Thursday, 6 June 2019

Road Trip 2019

Had a fun week away. My friend Harris was on the road with his research assistant, Rose. They kindly invited me along for a chance to get out of Kigali. First stop, Gisakura, about six hours south of Kigali and 15 miles from Cyangugu, on the edge of Nyungwe National Forest.

Bye Bye Kigali

View Through the Sunroof

Rice Paddies

Our first stop was an extremely strange guesthouse that was still under construction. It was EAR Peace Guesthouse, attached to a nearby church. It looked amazing as we first arrived.

The rooms were nice and clean, with spacious bathrooms and a comfortable bed.

They put us in three rooms next to each other, looking out across the tea plantation. The only problem was - there weren't any steps to the rooms! It was an extremely steep, break-neck scramble down either a mud slide or a grassy embankment. My friend fell, and I have an ankle injury and could barely make it. The staff brought walking poles for us and offered to wash the mud out of our clothes afterwards, but it was definitely one of the stranger experiences I've ever had in Rwanda. 

The view across the tea fields was nice enough, only it was partly obscured by building materials and the builders turned up just before 7 a.m. the next morning to start smashing rocks outside our window!

(panoramic, click to enlarge)

There was also another grave problem. After a six-hour drive, we were drawn like moths to a flame when we saw the little plastic Mutzig table on the lawn.

"Please could we order two beers?"



"We're Christians."

Ah, yes. A common thing you need to watch out for in Rwanda. There are a lot of Christian guesthouses that seem to believe the local vicar doesn't like a tipple, and the Pope doesn't drink wine. Being in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in the dark, it was quite an adventure to hunt down a local bar and bring back our own booze. 

We sat outside, enjoying the way raindrops twinkled off the trees like Christmas lights, and putting the world to rights.

Then I headed to bed, to snuggle up with the local wildlife - as there was no mosquito netting either.

Bite the good bite.

The next day, Harris and Rose headed off to work, and the staff were kind enough to bring breakfast down to my porch because there wasn't a cat in hell's chance I'd make it up the bank on my own.

Then I sat on my bed to continue editing my latest novel.

In the evening, we decided to go in search of a bar. We found this place called Nyungwe Forest Lodge on the map and decided to check it out. It's a nice drive through a tea garden.

But once we got there, a guard stopped us at the barrier. It was all he could do to be bothered to come over to our car.

"No," were the first words out of his mouth.

No what, we wondered.

He singled out Rose and walked round to the passenger side to talk to her, beginning 'Umva.' ('Listen up').

Turns out it's a super exclusive place that, according to TripAdvisor, charges around a million and a half francs per night. Shame they didn't invest any of that in manners. The guy was the rudest security guard I've ever encountered. No, 'Hello,' 'Can I help you?', 'Sorry, it's pre-booking only, but can I recommend a little place down the road...' We were extremely glad to drive away.

Luckily, our second attempt was much better. We found a place called Hill Top View Hotel, near our guesthouse. Really unexpected treat, and completely deserted. We headed up to the restaurant, which had a nice view out across Lake Kivu, and the lobby was spectacularly lit, with a whole wall of traditional imigongo. 

The food was a little odd - a flat lasagna and garlic Smash - but the staff were friendly and we had a good night.

The next day we hit the road and headed off to one of my old favourite haunts, Bethany, in Kibuye. Thankfully, with mosquito nets!

The next morning, I woke up early and caught a dramatic sunrise.

Last time I stayed here, about three years ago, there was a lot of loud music until the early morning because of a conference, and Dolly Parton blasting over breakfast. This time, they'd turned all the music off. I definitely didn't miss Dolly Parton, but I did miss the fishermen, who used to sing as they rowed out in the evenings. Apparently they've also been told to keep it down. A few defiant voices rose that morning, though. The fishermen of Kibuye have branched into modern pop, with a rousing rendition of Ed Sheeran's Perfect.

I grabbed my towel and headed down to the lake for a morning swim, which was wonderful. The water was so warm.

View from room.

(panoramic, click to enlarge)

I settled down with my book to finish editing. My story is about the Irish god of the sea, so it was the ideal place to do it, right on the lake shore.

On my way down to swim in the morning, I bumped into  Stephania, a friend from Kigali. Rwanda is such a small place, you're always bumping into people you know. She was there for work and joined us in the evening for food and drinks with her colleague. It turned into a really nice evening, watching the sunset with plenty of laughter.

(panoramic, click to enlarge)

(panoramic, click to enlarge)

(panoramic, click to enlarge)

(panoramic, click to enlarge)

The next day we headed back to Kigali and I drove all the way. I've had a lot of driving experience over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's reassuring to know that I still can, though entering Kigali in the dark was pretty stressful. The lack of lighting and traffic system are utterly crazy in places. There's one junction in particular, near Nyabugogo Bus Park, which is a total free-for-all. You just have to close your eyes and hope for the best. 

After a relaxing night back in our own beds, Harris and I decided to finish the road trip the next day with a trip to Lake Muhazi with our friend Solvejh. Five years ago, I had the most lovely day out at a place called Water Sports. You should never try to recreate these things, but we gave it a go anyway. It's particularly hard to get there, along village mud tracks, but it's a really interesting drive. You get to observe village life and all the activity going on there. I didn't take many pictures as my phone battery was dying, but Solvejh took some really professional ones. Hope to share at some point.

It was a bit disappointing. The place has really gone downhill and it took a lifetime for the food to come. Also, despite it professing to be a water sports centre, you can't actually get in the water. It's absolutely teaming with snails, so the risk of bilharzia is extremely high. You just sit on the grass and look at the lake. Still, we had a nice day and it was good to be out of Kigali.

Rounded off the day with food and beer at our local.