One country in Africa has had my attention for some time now…the reason being that this country suffered so much tragedy not many years ago. The tragedy put the country in the spotlight but today, the country has made itself one to visit!
You guessed right, it is Rwanda!
I visited, but I was in Nyamata, outside the capital, Kigali. It is about 30 kilometres and a 30 to 40-minute drive into Kigali. Nyamata might not be the usual urban city but it has its own allure. I stayed in La Palisse Golden Tulip hotel. I hear it is government owned.
It has the facilities needed for a comfortable stay. The rooms are spacious, clean and the beds are comfortable. There is an Olympic-sized swimming pool which is well maintained.
I was there for work, but I have learnt to seize every opportunity! After work, I stayed on for five more days to explore. The training I attended took place in the same hotel. Having this (below) pool to go to each day was a delight! The pool is olympic sized.
Rwanda has a high elevation so temperatures are cooler, compared to my country, Nigeria. The weather in Rwanda ranges from 12 °C to 29 °C
I was told that the people were somewhat reserved but I found that they were normal and outgoing. It may have taken knowing them more to discover if they had reservations confiding in other people. Living in a place is always different from visiting so who am I to say?
They are law abiding, which helps to keep the country in order. Well, I noticed from going around that people talk comfortably on their phones when driving. The conversations could last a while and it seems like people aren’t bothered by it. While I was in buses, this was usual with the drivers. Back home, someone would be quick to remind the driver that he is driving! I noticed other drivers slowing traffic down from speaking on the phone as well.
Things I have found everywhere are roast goat stick meat and boiled plantain (either in sauce or plain). They eat a lot of rice and irish potatoes, swallow/fufu. Nothing unusual.
Going down memory lane…
Rwanda faced its biggest tragedy in 1994 for a period of 100 days when the genocide happened. We were briefed on the day of arrival that one thing not to do in Rwanda is to engage in political discussions/debates. Especially using the words Hutu and Tutsi following the genocide. The government set some strict laws and went through a lengthy reconciliation process so the people decided that they are all one people, Rwandans, and will no longer think of themselves in factions. Those words attract a prison sentence!
Nyamata has one of the genocide memorial sites so I went by. The story was quite unpleasant. The country has done its best to keep souvenirs of the event. The memorial site in Nyamata was formerly a church. People ran to the church for refuge but were massacred. The church was filled with clothes of people who died there. Skulls and bones were also preserved and we saw a lot of them.
One of the stories that had me sick to my stomach was of a lady who was raped by many of the perpetrators. Like that was not enough, they put a log of wood through her private part and forced it through till it came out of her skull. Her coffin now represents all the women who were raped then killed. The site guide mentioned that all the women were raped.
When I went to Kigali, I started by going to the site where the Belgian Peace Keepers were killed.
The day after, I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial centre…it was difficult to take in!
There are genocide accounts by victims who are alive and in pictures with notes under them. I understood there, that rape was one of the weapons used to harm the Tutsi women or Hutu women who were married to Tutsi men. They were gang raped, then killed or left to suffer… then they were killed slowly. The only crime these people committed was being born into their ethnicity.
I had lumps in my throat. I died too many times inside. I thought I had it all together until I walked into the room where photos of children were displayed with their stories. One of the infants was smashed on the wall!
I took a moment to collect myself before I walked out of the centre. There is a yard and from what I noticed, people tend to come out sad, some crying on the benches.
A lady beside me was crying, another one was speaking to her and trying to comfort her. I looked up at some point and the comforter had just stepped away. I walked up to her and asked if I could give her a hug and she held tightly onto me saying thank you. These connections of us all being human beings warmed my heart. When she finally let me go, she asked for my name, then we shook hands laughing. Just then, a young couple of Indian descent walked out. The guy was pacing in circles while the lady walked straight to a bench and started crying. Someone came by to comfort her just as I was leaving. It was hard, it was heavy. My conclusion at the end of the visit was that “we all have it in us to be evil…how we choose to live and the decisions we make have an impact others”.
Discovering some of these sites was something I knew I had to do while in Rwanda as my trip would be incomplete without seeing these sites. Not all stories are pleasant when travelling, but I like to educate myself on how the human mind works, even when it includes finding the good, the bad and the ugly. George Santayana succinctly wrote that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
Many people who knew I was in Rwanda mentioned to me that all they think of is the genocide when they hear of the country. They have gone past it…
The lovely city of Kigali
I noticed on the way to Kigali that it was an uphill drive. Apparently, the city of Kigali city sprawls across hills and valleys. Rwanda is known as the country of hills. I wandered around the city and Kigali sure lives up to all that I have heard. The streets are super clean, I did not see litter anywhere. Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda so paper bags are used instead. That was a pleasant surprise for me and it makes complete sense not to only keep the environment clean but also to respect it. Nyamata is also clean and I was told that the cleanliness applies through out the country. I noticed on my way to and in Kibuye. Kigali is referred to as the cleanest city in Africa.
We drove past the presidential area where we were not allowed to take photos and the Hotel des Mille Collines stared at me. It took me a few days before I could go back there. That is the hotel that was depicted in the famous film ‘Hotel Rwanda’. When I finally went, it was surreal to be sitting there where people were once trapped, but shielded from being killed.
