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I pull the door open and sunlight pours into our little concrete bedroom. Outside is Rwanda green and fresh. It looks different in the daylight, it’s a beautiful sunny morning. Kigali the capital is another 4 hours away by bus.

I take a stroll along the street where already the first Dallas are filling up and departing. I say filling up, but by Tanzanian standards these Dallas are empty. There are no fold down seats where an aisle would normally exist. No faces pushed against the windows, no gas bottles sticking out the back, what is going on here? I take what I think is initiative and book three seats on the bus leaving at 10am. I am assured it will leave at 10am

This really should come as no surprise. Rwanda has a reputation for good roads, and rules and regulations that are enforced to western standards. Even the motorbike riders are required to wear helmets. All this of course comes as a welcome relief especially after yesterday’s transport saga through North West Tanzania!

Breakfast options are limited to non-existent. Two girls who are headed to Tanzania kindly offer us some of their baked beans. Poor girls they are in for a long day. We pack and walk down to the street where to my surprise the 10am is departing at 9.40? I manage to get on and demand they stop as we had already paid for our tickets. Basically the bus had filled and we were not around so the solution was to leave without us and pocket the money!

We get our money back and grab the next bus that fills up in 15 minutes. Seated next to me, I start chatting to a man who turns out to be a dentist from Uganda who now works in Kigali. Dr Clive has returned from Cape Town by bus. It has taken him 7 days of continuous travel. I tell him I have also come up from Cape Town but it has taken me 7 weeks. Dr Clive is an interesting man and soon is divulging his thoughts on the trouble with African society. Politics, education and corrupt leaders are tabled. He believes that Africans need to help themselves more and rely less on aid. We discuss the natural resources Africa has, and Clive quiet profoundly tells me “Africa’s greatest resource walks on the ground, it is not buried underneath.”

Arriving into Kigali I assume we will not be set upon as we depart the bus, I assume wrong but the onslaught is more a series of polite questions. Kigali is spread out and built on a series of ridges and valleys. There appears to be no real centre and no particular place to base yourself. Keen to use our tent and save some money we go to the Discover Rwanda Guest House. When we arrive the campsite is in bad condition and covered in long grass, disappointing! The three of us take a 4 bed dorm room instead and hope for the best. Already the cost in Rwanda is a bit of a shock. The beds are $17.00 USD each.

Rwanda might have remained a tiny unknown country in East Africa had it not been for the terrible events that took place here 19 years ago. It is hard to fathom how these atrocities manufactured themselves. We decide to visit the memorial in an attempt to try and find out some of the history that led to the genocide.

The Boda ride or motorbike taxi is about 4-500 Rwandan Francs for anywhere around central Kigali. A taxi is 5000 or about $10.00 USD, so it’s going to be Bodasfor us. I don’t know what I am expecting, some sort of explanation, is that possible? The memorial takes you through a timeline of political events that led up tothe genocide. Then it pays respect by remembering those who lost their lives. Historical facts are easy enough to digest, but when we start to see (on a personal level) some of the stories intimately told, my understanding is lost. I understand class divide, I understand resentment but I can’t imagine how someone takes a machete and butchers dozens of men, women and children on a Sunday afternoon because he is bitter. The memorial pulls no punches and goes into detail about how victims were murdered. The stories are too horrific to repeat, those about the children are the worst. I emerge from the memorial into a garden. All around me I can hear the hum of traffic and horns. The birds are singing, this place seems so normal; what happened here?

We visit The Hotel des Mille Collines, which translates in French to the “land of a thousand hills” for which Rwanda is known. This is of course is the Hotel that featured in the film “Hotel Rwanda”. I look at the swimming pool that was used for drinking water; now full and clear. It is a peaceful place overlooking Kigali. I realise that as a visitor I have little chance of ever really knowing how or why these events took place. I wonder if by coming here, am I a concerned inquisitive person or some sort of misery tourist. I feel that we all need to take in the reality of what happened. The victims deserve to be remembered.

I am reminded that Rwanda has done a remarkable job in moving forward and reconciling as much as it can with its past. Their leader Paul Kagame a Tutsi himself has called for a united Rwanda. No longer are people identified as Tutsi or Hutu. This system of divide has been abolished. I look around me and see a miracle, but I wonder how much this country has really healed. Has the individual really forgiven or have they been forced to by a wave of government policy and perceived public opinion.

