Musanze, Rwanda… the starting point for most of the Gorilla Treks and entrance to Volcanos National Park. I’m currently in my TENT parked behind the church of notre dame, where i guess they have WIFI? Anyways, I’m here, and the volcanos are HUGE, but I can’t afford to climb any of them, and know why? Because I’ve got something better to do… ride my bike around Uganda. Yep. I’ve decided to extend my stay and skip all the touristy expensive stuff and just keep riding my bike around for the next five weeks. After a full day of smashing my head against the wall dealing with the airlines, I (think) I have finally changed my flight from March 6th to April 5th, which means I have an entire extra month of bike tour. I wouldn’t have done it had it not been for Jan and Dom, who convinced me to stay and continue the ride with them. Our plan is to ride from Musanze to Kisoro, Uganda tomorrow, hang out a day at Lake Bunyonyi, then head to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, up to Queen Elizabeth National Park, onto the Rwenzori Mountains, then up to Murchison Falls before heading back down to Kampala. That’s a pretty loose plan based around some expensive endeavors my friends will be partaking in while I… find other activities. In any case, it’s going to be pretty awesome.
So, since arriving at the shores of Lake Kivu, a lot has happened, and we’ve put some miles underneath our wheels which feels pretty good. From Kibogora and the hospital, the swiss guys wanted to take an easy day and only ride about 20km to another spot where we could camp for free, the Kumbya peninsula. The ride was nice, dirt roads through small villages and market places, with LOTS of attention as usual. The peninsula itself though was well preserved and there were very few people there. We rolled out to the end and found a perfect lake-side camping spot where we set our tents up and relaxed. Kumbya is an area that is loosely affiliated with the hospital and the organization that runs it as a kind of “retreat” spot, and has apparently been there since the 40’s. One of the guys that works there offered to give us a tour around and showed us some birds and we even found some vervet monkeys lounging in the trees. It rained a bit, but mostly, we had a relaxing afternoon before a good nights sleep a few feet away from the lake.
We got up early and were pedaling our bikes by 7am the next morning, heading north. I had been in contact with a guide from Gisenyi who messaged me on couch surfing and offered some free advice. He told us to keep an eye out for a place called L’esperance Orphanage, and we might be able to spend the night there. After half a day of riding we stopped for lunch and to get out of the hot sun in a little village called Muhanga. We had a great meal of typical Rwandan food, cassava, fried plantain, rice, beans, potatoes etc. and checked out the market place for some fruit. Once we were completely stuffed and the sun was at it’s highest point, we decided to start climbing the mountain out of Muhanga. About 45 minutes into the climb I spotted a sign that said L’esperance on the left and we happily pulled off and rolled in to check it out. We were greeted warmly and were told there was a guest house we could stay in for 10 bucks a night, which included three meals a day. The views were phenomenal and it was the perfect place to spend a couple nights just hanging out.
I have to say, at first I was a bit annoyed since I felt like we’d barely made any progress, but when three times a day a plate with fresh avocado, mandazi, pasta, rice, beans, sweet tea, etc. etc. rolled out, and we all sat together eating over the view of Rwanda’s rolling hills and Lake Kivu, I was pretty content. The orphanage is managed by a guy named Victor who is originally from Guatemala City. He’s an excitable guy who’s fluent in spanish, english and german, and has been running the orphanage since 2006. We were showed around, and went for a hike down to lake kivu, which ended up being a 4 hour round trip bush-whacking adventure where we hiked down a few thousand feet, didn’t swim, then turned around and hiked back up.
