I better commit this to writing before I forget. I think this rather succinctly sums up what people groan about when they say “Africa” I’d proudly bought my Gaso bus ticket for Kampala – Kigali set to depart at 1am from the city centre. I even managed to bully/smile my way into them issuing said ticket on the Monday.
Too good to be true. I roll up in the special hire taxi and no bus. All darkness. In a sense the price for a special hire was worth it, as they had to ask around where the goddamn bus was. Unlocking gates. Opening of ticketing office (so that the man who was staring at me could sit behind a counter and talk to me with some degree of protection from actual bodily harm) It appears the bus broke down and the parts – brought over from Kenya (?) hadn’t made it back in time. For their daily bus journey. Hmmm. Blood pressure rising, refunds done but I’m still there with all my kit and no bus and no money to take the taxi back to the hostel. At some point arguing with this man won’t materialise a bus, and a Rwandan lady appears, similarly surprised and about 6 million times more irked than me as she has to go to work the next morning in Kigali, and I leave her to inflict damage on the Gaso man as I search for an alternative.
With some luck and confusion, the taxi drivers hear of a competiting bus company who happen to run buses at the same time. Drive in teh darkness. Appear at a much larger bus depot for Jaguar. More scrambling around with full backpack on. Buy a ticket. RElief.
Get on the bus.
Then of course, I realise that I’ve been assigned a seat, rather hilariously, in between probably the only fat African man I’d seen thus far and another man who decides to play with his laptop at 1am in the morning. The bus shockingly leaves on time. I spend the next 6, 7, 8, (time is variable) hours elbowing them and actually getting some decent sleep. At some point the frustration and discomfort melts into acceptancce and… sleep.
The potholes on Ugandan roads are hell on your spine/neck. You don’t realise but all the bumping does impact you just at that part of exposed vertebrae.
A great refuelling stop somwhere at 5am and there’s a section labelled “ladies” but then I realise all the women squat and piss behind this signed wall! Ha ha. TIA. I much prefer a bush wee toto a pit latrine wee.
As we roll out of Uganda the air does get a bit chilly and at some point, I’m the only one wearing just a t-shirt and a little cambodian scarf. I start to appreciate the shared body warmth of the Ugandan sandwich, but in my mind I’m ready to inflict bodily harm if any funny business should ensue. In this state of alertness and acceptance I sleep on.
Daylight. Bus stops and people get off. No idea, I follow the herd. Immigration forms to fill, long queue on a dirt track. Ugandan exit stamps. Then nothing – can’t see the bus, am vaguely aware that I’ve left Uganda but where the hell? We’re in the mountains (or hills anyway) – it’s misty, the air is great and nippy, I walk to the obvious direction away from Uganda.
200metres of no mans land and men trying to get you to change currency and I think I reach Rwanda? More forms to fill. I find the bus. And then this sort of circus happens where they empty the entire bus of all luggage and two ununiformed men proceed to open everyone’s bags and discard plastic bags. Yes, every one – 40 people’s worth of luggage. Plastic bags are ‘illegal’ in Rwanda. I applaud the concept but honestly, rifling through people’s belogings to confiscate the plastic wrapping from loaves of bread is just a farce.
I take the proactive measure (I have many many many plastic bags that wrap absolutely everything) and open my own bag for inspection. Luckily I have packed everything so densely that is is scarcely worth digging through. Bag back in the bus.
I roll into Kigali by 8 or 9 or 10am (elastic time, and Rwanda is 1 hour behind Uganda). More human circus of being looked at, haggled upon, etc. I change a US20 quickly and just start walking in a general direction, after asking around where Blvd de Nybugogo is.
After 10minutes of futile walking (mostly AWAY from the hagglers rather than the sureity of walking towards the hotel) I flag a motorbike taxi and succumb. Glad to say Kigali’s motor-taxis are all centralised (wearing uniforms and helmets for them AND you!) and their bikes are mostly brand new and far heavier than the skimpy scramblers infiltrating Kampala. So I feel some insignifcant degree of safety with these and hop on, two backpacks on, and thankfully go straight to the hotel.
Kigali – it’s lovely. Very beautifully located in a valley surrounded by the milles collines, thousand hills – the air is clear, the streets are clean and the roads are not riddled with potholes!
Unfortunately though, out of the 3 times I took a motor-taxi today, twice they didn’t understand the street name I wanted, to my chagrin. Maybe my French accent just doesn’t cut it.
I saw the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which is an absolutel must. Free of charge, informative, and perhaps more poignantly – this happened in 1994. I was 9 when it happened. People my age would have been children witnessing this. Generations are and will be scarred by this for a long time yet.
There was a school excursion there with me. Kids, couldn’t habe been older than 16. Halfway inside I hear lots of screaming and I think maybe it’s some part of the exhibition. Then I realise when I exit that it’s the students – 2 or 3 have spontaneously gone into hysterics and have to be separated and taken into the gardens outside to calm down. It’s more than affecting, it’s disturbing, but the teachers supervise with an air of expectancy. Someone brings out a mattress so one of the students can lie down. Genocide is still very raw to the Rwandans.
Tomorrow I could go to the cathedrals where massacres were conducted, 25km out of the city. Or I could go to Gisenyi.
Don’t believe everything the Lonely Planet guide tells you:
hmm I might get cholera in Gisenyi. Fun. It’s a 2 hour bus to Gisenyi to chill at the beach. I’ll have tonight to contemplate if sitting on a beach is worth the effort. “water sports” – as the Lonely PLanet claims, is a myth. There would be water sports if water sports companies operated there. But they don’t. So clearly no water sports!
I’m also not going to see the gorrillas. I cannot bea to part with US500. I really couldn’t.
Suddenly this is starting to sound as though I’m becoming incredibly negative and lazy on deciding what to do in Rwanda, but the reality that I’m a single female travelling does present some limitations. There are no backpackers in Kigali which is my normal modus operandi to making new travel companions. Without them you wouldn’t really want to hike alone up the Parc de Volcans.
I think I will spend a night in Gisenyi, just to go and see it. And then I’ll have to come back to Kigali, hopefully have time to see the cathedrals outside of the city and then get a less squashy bus back to Kampala. And hope the damn office building is ready by then.