Sunday, 18 April 2010

Easter Weekend in Rwanda

We'd been wondering what to do over the long Easter weekend, as there is never much happening in Mbarara, and we eventually decided to make the trip to Kigali in Rwanda.

It turned out to be a much more pleasant journey than the one to Kampala; The bus, which was air-conditioned and had comfy seats, picked us up outside our house and we travelled in relative luxury for 4 hours to Kigali (the trip to Kampala takes about 5 hours, and is always a bit traumatic!). The owner of the hotel we'd arranged to stay at picked us up at the bus park, and drove us to 'Hills View Guesthouse'.
Some of the things that amazed me at first in Kigali were:

  1. Nearly all the roads were tarmacked

  2. There were proper pavements (i.e. not just mud at the side of the road)

  3. There were traffic lights (which people obeyed)

  4. There seemed to be a sense of order about the place (which I am no longer used to after the chaos of Uganda!)
The guesthouse was on the outskirts of the city, on the top of a hill. It was pretty near the airport, but we didn't get disturbed by the noise of planes. There were lovely views of the surrounding area.

View from our Hotel

We relaxed for a few hours, then set off to explore Kigali. It's a pretty small city really, and it was raining, so we sought refuge in a lovely coffee shop. It was so nice to have some decent coffee!!! We've never really understood the reason why, even though Uganda produces amazing coffee, there are no decent coffee shops in Mbarara (the best you get is instant Nescafe). 

Kigali is a lovely city, very clean and well-organised. Our taxi driver, Joseph, told us that the government brought in a law where one member of each household has to go out and clean their local area one Sunday every month. Apparently there are big fines if people don't turn up (and laws are actually enforced in Rwanda). Seems like a really good idea to me, maybe I should mention it to the powers-that-be in Uganda...

Kigali seems a lot more well-kept than Mbarara!

We didn't do much on Friday, as it rained and rained all day. We walked down to the local shops from the guesthouse, and got caught in a huge downpour. We were forced to shelter under a tree with some local women and a goat-herder who couldn't have been more than nine years old.

Saturday's weather was a bit more promising, so we headed into town on a Moto (Rwandan boda-boda), which was a nice experience - they actually provide you with a helmet! We decided to visit the Genocide Memorial Centre, which was a moving experience. Walking around Kigali it's hard to imagine that, only 16 years ago, more than a million people were killed in 100 days. By the end of the genocide, 85% of the Tutsi population were dead. To quote from the website

In 100 days, more than 1,000,000 people were murdered.
But the genocidaires did not kill a million people.
They killed one, then another, then another......
Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute.
Every minute of the day, someone, somewhere was being murdered,
Screaming for mercy.
And receving none.

View of the City from the Genocide Memorial Centre

The centre contains three exhibitions: the genocide in 1994, a children's memorial, and the history of genocidal violence around the world. It was very interesting, but harrowing at the same time. I still wonder how a country can ever recover from something like that; nearly everyone we met in Rwanda had been affected by the events of 1994. The centre also has memorial gardens, containing the mass graves of over 250,000 victims of the genocide. When we visited, Rwanda was about to start its period of national mourning for the genocide, so there were many Rwandans visiting the gardens to pay their respects. We didn't want them to feel that we were intruding on their grief, so we didn't stay for very long. Something that will haunt me for a very long time is the sound of a Rwandan woman in the memorial gardens screaming and wailing uncontrollably.

On Easter Sunday, we decided to visit a town called Gisenyi on the shores of Lake Kivu. We took an express bus, which was very comfortable, and were there in about 3 hours. Gisenyi is walking distance from Goma, in Democratic Republice of Congo, and we considered going there just to get stamps in our passports but didn't think it was worth paying the price of a visa.  Gisenyi is a beautiful town, and seemed a world away from the rest of Africa - it actually reminded us of being at Lake Como in Italy.

Lake Kivu

 Fancy a Swim?!

Is this really Africa?!

It soon became very clear to us that there is a lot of money in this part of Rwanda - some of the villas by the lake were truly spectacular.

Amazing Lakeside Villa

After a nice lunch and a walk alongside the lake it was time to get the bus back to Kigali. We weren't so lucky this time as there was a toddler sitting near us on the bus who was vomiting for more or less the whole journey...

We were really glad that we made the trip to Rwanda - who knows when we'll get the chance again. We would definitely love to go back some time in the future, maybe to see the gorillas in the Virunga Mountains -the journey would definitely be smoother than going to Bwindi in Uganda!

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