A Travellerspoint blog

Butare, Gikongoro and Cyangugu

Looking death in the face

rain 16 °C

Despite having spent only one and a half days in the only real city in Rwanda we were ready to leave. It had an uneasy feel to it. Whilst I never felt genuinely threatened there were several occasions when the locals would do their best to intimidate us, especially at night time. So without remorse we retraced our steps to the conglomeration of mini-vans and bought a ticket to Butare. We were treated to more sights of beautiful, rolling green hills for the three hour ride south.

After dropping our bags in our room and Di had eaten her fill of slops from a local buffet eatery we walked to the National Museum. The museum was almost as big as the town itself. It was filled with a diverse array of articles and information boards. They ranged from land use and erosion, to colonisation and traditions. Like so often in Africa we were the only ones there. It was a shame to see such a well presented exhibition going unnoticed. Towards the end of the displays Di started to lose concentration but found amusement in the ramps which linked the different areas. She found that they were polished enough that she could slide from top to bottom on her feet, I tried it but my thongs (flip-flops for non-Aussies) were too grippy. So whilst Di amused herself on the ramps I finished studying the rest of the displays.

That night we discovered a very satisfactory staple of Rwanda. Like much of East Africa, brochettes (meat skewers) are found in abundance. The difference in Rwanda is the meat quality, the size of the servings and the fact that they are served not only with chips but also salad. Happy we ate and drank our fill, this marked the downturn of the buffets.

Day two down south we determined the differences between buses and mini-vans. Buses are cheaper, slower and leave at a fixed time albeit irregularly. We caught a bus to Gikongoro and then took a motorbike to a near bye tech school come genocide memorial. It was the locale of one of the most blood thirsty massacres of the genocide. Something like 45,000 Tutsi were murdered here in just one day. As a memorial many of the bodies exhumed from the mass graves were covered in lime salt for preservation. They were then placed on display throughout the many rooms of the school as a permanent reminder of the bloodshed.

As Di and I waited for our guide to unlock the doors I prepared myself for what we were about to see. The first door swung open, Di and I took each others hands and walked in. It was a horrific scene with bodies laid out willy-nilly across cyclone fencing mattresses.

It may not have been stomachable if the bodies had not been turned white from the mummifying salts. It gave them a slightly non-human appearance when combined with their shrivelled forms. Yet the hair and teeth were testament to the realness of the people that lay before us and the machete wounds and cracked skulls evidence of the pain they had suffered. Many of the victims had wounds across the back of their ankles where their Achilles tendons had been cut to prevent them from running away whilst they were tortured. The most horrifying sight of all was the death screams impregnated on the faces of some of the victims. Faces that immediately draw tears to the eyes yet someone looked into them as they delivered the death blow.

The memorial consisted of dozens of box like rooms each filled with as many mummified bodies. Some cells contained nothing but remains of babies no more than a few months old. I thought of my nieces and my friends new baby back home. I had to grab the wall for support.

There were too many rooms to visit them all so our guide just took us to a selection. One contained a couple of uncovered weapons. They were crude instruments such as a short heavy stick with an iron ring surrounding it. When the guide started to explain it to me she began to get emotional. Soon she began to explain to me that she was from a family of twelve. Her nine siblings and both parents had been murdered. Many of them at this site. Unfortunately my French was too lacking to understand everything she said yet alone to offer my condolences.

Our guide led us from the mausoleums to a large hall. The clothes of the victims lined the walls. There were so many clothes here that it would make the Salvation army blush, not so long ago these had been stripped off the Hutus by the Interahamwe.

The remainder of the sites were outdoor. A plaque marked the location where the French flag was raised during operation turquoise. The second marked the spot where French soldiers played volleyball during the same period and right beside that was the first of many mass graves. In is inconceivable that a western country could support such an evil event and even assist the retreat of the genocidaires whilst in their spare time play games on the graves of the dead.

Not much better were the countries including my own who watched it all happen. In perfect summary is a press conference by Clinton where he casually acknowledges that with just 5000 troops they could have saved around 400000 lives. His words were something to the extent of "I think we coulda saved about half of them".

