Friday, 4 January 2019

Gisovu Adventures

Happy 2019. Had a wonderful New Year's Eve. My friend Maia returned from the UK and we spent it with good friends at her restaurant, which has just been named the top afternoon hangout in Kigali by this blogger. There was a lovely fire, plenty of cocktails, sangria and good cheer. We observed the Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes to the strike of midnight, to bring good luck for the following year. Harder than it sounds. 

Maia and I ended up with friends Sameer, Christian and posse out at Sundowner, where I parted company at 3:30. It was Maia's 40th birthday on 2nd January, so the next morning, on New Year's Day, we rallied Jo and the kids and set off on an adventure. We left Kigali for Karongi in the West.

After a meal at Cormorant Lodge, which looks like a giant tree house on the lakeside, we booked into St. Marie guesthouse. The rooms are a bit basic, but the view from the balcony is gorgeous. Kibuye at its best.

After breakfast, we took a drive out to Kivu Lodge, a new hotel on a peninsular of Lake Kivu. It's pretty remote, so we had the entire place to ourselves the whole day.

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Gina and lemon, before the lemon has been stirred.

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Then it was back in the car for a mammoth journey up into the mountains. Our friend Sameer is a manager at Pfunda Tea Estate in Gisenyi, which I visited last year. He's currently on secondment to Gisovu Tea Estate in Karongi. He has worked in tea all his life and says it's the most beautiful tea garden he's ever seen. It's also very remote. Kigali rests at a little over 1,500 ft altitude, whereas Gisovu is close to 8,000. Jo's 4x4 got an extreme workout and me and Maia had to get out and rebuild part of the road to get the car over some of the bumps. We saw a beautiful sunset on the way up.

Traditional Fishing Boats


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The temperature dropped from a balmy 21c to below 14c by the time we reached Sameer's house. Some days it can apparently drop to 3-4c. Thankfully, it was a warm night. He introduced us to grog, the pirate drink made from rum, honey and warm water. Very drinkable indeed, and made from contraband rum the Indian army drink. There was much dancing and merry-making. When we were worn out, the staff put a huge double mattress in front of the fire for me and I snuggled up toasty warm.


The next morning, we woke up super early. Us three girlies took a wander down to another house just below Sameer's. It belonged to a worker who was away for Christmas, and offered an excellent vantage point from which to watch the sunrise. Rwanda is famed for its mountain mist (think Gorillas in the Mist), so we stood and shivered whilst it cleared.

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Sameer's house from Justin's house.

Percy was with us, of course.


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Part of the view included this line of trees, which is the start of Nyungwe Forest, part of the vast mountain rainforest of Rwanda.

Edge of Nyungwe Forest

After the sun had risen, we took a little walk back to the house.


Sameer's House
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Maia and Jo caught up on a bit more sleep, but the staff had already arrived to clean and start breakfast, so I sat outside on the terrace, watching the view. Sameer headed out to do his rounds, whilst we had a huge, leisurely breakfast. The food didn't stop coming: fresh fruit, Indian potato dumplings, omelet and sausage. We were very spoilt, and when he came back, he took us on a little tour down to their new guesthouse, explaining a bit about how the tea is picked and processed.

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The mud scars are from landslides.
The estate is around 70 years old, founded by the Belgians. Tea pickers pick between 30-40 kilos each day, earning around FRW 450 (50c/40p) per kilo. Most pickers do this job because their parents were pickers. It's a family trade.

They have a new guesthouse on the estate which is really lovely, but it's around $120 a night. Incredible view of the tea station when you wake up, though. Plus you can now hire bikes to look around.


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The tea factory from the guesthouse.

Got back to the house and admired a very large mushroom in Sameer's garden.

Then headed down to the tea factory on our way out, to stock up on fresh tea.



We headed home from there. As we were going down the hill, you could see Kiziba Refugee Camp in the distance.

When I visited Kiziba a couple of years back, you could clearly see Bisesero from there.  Bisesero is known as The Hill of Resistance. The last point of Tutsi resistance during the 1994 genocide, where a group of Tutsi organised a resistance and fought guns and machetes with sticks and stones for as long as they could. The road down from Gisovu passes Bisesero Memorial. We were curious to see it as we've all lived in Rwanda for a long time. We'd heard about it, but it's quite off the beaten track, so it wasn't likely we'd be back that way.

The memorial is built on a hill opposite the actual Hill of Resistance, so that you get a good view of it. It's an extremely steep hill, with many steps, symbolising the struggle of those who held out. It was quite tough to get up there on a torn Achilles, but I forged onward. There are many rooms with skulls and femurs. We've all been to many memorials and seen more than enough, so we skipped most of those rooms. Towards the top were some very large boulders. Apparently the resistance would roll them down on top of Interahamwe who were climbing up to kill them.

The actual Hill of resistance, directly ahead with a tree on top.

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Halfway up the memorial hill.

Kiziba Refugee Camp from the Memorial.

At the very top of the memorial are the mass graves, reportedly containing the bodies of 50,000 people. 

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A somber end to an otherwise exceedingly jolly outing. I always have great adventures with Jo and Maia, from gorilla trekking to Lake Bunyonyi and Idjwi, and although Maia has now relocated to England, it's nice that she pops back to go exploring with us.I don't think Jo and I would have done half the things we have without her.

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