When I moved to Kigali, I couch surfed for the two days I spent there. I had a great host and his house was a three minute walk to the famous convention centre.
The Italian restaurant in the centre was recommended as the one of the best in Kigali, so I hurried over for lunch! I was torn between a ravioli and a pizza. I opted for a chicken pizza. It was good!
There were police men all over in the city. It could make anyone nervous, but I realised that they were not there to harm people. I didn’t feel unsafe in Rwanda at any point. Wherever one was not allowed to take photos, someone would mention it once they notice you trying to do so.
After lunch, I went to the roof top of the convention centre to get a view…
Finding Lake Kivu
Rwanda has a few lakes, but Lake Kivu happens to be one of the 20 deepest lakes worldwide. This lake flows to the Democratic Republic of Congo (one of the four countries Rwanda shares a border with). The area has such a beautiful scenery from what I have seen and heard but there is not very much to do.
I haven’t had a proper holiday this year. I looked at things to do in Rwanda before coming and decided I would spend two days in Kigali and the other three visiting Lake Kivu. I knew it would be relaxing to spend time reconnecting with nature. I was excited about the trip. I checked for hotels online and liked Bethany hotel. It is affordable, has a great view and was just what I was looking for. I took a standard room. I was travelling alone so that was perfect. It cost 25,000 Rwandan Francs per night.
The only way to get to Kibuye was by public transport. My host was kind enough to get me a taxi to take me to the bus station. The fee was 2,500 Rwandan francs (bed and breakfast). The bus ride was smooth and the driver seemed to know the route well. Even when his speed increased, I don’t think he went past 100 miles per hour, at any point. He didn’t seem to be going too fast. The road was windy, uphill but good. It took three hours to get to Kibuye from Rwanda.
You know that one person who throw sup in the bus travelling with public transport. She was seated on the same row with me! She had her daughter with her who would not have been more than 6. The girl was so peaceful. When her mother started throwing up, she did so in a cloth she was holding. This she did over her daughter, as she had her daughter on her laps. I felt sorry for the girl. There was a stop where people came off to get food. Madam bought food also. I was thinking to myself that if she has motion sickness, she shouldn’t be eating, but oh well! The young man who was by the window sitting next to this woman let her have the window seat.
The throwing up continued, at some point, the young man left the seat to her, as some of the vomit got on him. He was quite upset. Someone in the row just in front came off, so he moved. I couldn’t follow the conversation as I do not understand or speak Kinyarwanda. The next time I looked over, her daughter was throwing up too.
Anyway, on getting to the bus station, I asked how to get to Bethany hotel. There was nothing like taxis there. I didn’t know my way. Even though my suitcase was small, I wasn’t ready to look for the hotel walking. There were motor bikes, so I got on one. The ride was long, I made the right choice not to walk! I figured this was the kind of place where having a car was key or relying on these guys.
I arrived the hotel on a motor bike! The staff watched me carry with my suitcase up the stairs (luckily it was not big), not even a smile, I wondered if that was the usual welcome. Anyway, I had a reservation, so was shown to my room.
The view was everything! I fell in love with Lake Kivu, with Kibuye.
Being my usual active self, I immediately started wondering what I would do, so I went back to the reception to make enquiries. I could take boat rides to some Islands or walk into Kibuye which I didn’t think was close. I reminded myself that I was there to rest, so I took it easy and just stayed with the view for about an hour, then went down for lunch.
After lunch, I ventured out. As I started to walk, I realised that it would be a long walk. It was dusty, and I didn’t have the right shoes, so I didn’t go far. The lake had a different colour from one side, which was a good discovery from my hike.
Just as I got to the hotel, it started to rain…so that was the end of the day for me. The next day, the sun came out ) it was glorious (look out for this post on my blog for more photos)
I met a French lady at breakfast, we had a brief chat and parted ways. Later on, I thought I might take the boat ride and went to find out prices, only to meet an interesting group of people from the UK! They had a plan to ride out and watch the sunset. They invited me to join them…I did.
While I was chatting with one of them, I recognised a few of them from the Kigali memorial centre. It turned out that the lady I gave a hug to was one of them, so was the Indian couple! She had told the lady I was speaking to about the hug. When she showed up, the one I was speaking to reminded her of the incident then told her I was the one…she was speechless. Sometimes we cross paths with people without knowing why!
I asked about the payment for the trip but was told not to bother. I had a free boat ride. Yaaayyyy! It took about an hour and a half to get to Peace Island and return to the hotel. The ride was about 12 to 15 minutes long (one way).
The hotel is such that guests have their privacy and can do without meeting other guests…it is quiet. There is no intercom in the rooms, so if in need of anything, guests have to go where their need might be. It is a great destination for a retreat or for a honeymoon.
One tip when going to Kibuye though…take snacks along, especially if you do not have a car. You’ll have to cover a bit of distance to get anything and getting a means of transport out is not the easiest. If you love walking, you’ll have no worries.
The 18 days I spent in Rwanda were great and this is a country I would recommend that you visit. It is more beautiful than I imagined.
Feel free to contact me to plan your trip already! I promise I won’t charge too much *big smile* Travel club…it is that time.