When the tour was finished we left a donation and a tip for our guide. We asked someone to call us some motorbikes which took an age to arrive. As we waited the only other tourist there sprang up a conversation with me. He was an American guy who was working at the genocide tribunal in Arusha. He was really interesting to talk to and gave me some insight that few could.

When the bikes did come they took us to the town where we waited for a bus going to Cyangugu. The first section of the drive was the ever stunning Rwandan countryside. Whilst the majority of the second half cut through the Nyungwe National Park. Dark green trees stood thick on steep hillsides, the air was cool and the only noises came from within the bus. Apparently a haven for primates I kept my eyes peeled for a chimpanzee but saw only a few baboons. After leaving the park boundaries we began our descent to the town of Cyangugu which is nestled on the shores lake Kivu.

The town was split into two main parts, the upper being the rougher region and the lower sitting right on the lake's edge. Both had their charm but we chose to stay at the bottom. It was only a small town so with no activities as such we just soaked up the serenity from our hotel's decking. The restaurant looked nice so we ate where we slept although I was a little unsure about the option of horse which appeared on the menu.

For our final day on the southern border we decided to take a hike in Nyungwe National Park so we doubled back on the ground covered previously. The ride was uneventful but I did have a good laugh when Kenny Rogers was thrown into the mix of traditional African songs coming from the tape deck. We arrived later than desired at the gates but it was still morning. The ranger said due to the time restrictions we could not do a walk exceeding 3.5km. Then he proceeded to inform us that recent rule changes meant that all walks must be accompanied by a ranger. The nail in the coffin came when we were given a price: 65 USD each, we declined. I was tired of being treated like a cash cow in Tanzanian and Rwandan national parks and I started to get annoyed. I can sort of understand that if we wanted to track the primates which the park is famous for then they may charge us a high fee but we just wanted to walk in the forest. Whilst we sat to eat our shitty sandwiches I noticed my sunglasses had broken, they were only crappy street jobs but I crushed them to vent my frustration. Ever patient, Di tried to comfort me but I was still worked up when we left the park. I am embarrassed when I remember these tantrums but at the time, somehow, I think I am right. We hailed an already packed bus and filled it even more. I started chatting with another passenger and soon forgot my problems. During the return trip to Cyangugu a great mystery was solved. For some reason everyone always assumed Di was my sister. The guy I was talking to had made the same assumption he was surprised when I said she was my wife (many East Africans don't know the term girlfriend). The he explained that Di looked 16 and I looked 28, so much made sense.

Back in town we decided to go explore. There was a a hill on a peninsula which looked like a good place to view the lake. We walked towards it and came to some boom gates on the road. They looked strange but we just walked around them. As we approached the bridge which connected our position with the peninsula we were stopped by a man with an AK. It was a common site and were kind of used to standing face to face with people carrying automatic rifles. He asked us if we had visited customs and immigration, with surprise we turned around to see where he was pointing. The penny dropped we had inadvertently passed into the no man's land between Congo and Rwanda. We apologised quickly and got out of there. The rest of the town was pretty deserted so we returned to our hotel.

Posted by jaredlking 01:47 Archived in Rwanda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Enter the Dragon

semi-overcast 21 °C

Rwanda is a tiny blip on the map, meaning the capital to anywhere and vice versa is achievable in less than a day. With this in mind we were in no rush to get out of the picturesque Rusumu area. We woke naturally and took a seat at the balcony overlooking the accelerating river water as it approached the falls we had crossed the day before. Personifying the essence of life Di and I had a ridiculous conversation about whether the water knew its inevitable fate whilst we waited for the chef to prepare our breakfast. An hour later we lethargically rose, collected our bags and went to find a van to Kigali.

