That time when we watched Golden monkeys eat Irish potatoes in Kinigi, Rwanda…

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Since the start of our African adventure in Entebbe we had very much looked forward to travelling the way local people do. We had jumped on countless boda boda, sometimes barely making it out alive (dramatic effect? check!) but it was not enough. We wanted to experience crowded public buses, dodgy bus stations and the thrill to find our way from A to Z without a tour guide or a lovely driver. Well the least we can say is that our pre-conceived ideas of what a bus terminal should be / look like in Rwanda were rubbish and our expectations pretty primitive. The terminals Nyabugogo and Nyanza gare in Kigali were almost spotless (and needless to say completely safe), people with their limited English very helpful and as soon as the bus arrived, passengers quietly and promptly started to queue. The police even ensured that no bus would leave with more people than the available seats. Brilliant! For our first attempt to use the Rwandan public transportation system, we had successfully jumped on a bus to Nyamata and we were now ready to go to the Volcanoes National Park!

We arrived early at the bus station and easily found a bus that was leaving… right away. Because why not. No time for street food (we struggled to find street food anyway – we learnt later that street food was not allowed as streets otherwise would be dirty), we had to go now! Our trip to Musanze (or Ruhengeri City) was eventless and very easy. The scenery was beautiful and peaceful. When we reached Musanze, without thinking much nor planing, we asked for a bus to Kinigi. We only knew that that village was closer to the Park and strategically it seemed to make sense. It was pretty bold as we didn’t know for sure we would find an accommodation. Getting off the bus was interesting: we were welcomed by a bunch of boda boda drivers who wanted to take us to our guest house. Well, sure but we had none. They couldn’t quite understand what we were saying until they realized we had not booked any lounge. The boys stood there uncertain of what to do with us. Luckily one of them knew a place within walking distance that might have free rooms. Grateful (for a minute or two, we thought that we might have thought we would have to go back to Musanze…) we followed him and found a lovely place. Phew!

Kinigi was indeed really close to the rangers headquarters. Since gorillas “chasing” was off the table (who can seriously afford $ 1500 for a permit alone?), we had looked into other activities offered in the area. We decided to stay only a night so we picked two activités. One for that afternoon and one for the morning after. Our ranger told us to meet him downtown. We didn’t quite understand where we were to meet him but when he offered to give us a ride, we politely declined. In need of movement, we decided to walk back (you surely do remember that I’m traveling with M, a walking distance kind of person) hoping to figure out on time where the meeting was. Well there is no adventure without adventure. After walking almost two kilometers, a Jeep drove by and stopped. We recognized our ranger who apologized for not having free seats in the car but offered us a ride in the back. Who could say no to a ride in the back. Enthusiastically (and luckily) we accepted and we realized that the meeting was happening in Muzanse not downtown Kinigi.

On time and happy, we were ready to explore Muzanse’s underground… literally… we had signed up for a few hours of caving and our ranger was waiting for us with the necessary equipment. Apparently bat’s shit is (sorry, I cannot resist) bad shit. We suit up with mask, helmet and head lamp. Our 3-km walk was claustrophobic and borderline distressing. Our ranger asked to turn off our light. Yeah sure, why not. Let me think, erm no thanks. He insisted and we reluctantly obliged: this was an interesting experience. If our lights all failed, we were absolutely f#%^* as we had no way to find our way out with or without our ranger. Luckily after a while, that definitely seemed like an eternity, we were allowed to turn our lights on and after a few meters in the darkness, we were seeing again light. Light and life had found their way in through the ceiling and it was a relief. We still had a long way to go before reaching the final exit. We survived and even tho it wasn’t as scary as our caving experience in Honduras, we certainly had our adrenalin rush.

The next way was an easy one, it took us almost longer to gather all the tourists who had forgotten their passports, the ones who preferred to wait in their private cars and the others who were wandering around lost in space than to walk to the golden monkeys. We could see why the rangera had a laugh at us the day before. This activity was really for older people. That day, the monkeys had decided to venture out of their forest… to eat Irish potatoes. Such fine connoisseurs, aren’t they! We had a blast observing them. When we hiked the gorillas in Uganda, our group was solidaire and nobody acted like a selfish ass to take pictures. Well let me tell you that, this group was a nightmare. Every time I was ready with a beautiful composition, a bloody tourist jumped in front of me.

