With the new crew aboard for the first day on the truck, we start the 7km journey to the border or Rwanda. 2kms later Shaggy breaks down for the first time. Our driver/mechanic Tom spends 30 minutes fixing an airlock in the fuel system while we spend 30 minutes being stared at by smiling local kids and adults who seemingly come out of nowhere to ask us why we’re here. Rwanda is a remarkably clean country compared to others in Africa, and the lack of plastic and waste on the roadside makes it even more beautiful.
Arriving at the border everybody does their best not to have the locals push in front of them and we’re into our third country of the trip, Rwanda. A short 20km drive brings us to Ruhengheri (or Muzanse as it’s also known) and our camp for the night, the very Christian Hostel Fatima, with a huge church under construction in the background. We’re shown to a couple of massive his and hers dorm rooms and pointed towards icy cold showers, though there’s a nice grass area to chill out on out front (and like most of Africa the WiFi sucks).
A short walk from the hostel is a small local market selling mostly fruit, vegetables and other food staples, plus a couple of live chickens and rabbits. Guys in blue jackets are market officials who help with translation and ensuring you get the right price, though we still think you pay too much for some things. Picking up some of avocados, tomatoes and cucumber for the equivalent of about 25p we then ask our man to show us where to pick up some local hot sauce recommended by our guide. Akabanga comes in a small bottle for just USD$1 which you could easily mistake for eyedrops, so keep it somewhere safe so you’ll know the difference in the dark, as just one drop is hot enough to rise your body temperature.
Back in the hostel bar over a couple of beers, we almost manage to convince Aussie Matt to drink the entire bottle for $100, but he obviously hadn’t had enough beers yet. Of all the beers we’ve tried in Africa so far, the Primus Gama Gama Superstar 5 is probably the best, and not just because of the totally awesome name. The Turbo King has added caramel and is way too sweet, hangover material right there. We head out for dinner where our guide has organised a locally cooked meal at a nearby Country & Western bar. Dirty floors, dark lighting, and a local gentleman on stage who strums his guitar and seems to sing the same song the entire time we were there leaves most people wondering where the hell we were. But it made a nice change to be out among the locals.
Not ready to finish the evening, Aussie Matt, his sister Carla, Frank, Matt and I follow our ears to an upstairs bar with local music blaring. We walk in to a bunch of locals just mooching around. The music gets turned up and we start a dance off, with everybody in a circle taking turns to balance beers on their heads, do the worm or just dive down on the ground and crawl through each others legs (they’ve got some interesting dance moves in this country…). With tired feet we head back to the hostel and on the dark, rough road we somehow manage to flag down a local with a pickup truck full of rubber tubing. He’s happy to give us a lift the whole 100 meters down the road. Legend.
A little worse for wear the next morning we headed to Kigali and the Genocide Museum (not recommended with a hangover, it’s depressing enough as it is). One of the worlds most recent genocides, the museum gives an overview of the build up, including the French government loaning the interim Rwandan government $12 million in order to purchase guns from a French maker. Tensions had been rising for decades, with the Catholic Church also inciting hatred between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. On April 7th 1994 things escalated when Hutu’s began massacring the local Tutsi’s. An estimated 1 million people were murdered in just 100 days, with neighbour turning on neighbour and even children killed with machetes.
By the time the killing had stopped, over 2/3 of the population had been displaced, fleeing into neighbouring countries and makeshift refugee camps, and almost 20% of the Rwandas population had been killed. To make matters worse, reportedly the French commander on the ground in Rwanda had asked for 5,000 troops leading up to the event in order to prevent the genocide, and instead the UN pulled out. With a section dedicated to the worlds worst genocides in history, including the Armenian genocide of the early 1900’s, the Holocaust, Bosnian/Serb war and Vietnam’s Pol Pot regime, it’s a sad experience of human history. Though Rwanda is leading a healing programme to bring Hutu and Tutsi members of the community together in remembrance and forgiveness, to ensure the like of this atrocity never happens again.
Spending the night at Discover Rwanda Backpackers, we pitch our tents on a small shady patch of grass with a view across the valley. A couple of hours later we find a huge speaker setup within meters of our tent door. Turns out it’s party night and the hostel is hosting a Reggae party right outside with the music at full volume. After an early dinner at a nearby Great Wall Chinese Restaurant watching Chelsea get done 3-1 by Everton, there was nothing for it but to join the party (though Sarah somehow managed to sleep right through it). Dancing with the locals around the fire as the band played cracking reggae tunes, it was a fun night for all.
Having been issued our gorilla permits for Uganda (it’s a bit of a luck of the draw) our itinerary only allowed for two nights in Rwanda, though the cleanliness of the country and the smiling people meant we could have easily spent more. Drifting off to the sounds of reggae still pumping, we were awoken at 5am to the beginnings of a blazing sunrise and an argument between two drunks still going from the night before.
Next up, Tanzania!
Tips for Rwanda
- ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is a great movie which depicts one mans efforts to save people from the massacre by sheltering them in his hotel. Well worth the watch for an insight into the genocide.
- Get out and meet the locals, they’re good fun and a great laugh.