We found an empty van at the suggested location. It was empty and from experiences in Tanzania and Ethiopia this meant we weren't leaving any time soon. With no other options in sight we paid for two seats to the capital. Amazingly we were actually given tickets. They even had a departure time printed on them, could it be possible. We stuffed our bags in the back and waited to see if we would leave on time. We had 50 odd minutes to pass so we sat on a concrete slab and watched the antics of the locals. They were taking bets on who could balance on their bike the longest. It looked like quite a bit of money was changing hands. Their was plenty of laughing and a clear victor. To back it up the winner then took more bets about how many static tricks he could perform. It was a riot to watch their reactions as he balanced in all sorts of positions, we got the impression that he could hold many indefinitely.

Time flew by and to our bewilderment there were still a couple of empty seats in the van when we pulled away on time. The trip took a few hours and on the way we were treated to some amazing country. With not a square metre of flat ground or a patch of dusty soil to be seen it was hard to believe we were still in Africa. Evidence of Rwanda's intense population density was abundant. As soon as the signposts indicated we had left one town, we were apparently entering another. I wondered how the council even decided where to put them sometimes.

Upon arrival we were utterly lost. We expected to be miles out of town due to the lack of multi-story buildings and congestion but after a brief investigation we found out we were only a few hundred metres from down town. We searched briefly for a hotel but most were prohibitively priced. We took a cheapish option and tucked into the buffet on offer. Once my plate was licked clean I hauled my bursting stomach around the local streets. We didn't really do much except get a taste for Rwanda.

That night Di refused to have another buffet dinner so we wound up at a flashy Indian restaurant. The food was delicious but it ended up being our most expensive feed since leaving home. We had no regrets though as we paid the bill, that's what capitals are for. You know that until you hit the next capital the menus won't vary in the slightest.

Our second day in Kigali was reserved for one purpose, to visit the genocide museum. So long after day broke we hired two motorcycles to drop us at the gate. Di and I held hands and gave each other a "here we go" look before crossing the threshold. At the entrance we were given a short brief about the museum and we headed into the exhibition.

The first and most significant section of the museum was about the Rwandan genocide. It followed the chronology of the atrocity from its build-up to the after mass. It was very informative and impressively set out. Every aspect had a professional touch. Following the statistics and political information we were confronted by hundreds of family photos of the deceased. The numbers were staggering but I felt a compulsion to give at least every one a glance. At times it becomes too much; knowing that everyone in the photos had died for nothing. In the middle of the room was a projector which shot interviews of some survivors onto a large blank wall. The stories were told by adults who had been children at the time. They focused mainly on the experiences these people had gone through, watching their family be murdered was the common theme. It was heart wrenching footage and I tried to put myself in their shoes. I couldn't, the thought was unbearable and I blocked it out.

The next room had articles of clothing from the victims. It would not have been so touching except that we could relate them to the people we saw daily on the street. Many Africans have a tendency to wear t-shirts printed with hilariously inappropriate slogans as they can't understand what they say. This category of attire was represented and it increased the humanness of the dead. Again a projector was screening interviews with the survivors. The people were the same but this time the editor made the discussion point their families before the event. For me this was the most emotional part. I know what it's like to have a loving family and it was beyond my capacity to imagine them torn away as had happened to the interviewees.

As we ascended the stairs out of the first display I wondered if I could handle another two whole areas. I had an obligation to. If people in the west saw the personal devastation caused by genocide they would never sit by and watch it happen. The second section was a montage of genocides from around the world. All the most well known genocides and a couple of the more under spoken were represented. Again the display was informative and very professional.

The final section was the one I dreaded the most. A part of the building dedicated entirely to the child victims. I entered with trepidation. in contrast to the previous rooms this was noticeably minimalist by design. A simple corridor, painted white. Positioned along the walls were lecterns with blown up photos of children and brief descriptions of them, what they liked, their personalities etc. It was easy to see what the architect had in mind when he conceived the idea. To represent the innocence of the children murdered. Yet somehow it fell a little short. Whilst it was still touching it was missing a personal feel. We even managed a laugh in such macabre surroundings when we read the description of a 5 month old baby's personality: "cried a lot".