I gave up. I walked far way from the group when suddenly a golden monkey had also enough and joined me in my exile. I had the cutest golden monkey sitting next to me on a stone wall. What a happy moment. I might have forgotten to take a picture but that moment was mine and I didn’t have to share it with the others. My golden monkey disappeared into the forest followed by his family, hastily followed by us. I walked the opposite our group headed towards to and separated from my annoying group, I put my camera away and listened… it was a peaceful moment, just me and the nature. Priceless! Before we knew it, it was already time to leave those beautiful creatures alone! We headed back to the village and our driver took us to Muzanze where we planed to take a bus to the Lake Kivu where we would spend the last days of our African adventure.

Next stop: Kibuye!
Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

A day dedicated to remembrance in Kigali

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The way you cannot go to Krakow without going to Auschwitz, you cannot visit Kigali without educating yourself about the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994. We had decided to learn and pay tribute to the fallen innocents by visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM) and the church in Nyamata.

Yes, those two days in Kigali were tough and no word could ever describe the way I felt at the KGM looking at pictures of slaughtered, tortured and violated Rwandans. Over 1’000’000 souls were hunted and exterminated by the same neighbors they used to like, a member of their families they used to adore… The thought that innocent peoples’ lives were once again taken in the name of an ideology was and is unbearable. The country was violently divided in two and the country became a slaughter house for 3 months, where violence became a daily ordeal, where no one was safe and where entires families were wiped out *sigh*

We spent our morning, reading facts, listening to our audio guide, looking at unbearable pictures and watching survivors’ testimonies. Tears couldn’t be stopped. I didn’t cry for the Rwandan innocents only. No, I cried because this non-sense and inhumanity keep happening all over the world. As I am writing this, people are being hated and killed for being themselves, gay, Muslim, Christian, too rich, too “pigmented” (hard to keep track what’s politically correct). This list is not exhaustive and my heart goes to any human being who suffer. I’m not naive nor utopian but I cannot help hoping for the triumph of love and tolerance. I therefore strongly believe that such remembrances places are a good start for people (myself included) to see what hate and intolerance mean: pain, destruction and death.

The church in Nyamata, South of Kigali, was also very emotional. It was different tho, there was no word really, no fancy presentations; the church was deserted and silent when we arrived. We were the only ones: the roof still bore the trace of the bullets that “flew” inside a place that should have been an asylum for hundreds of terrified souls and the clothes of the victims were left there for us to realize how many people lost their lives. I usually don’t believe in spirits but in such places, I always have the feeling that they are somehow around us, unable to leave and unable to forgive; most probably because I cannot understand how this can be forgiven or forgotten. This is why I’m always impressed with survivors who found the strength and in a way love in their hearts to forgive their neighbor, brother or friend who betrayed them. They are such inspiring human beings: they show and remind us that forgiving is the only way forward and as I traveled around Rwanda, seeing how they succeeded in forgiving each other and are now working with each other, I realized i need to work on my own forgiveness: I definitely want to be more forgiving to people who hurt me and to myself.

Those two days were emotional and educative and we are not done learning. If like us, you want to learn more about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, friends recommended “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda” by Philip Gourevitch.

Next stop: Western Rwanda!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Our bus journeys in the world: from hell to heaven! 

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Funny enough it seems like yesterday when M and I embarked on an exciting adventure to explore 9 Latin American countries together. It is very hard for us to believe that we are now on a complete different chapter, exploring the magical African continent. After many laughs, doubts, tears and incredible encounters, we left Latin America. Fast forward 13 months and we were again on another bus journey… which was interesting! As I am a fanatic of listing things (#sorrynotsorry), we realized that M and I had discovered 30 countries together, which meant: many local buses, chicken buses, shuttle buses, long distance buses and the least we can say is that we had our fair share of emotions and stories to tell! Our experiences were at times close to a disaster but mostly quite entertaining. Those stories are what make us love riding with locals while backpacking. Here are our most memorable moments:

