Enter Kigali

My last week on Mfangano I concentrated on filming. I did over ten interviews, and filmed all around Malamasa, Kitawi and Nyakweri. Between that and the bike shop, I didn’t have much time to rest, never mind write a blog update. Anyways, on Friday I woke up just before dawn and did my final packing, loaded up my bicycle and said goodbye to TIllen and the family. I rolled off down to Sena where I caught the 7am ferry to Mbita, said bye to Richard, Joel and Caleb, and caught the next ferry to Luanda.

Once I was on the mainland I looked around for a car that might be headed to Kisumu, I was hoping I’d find a private vehicle I could just give someone some money to stuff my bike in the back and take me with them, but there was no such luck. I wasn’t sure a mutatu would get me there in time to catch the 2:00 bus to Kampala, but I figured I could spend the night in Kisumu if I needed to, so I watched a guy tie my bicycle upside down hanging out the back end of what is essentially a 60’s or 70’s VW Van stuffed with 24 people (yes, twenty four-three were hanging out the side hanging on). Through each of the police check points the driver or his co-worker discretely held a 50ksh bill out the window and when the police took it we were waved through.

Last time I took the mutatu to Kisumu, the second I stepped off I was swarmed with people trying to get me a taxi, and I saw at least two people get into a physical fight over who was going to drive me someplace, so I decided to get dropped off before the main station and try and find Buffalo Cycles where I was going to leave my bag for the next four weeks. After minimal efforts I was able to find it, and a nice guy by the name of I totally forget, hopped on his bike and accompanied me to the Easy Coach bus terminal where I even had time to run to the super market before I caught the 2pm bus. Thus far things were going quite smooth.

The bus ride to Kampala was bumpy and uncomfortable, but hey, it’s Africa, and I’ve been on much worse, so it was fine. We got to the Ugandan border and when I approached the window and handed over my passport and entry form I was greeted with a pretty grim look and a motion to put my fingers on the finger print machine. She then asked me for fifty US dollars, which I of course did not have, so I explained I only had Kenyan shillings, and seeing as it’s the border with Kenya I figured it wouldn’t be a problem to pay with that, but she was not happy with me. She said it would be 5,000 Kenyan shillings for me to get in, which is definitely more than $50. I told her that was too much and that I would pay the equivalent of US$50 at a reasonable exchange rate. She wasn’t having it and immediately started helping the person behind me. I argued a little, but it was obvious she wasn’t budging and no one else there seemed to care so I just paid it and got back on the bus. I already hated Uganda.

We arrived in kampala at around 10pm and I got a taxi to the Red Chilli Hideaway, which was supposed to be the most decent hostel in town that was cheap, had good food and friendly staff. I paid 8 bucks for a dorm bed, but got a weird vibe. It was definitely the “backpacker” spot, as it was all american’s and europeans staying there, but the crappy aerosmith songs combined with more hassle over only having Kenyan shillings made me happy I was only going to be there for 5 or 6 hours. I went to sleep and got up at 5:30am to get to the bus station and get my bus to Kigali. The first taxi that showed up however couldn’t fit my bicycle so I had to wait for another one. Riding in Kampala is not really a good option, especially if you don’t know where you are going, so I opted to wait and ended up missing the 7am bus, but caught the 9am one instead.

The entire road through Uganda was under construction. I was very glad I wasn’t riding because it would have just been miserable, and I actually started to worry that Rwanda may not be any better. On our way through Uganda I saw: A motorcycle crash into a bicycle, a man rollerskating (yes, roller-skating) down a dirt road, a cow with horns longer than its body, my life flash before my eyes (i was sitting in the first row), a decapitated cows head laying on the side of the road, a mutatu called “i love skincare,” another one called “god is god,” and probably a dozen other ridiculous things I am forgetting right now. I had also forgot to eat breakfast, and as the hours went by I was hoping every town we approached would be the border. Finally we stopped at a crappy gas station after by passing probably a thousand people selling chapatti and bananas and other good things. I bought some crackers and potato chips and a mango drink. Everything tasted like garbage. Actually the mango drink was okay, but at least I had something in my belly. When 5pm rolled around and we still hadn’t reached the border to Rwanda I started re-thinking whether I wanted to even ride my bike back into Uganda at all, not only were the roads crappy, but everything about the place made me not like it. We didn’t however go as far west as I’ll be riding, and Matt and Caroline said Lake Binyoni is really amazing, so I guess it’s still my plan to head there and then to Kabale.

