When Vicky suggested going to Rwanda, I realised I knew nothing about it. I began to read about what the country and its people have been through in recent years and was filled with sadness and sympathy. A genocide which caused friends to turn on friends and neighbours on neighbours, is a devastating concept; and it is reality to the people of Rwanda.
It will continue to affect them for generations to come.
This land is also filled with hope. The people are inspirational in the way they have rebuilt their country, have supported survivors and in how they continue to do so. They do everything with a smile and with welcoming words to visitors. There is much talk of forgiveness and development…
Arriving in Kigali
On landing in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Sarah and I were hugely disappointed (at 2am) to find that our luggage did not arrive. We spent the next day not exploring Rwanda as we had planned but instead sending emails and making calls to various airports, airline companies and travel agents. I should add here that Absolute Africa gave very helpful advice. Sarah also decided to tweet away about how livid she was with our airline. This was hugely effective and received quick responses, unlike the emails and phone calls. We got our luggage back just over 24 hours later, but this was after spending a fair amount of money on replacing essentials for fear that the bags would not be found in time, including the cost of our cab to the airport to receive the bags in person. Incidentally, we’d bonded with a girl in our hostel called Allison who had also lost her luggage over a week before. Our consistent tweeting, calling and emailing led to her bags being found as well.
Moral of the story – if your airline loses your luggage: TWEET TWEET TWEET!
We were staying in Discover Rwanda Hostel & Backpackers. Our twin room wasn’t ready, so we had a double for the first night and a twin for the second. The bedrooms were very basic and the showers were cold, but it was clean and fit for purpose. The social area was comfortable, welcoming and good fun, especially after a few £1 beers from the hostel bar! The staff were friendly and helpful. Although our wasted day of luggage hunting had left us on a bit of a downer, we began to feel at home in this hostel. It’s a perfect for anyone who wants to meet other travellers. They also serve food which is pretty good – very cheap with huge portions. Apart from the hostel, the only other place we ate was Meze Fresh, a Mexican fast food place which does delicious burritos. We also heard great things about Trattoria Restaurant and Bar which does a whole range of foods – and great cocktails!
We even spotted some great wildlife at the hostel, including a beautiful blue headed lizard.
We asked the hostel to call us a cab and on meeting the driver he gave us his WhatsApp number. We made a friend in Samuel, a taxi driver who escorted us to the shops. Allowing the driver to escort us around the small shopping complex made us feel very safe. He even sent us a text after we left to wish us well on our travels!
The most common way to get around in Rwanda is by motorcycle taxi! It’s very practical because it is pretty cheap and perfect for weaving through the city traffic. They are easy to flag down and you can haggle the price a little, especially if there’s more than one of you travelling. If you are in a group it is cheaper to take a cab, but as I’d never ridden a motorcycle before I had to give it a go!
Joining “The Gorilla Stop” Tour
Sarah and I had signed up to The Gorilla Stop – a 5 day tour to see the mountain gorillas. It is an add-on to the longer “African Sky” tour that Nikki and Vicky were doing. When the Ickys arrived with the rest of our tour group on our second evening in Rwanda, our guide, Wycliffe, informed us that the itinerary had changed for various reasons (as is often the way in Africa) and we were to stay in the hostel for another night – another room change for us to a 4 bed dorm. We’d been awaiting their arrival in the hostel social area for over 5 hours by this point, so we joined the others for a drink, then politely excused ourselves to get a change of scenery. We strolled up the hill to Trattoria and had some excellent, very strong cocktails. As we were about to return, the rest of the group turned up, and we joined them walking up hill to enjoy the beautiful view of Kigali city at night. My blurred photo of this beautiful view really (clearly!) does not do it justice.
The Genocide Museum
A trip to Rwanda would be incomplete without a visit to the Genocide Museum and the next morning, this was first on our itinerary. The museum is a melancholic, lamenting place allowing survivors and onlookers to pay their respects. It allows the people of Rwanda to feel close to their loved ones, and as bodies continue to be found it also offers an opportunity to provide a dignified burial for all who were lost.
The information offered is thorough and unbiased. It provides facts, catalysts and testimonies from survivors from both sides. It is a harrowing experience. The most harrowing of all, was the room dedicated to the children who suffered things that no human should ever have to go through. Further, the hundreds of photographs offered by surviving family members of their loved ones invokes a sense of responsibility to look at each and every one, so you can truly feel for each individual and pray that they can now rest peacefully.
The Rwandans have built this memorial beautifully and it clearly offers comfort to many on a daily basis.
After our time at the museum, we got on Absolute Africa’s big yellow truck and it was great fun. It was well-equipped; there was a music port, charging point and a fridge. It’s a perfect way to get to know other people. My only regret is that I wasn’t going to be on the big yellow truck for more than 3 days. My advice for anyone looking to join an Absolute Africa tour is that the longer the better. The shorter trips seemed almost bitter-sweet, as there is a lot of driving involved which limits the amount of exploring you can do, but to end on a positive note, everything we did do was fantastic!
Keep an eye out for the next post about The Gorilla Stop…