The next morning we said goodbye to everyone and rode some pretty great dirt roads along lake kivu, eventually dropping down to lake level at Kibuye (now called Kirongi). We stayed at a cheap hotel called Home St. Jean, which was basically the most perfectly located hotel i’d ever seen. It was at the top of a peninsula over looking almost a 360 degree view of Lake Kivu, which seemed to sprawl in every direction. Kibuye itself was nothing that interesting, we went for a two hour walk around town and saw just about nothing other than the church/genocide memorial which was pretty crazy. The church is located about 100 yards away from our hotel and was where “thousands” of Tutsi’s were hiding when Hutu militia men threw hand grenades into the church and then entered and murdered everyone there. The memorial is a few skulls in a window that reads “NEVER AGAIN.” I would hope not… The day after the massacre at this church, 10,000 more people were murdered at the Kibuye stadium by Hutu malitia, Interharmwe, and armed civilians. It’s so crazy that SO many people could be murdered in one place, and not even twenty years later, the entire country seems so stable. Though in talking with the people here it seems like this stability may not be sustainable. Victor at L’esperance warned us “if Paul Kigame dies, get out of Rwanda.”
After Kibuye, we headed north for a two day ride towards Gisenyi (now Rubavu). Day one was pretty sweet, I’d say 90% uphill on some pretty rough dirt roads. At some point we lost the congo nile trail and just ended up riding this road that wound up into the mountains, through tea plantations, and eventually to a little town where we found a place to sleep. We asked around for a place to camp, but as in most places in Rwanda, it was pretty impossible to find some place, and no one seemed to be into the idea of us camping on their land. We were brought to the very top of this hill to what seemed to be an un-finished house and were introduced to the chief. He told us we could stay for 5,000 RWF, and although it didn’t seem like that great of a deal to sleep in an empty house with no electricity, no beds, no mosquito nets, and no windows, we didn’t have much of a choice. It seemed a bit more like a fancy prison than a hotel. We laughed about it and cooked some food before crashing early. In the morning we woke up early and found the chief had brought us breakfast, which was actually pretty good. Considering that, it wasn’t really a bad deal.
The ride to Gisenyi once again was incredible. I turned a corner to find sprawling green hills with black and white cows, fences and pine trees, and it really reminded me of Vermont. I stopped to take a picture, and when Dominick rolled up behind me he stopped and said “Wow, it really reminds me of Switzerland.” I think maybe Switzerland and Vermont look the same. We rolled through until we hit a market place and I bought some avocados. We met a kid who was studying in Senior 3 (like high school) who said he could shows us the best way to Gisenyi and bring us to the local hot springs. We agreed to pay him what was equal to about $1.50 to be our guide for a couple hours. He led us down the steepest descent yet, where we dropped 2,200 feet in about half an hour on a sketchy little dirt road that overlooked Gisenyi. He showed us some coffee plantations, and then brought us to the hot springs, which were HOT. We relaxed for a while and then hit the pavement along a beautiful lake-shore road that brought us right into Gisenyi.
Gisenyi is a very unique town for Rwanda and reminds me more of Kenya than any other city in Rwanda. The people are a bit louder, and I can tell it’s a little less safe than maybe the rest of Rwanda. It’s on the border with the DRC, and the border is very busy and open between the two countries, despite their political issues. I wish I’d had the chance to jump over and see Goma, but unfortunately it’s quite an expensive visa at the border. We met up with Innocent, who is the guide that messaged me on couch surfing. He was only able to hang out for half an hour or so as he had to go back to Musanze where he was leading a Gorilla tracking expedition. We stayed at a cheap hostel, and just kind of walked around, checked out the market, the beach, and I rode to the border of the DRC to take a picture. All in all, it was okay, but I was happy to move on to Musanze early this morning.
The ride today was pretty short, only 40 miles on nice paved road, but it was all one big climb. We ascended straight out of town from 4,800 feet for about 18 miles to over 8,000 feet. Once we were at the top it flattened out for a while before a series of downhills and we cruised into Musanze in time for lunch. The volcanos from Volcanos National park were visible almost the entire ride, though very hazy. I like Musanze more than Gisenyi already, and I think it’s probably the second largest city in Rwanda. They certainly have a lot more things here that I haven’t seen in any other towns (like WIFI).
So, Rwanda was really pretty amazing, but I’m looking forward to Uganda. I think the roads will be much worse, there will be less climbing (after the first couple days), and maybe I’ll get super lucky and see some cool animals. That’s it for now, here’s the rest of the pictures.