We finally hit the Rwandan border and after another crappy border experience exiting Uganda, I was looking for the toilet when i noticed that literally everyone had stopped dead in their tracks. The busy border crossing had suddenly screeched to a halt as I slowed down to figure out what was going on. Then some guy yelled to me that I had to stop because they were lowering the Ugandan Flag. Good riddance. Just kidding, I’m sure I shouldn’t judge Uganda based solely on my grumpy bus ride experience and one mathematically challenged border guard, so we’ll see how I feel in a few weeks when I head back there.

I walked across a river and entered Rwanda. Immediately there were trees next to the road, giant green hills, and the first guard walked up to me and shook my hand and told me he liked my tattoos. As soon as I got through customs and back on the bus it started pouring, but stopped shortly after. When we began heading towards Kigali, the street was flooded with bikes, we were driving on the right hand side of the road, and drivers didn’t seem as angry or aggressive (maybe because the roads are narrower). We did almost crash head on into another bus when a little girl jumped out of nowhere into the street though.

When we reached Kigali I wasn’t even swarmed with super aggressive taxi drivers, just a regular “do you need a taxi?” and when I said no, they left me alone. I attracted a crowd when I was putting my bike back together though, and by the time I was finished there were probably ten people around me. One of them tapped me on the shoulder and just said “give me some money.” I told him nice try. I walked away and found a guy who spoke english to try and get directions to the hostel I wanted to get to. He said it was 10km away, but my back up was only 3 or 4km away. I told him I wanted to ride and didn’t want to take my bike apart to put back into a taxi for only 4km, but he didn’t want to give me directions and instead agreed to drive slowly and I would follow him for a small fee. However, he did not tell me that this hotel was at the top of a thousand foot climb. After 15 hours on a bus and absolutely no food with any sort of nutritious value, I stood up and sprinted my loaded touring bike 4km straight to the top of Kigali. I managed to not puke and catch my breath after a few minutes and checked into the St. Paul Hotel.

Today I spent the morning walking around Kigali, getting a few things I needed. I ended up getting swarmed when I tried to exchange money by about 15 dudes waving wads of cash in the air. While Kigali is definitely the cleanest, richest looking city I’ve seen in Africa, there’s also a lot of people asking me for money, or following me/grabbing me asking for something. As always, my tattoos are getting a lot of attention, mostly hard stares and confused looks, but also a few hello’s and smiles. I decided to treat myself while I’m here and go to a Chinese restaurant called Flamingo, which came highly recommended via the internet. I got some ginger/soy sauce fried rice with vegetable and tofu dumplings along with some vegetable spring rolls and I have to say it was the best meal I’ve had since I left Istanbul. As I was paying the bill the manager approached me and asked me what I was doing here. When I told him I was going to ride my bike around Rwanda he asked if he could sit down for a few minutes and we ended up talking. He’s from south India and has travelled a bit around Africa, but his family has been in Rwanda for a long time and offered him a job managing this Chinese Restaurant, where absolutely no one of Chinese origin works. It’s owned by people from India and the food is cooked by Ugandan’s, but it was pretty legit. We exchanged numbers and hopefully he’ll show me around the city a bit tonight.

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The Kigali Genocide Memorial

After lunch I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum, a garden and burial plot north of town where there are a few exhibits. The main one is on the Rwandan genocide, but there is also an exhibit on genocides in general, including the holocaust, armenian genocide, and the balkans, among others. The last exhibit is on child victims of the Rwandan genocide. Once I left the museum I walked out into the garden where 250,000 victims are buried. Yes, two hundred and fifty thousand victims, in a mass grave that are covered with cement. All in all, over 500,000 people were killed in just 100 days, and the memorial claims over one million were killed in total. The history is heavy, and important to learn. It was interesting to see the representation of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, who’s leader is now Rwanda’s president, as they waged civil war in Rwanda since 1990 up until they finally took power after the genocide. Left over tensions from the genocide have spilled over into the DRC and before I left, Rwandan backed tutsi rebels started taking over cities on the border of Rwanda/DRC. Although Rwanda seems to have confronted the genocide, and benefited greatly from the massive amounts of foreign aid and economic boom in Kigali, I wonder how Burundi and DRC will fair in the future, and what rural Rwanda will be like.

I guess I’ll find that out tomorrow when I start riding my bike. For now I’m soaking up being in the big city, sitting at a cafe, sipping a gross juice that I don’t even like just so I can use the internet, and stocking up at the grocery store. I’ve already spent almost three days budget here so I need to get out ASAP, though I think Kigali is going to be added to the list of “places to go back to.”

I only took a few pictures because most of the time my camera was packed away while I was on the bus, so here’s a few of Kigali for now. I will have to make another post about my last week in Kenya later.


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Pictures of Genocide Victims

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A mass grave

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