explained some of the vegetation to us along with a discussion on how Rwanda successfully put a halt to all poaching. Around this time, we were also running out of gas in our vehicle with no gas station on our path for another 50kms. Everiste had us stop at the nearest village where a shop keeps extra gas for motorcycle taxis, he negotiates a price for us and we had a crowd of villagers pouring fuel into our gas tanks. We left Everiste at the village and we continued to our guesthouse where we met Joseph who was determined to teach the Muzungus a few words of Kinyarwanda.
The next day we enjoyed exploring the Nyungwe rain forest which included hiking the Isumo trail to see the largest waterfall in the forest. Due to poaching activity in the past, visitors are not allowed to enter the rainforest without a park ranger. We were fortunate to have Christof as our ranger, he is a biologist by profession and now spent his time in Nyungwe forest.
After a day of exploration in Nyungwe, we were back on the road for our drive to the lakefront city of Kibuye. We had rented a house right on Lake Kivu so we can just walk out and jump into the lake. Kibuye was everything that was promised to us, a waterfront paradise. Lake Kivu is clean and surrounded by tropical vegetation. There is a slight issue of Lake Kivu’s interaction with a volcano that is leaking methane into the water but the government has a successful extraction process in place. There is the fear of an explosion in the lake.
Our road trip through the Western Province of Rwanda was incredible – the Rwandans are helpful, polite and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. It’s hard to imagine that two females spent 3 days driving through remote areas of Rwanda without harm. Our view of Africa is often skewed and we forget Africa is a continent not a country. A Rwandan is not the same as a Congolese or a Kenyan or a Ugandan. I’ve met people from the neighboring countries of Rwanda and they are not alike – the culture, language, behavior is different. In Rwanda I’ve encountered very few beggars, in my 4 weeks here I’ve encountered three beggars. Rwandans are self-sufficient, modern, educated, honest and hold themselves to the highest level of integrity.