We leave Kigali after two days and head for Musanze in Rwanda’s north. This is the staging post for The Parc National des Volcans, one of the best places in the world to see the rare and endangered mountain gorillas. Our bus twists and turns out of Kigali up a steep climb. The city thins as we continue our accent. Topping a ridge we are blessed with a view that confirms Rwanda as the land of a thousand hills. It is magnificent. The green terraced mountains are endless. The houses may be rustic but they all have million dollar views. Three hours and several ridges later we round a corner and the Virungas appear before us. They are a chain of 6 extinct volcanoes that surround Musanze.  They stand like great guards over this lovely valley. The rainforests that grow on their lower slopes provides the home for the mountain gorillas.

The Virunga Volcanos

The Virunga Volcanos

Terraces in Rwanda

Terraces in Rwanda

On arrival we make our way to the cheapest hotel in town, The Tourist Rest House. The room is a little worn but the staff are incredibly friendly and obliging and do everything they can to make us feel at home. The cost for a double is negotiated down to $14 per night including breakfast; we overlook the lack of warm water. Two doors down there is an Italian restaurant, owned and managed by an authentic Alberto. The recipes have been passed down to Alberto by his grandmother and now we can enjoy mountains of her culinary dynasty for only 2000 RF or about $4.00 USD.

The National Park runs along the border of Rwanda, Uganda and the infamous and somewhat alluring Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC. We have been advised that the Gorilla permits are $750.00 USD each in Rwanda, but a couple of Germans give us the tip that in Uganda they are currently $350.00 each. This is a massive saving and the decision is made to try and get a permit in Uganda.

The trip to Musanze is not wasted as there are many other more affordable options. We decide to climb the 3700m high Bisoke (volcano) a bargain at $50.00 USD. The added allure is accidentally bumping into the gorillas for a fraction of the price. The trail up Bisoke takes us through deep dense jungle and past the Dian Fossey memorial. The trail is a mix of twisted roots and deep mud. In a matter of minutes thick clay is caked to our boots and lower legs. There is no respite as we gain height. When we reach the summit we are treated to fine views of the crater lake and Musanze below, which is just as well because it takes us considerable time to clean our boots when we get back to the hotel. We dine again at Alberto’s. The Germans have put us to shame and climb the 4560m Karisimbi in a day, it’s supposed to take two.

Climbing Bisoke with the Rwanda army for protection

Climbing Bisoke with the Rwanda army for protection

Alberto who has lived in Rwanda for 8 years gives us some inside tips of what to see in the area. His friend a local nun apparently will hire us her Suzuki Vitara for $30.00 USD a day. We seize the opportunity and set out the next morning to explore the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Burera. The fun begins where the asphalt ends. We drive through villages and children waving, past old men on bicycles and ladies carrying large stacks of wood on their heads. Stopping to take photos we are chased by children yelling Muzungu, Muzungu. Some can be heard from across the valley. Green fingers reach into the lake from all directions. They are dotted with little islands filled with banana trees. The view across the lakes is superb. We are confronted by several forks in the road but soon the locals direct us in hopefully the right direction. The drive around the lakes takes 4 hours and we are a little relieved to see the sealed road gain with a sign pointing to Musanze. We finish the day by going up to the Virunga Lodge. The rooms here are $1200.00 USD a night but we sit on their terrace with $3.00 cokes and soak up the impressive views of the Virungas and the lakes below. Anyone in Musanze really must go here!

Our drive around Lake Burero

Our drive around Lake Burero

We ask Alberto if his friend the nun will hire the car to us for longer, and we are fortunate that she agrees to let us have it for another 5 days. We head for Lake Kivu and the Nyungwe National park in the south of Rwanda. Every corner and there are many yields impressive views of the mountainous green country, we are very fortunate to have been able to see Rwanda this way. Yet for all its beauty and charm Rwanda seems to be lacking something that Tanzania and Zambia had. The people just seem a little subdued. It almost feels a little too perfect if that is possible. It’s like an African version of The Truman Show.

Lake Burera North Rwanda

Lake Burera North Rwanda

We return the car to Alberto’s nun and head for the Ugandan border which is blessedly only 25km from Musanze. Rwanda is by far the cleanest and prettiest country we have seen so far on our journey. You could linger here a long time, but Uganda and the Gorillas await.

Love to you all

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