  • Uganda / Rwanda: Our driver furiously overtook hundreds of car and trucks in the middle of the night, excessively using his funky honk. For those who have read my blog or have been to Uganda, you know the road conditions: potholes after potholes. Driving dangerously over 100 km an hour, our bus shaking in every curve and any overtaking action, our very own “Fangio” flew us from Kampala to Kigali
  • Rwanda: certainly the most embarrassing! I had decided to have some Indian leftovers and as it appeared, the restaurant didn’t close the doggy bag properly… Stuck in the back of a crowded bus, smelling like Byriani, ruining clothes and seats, certainly a good way to make friends with locals… not! Well done muzungu!
  • Colombia: We got stuck for hours due to a trucker strike. We had already started making ourselves comfortable, thinking we stick for the night but the police arrived and let us drive through
  • Bolivia: The most romantic one: when we discovered the love we both had (have) for traveling / Bolivia
  • Colombia: We thought that we were going to die between Medellin and Neva – sitting in the front row was a mistake!
  • El Salvador: We were entertained by a clown and a preacher. Both were pretty creepy
  • Belize: We (read: I – my idea of heaven but hell for M) loved the sound proofers, screaming erm singing 80’s love songs on a very early Sunday morning
  • Honduras: We got to sit tight with locals where a 2-seater bench welcomed 4 people. Definitely a good way to get acquainted
  • El Salvador: We stood on overcrowded buses, getting pretty intimate with our immediate neighbors
  • Peru: We felt like we were on a plane, it was so comfortable and spacious. With a 25-hour journey ahead of us, we were definitely happy to travel in style
  • Indonesia: It smelled like onions and cigarettes. They apparently didn’t ban smoking in buses. At least we didn’t have to be embarrassed by being sweaty and smelly

Karma has been good to us and we are grateful that no French nor Swiss was hurt in the “bussing” process around the world. There is no adventure without adventure and for those funny, awkward or scary situations, we are thankful! To many more!

Next: our Rwandan exploration starts!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

And the winners are….

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… Uganda and Rwanda!

It was a long and tough battle! Trying to decide which countries to explore this month was not an easy task; Ethiopia and Djibouti didn’t lose by much and they definitely remain on our travel list! After long talks, M and I agreed: our hearts, souls and minds knew it was time for us to discover Uganda and Rwanda. Burundi will be explored if we have some time left as we don’t want to be rushed but to be fair, after doing some research, we realized that we might have time… With a heavy heart, we stumbled upon a distressing truth: Gorilla trekking is not affordable. For a two-day trek, tour operators are trying to extort $4000 from us for a 2-day trek per person. I repeat PER PERSON. Say goodbye to a dream, hello to greed. As you can imagine, disappointment was huge. We knew it was not cheap, we had been warned but there is absolutely no way to justify $4000 for a two-day trek. We will decide while we are there, [you never know, it might become cheaper and affordable, if you show up instead of booking internationally. One can hope] but it is unlikely to happen.

Luckily our research showed that both countries have countless national parks with waterfalls to be explored and wildlife to be spotted. Less touristy, quite remote and not that easy to reach? Tell me more! Disappointment was quickly replaced by excitement and eagerness to be again off the beaten track. What is meant to be is meant to be and if skipping gorilla trekking means to be closer to nature, to hike for hours with only the sound of the jungle surrounding us, to wander around trying to spot wildlife, any wildlife, as it doesn’t have to be an overpriced gorilla and to take as many pictures as Marcos patience allows us, well then yes please!

While outdoor is very important to us, on that trip, we have another mission: learn more about the painful and dark pasts of both countries, which we expect will emotional and tough but we owe it to those victims of dictators, fanaticism and extremism. We must remember the same way we do remember while walking through Auschwitz, in Poland or meeting a survivor of the S-21 prison in Cambodia. Nothing can prepare us for those horrors but we must educate ourselves to make the world a better place and hopeful be better humans.

I still cannot believe that in one sleep, we will be sitting on a plane to Entebbe… well to Doha and then to Entebbe. It seems like yesterday we booked our flights! Funny enough the first question we were asked by people when we mentioned our upcoming trip (and most of our trips as a matter of fact) is: “is it safe?” According to travelers testimonies, those two countries seem relatively safe and backpacker friendly. Of course, we will use our common sense and hope for the best. The first question, however, we asked ourselves after we booked our flights was: “how to get a visa”. With the Eastern African visa, granting you access to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, the paperwork was really easy and quick. Since we start our adventure in Uganda, we used the Ugandan website and after filling carefully our applications, we hit “submit”. We paid the $100 dollar fee and within two days, our approval letter came through per email. That letter and our yellow fever certificate (mandatory, it seems) should allow us to land in Entebbe and file for a visa upon arrival. Wish us good luck!

Next stop: Entebbe, Uganda!

Happy trails and remember: happy trails!