The last stop was the comment box. The display had been excellent, some of the information had become obsolete since print, a few statements were contradictory and their was no mention of the Tasmanian Aborigines which is the only 100% complete recorded genocide. These were all minor gripes and in no way impacted on the informative and touching memorial. Di and I grabbed a drink and a seat to recover.

During the trip back to the hotel a dust storm whipped up. Not keen to bear the conditions we retired to an internet cafe for the rest of the afternoon. We were drawn from our quarters some time later by what sounded like live music. We followed our ears to a hall nearby. Through the holes in the walls we could see a choir with band accompaniment singing beautifully. The gates were locked so we just peered through the holes. A lady came running up and showed us another entrance. We sat and watched them sing and play for about half an hour. It was a memorising performance. Good singers are a dime a dozen in Africa so whilst back home the hall would be packed there was only other man watching on silently.

As we got up to leave a man came to greet us. He explained that they were a church group who got together to sing on a regular basis. He welcomed us back any time and we parted in search of dinner.

Posted by jaredlking 05:39 Archived in Rwanda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rusumu Falls

Le pays des mille collines

semi-overcast 27 °C

The bus to Nyankanazi was leaving early and we were a long way from the bus station so we were at the road side whilst it was still dark. We were waiting for a mini-van but an empty full sized coach pulled over to offer us a ride. On the way to the station the driver kept asking us questions about which company we were using and where we were going. I started to realise something was wrong. When we disembarked someone pointed out that we were at the wrong bus station. Luckily a mini-van offered to drive the route to the correct station for us.

We drove all the way back into town before heading out in a southerly direction. The conductor started collecting money and he seemed to ask for a excessive amount. I questioned him, he tried to explain but I couldn't understand. I just let it go. The trip wound up taking almost 40 minutes, justifying the price tag. It was nail biting stuff and we started to wonder if we were even on the right bus, on top of that it was already past boarding time. Our fears were unfounded but we were the last ones to board.

I had expected the drive would take only three hours but it took around 6. Nyankanazi was a tiny little town built on a t-junction. It had no transport of its own so we waited on the roadside for a lift. We tried to hitch but no-one was going in our direction. After over an hour a matatu (mini-van) passed through. We squeezed in but it took about ten minutes before we left as we negotiated a fair price. Another couple of hours passed as we drove to Benako.

It was 5 o'clock and we assumed the border had closed. A taxi driver promised that we could make it. He drove via the service station, which are a sad sight in the remote parts of Africa. Due to the fuel shortages the pumps are never used, instead there is usually one or two guys with only two or three litres of fuel stored in coke bottles. On the way to the border we picked up another passenger. We dropped him off at a burnt out truck which had rolled off the road. I asked the driver to fill me in. The man we had dropped off was the owner of the truck and both occupants had died that same day.

At the border we changed some money on the black market and checked out of Tanzania. The staff in the office were really friendly and we had to laugh when the female officer asked if Di had any romantic novels she could read.

We started to cross the border on foot but as we approached the bridge which spans the Malagarasi river and connects Tanzania with Rwanda we stopped short. Rwanda is known as the country of 1000 hills but if Rusumu was any indicator then it is a conservative estimate. On the Rwandan side of the river, as far as we could see, the terrain was a continuous range of steep hills coloured a shade of dark green that we had rarely seen in Africa. The falls that ran under the bridge were thundering. They were not typical vertical falls but the ferocity of water was ample compensation. I usually can't wait to get through the standard filthy border crossings but here was different. We even risked pulling out the video camera in a security sensitive area to remember it.

Immigration and visas were a breeze. Within minutes of being inside Rwanda my fears were confirmed, French was going to be more common in Rwanda than I had hoped. The little French I had was rusty as hell and even in its hayday it wasn't much. Still we managed to get a room and relax for a beer. That night we were introduced to typical Rwandan food. The food itself was rather unremarkable, mounds of unrecognisable mashed vegetables with some beans and pasta thrown in for good measure. The unusual aspect is the serving style. It's a buffet with a difference. You pay per plate and can then load it as high as you like but you may not return for seconds (unless you pay again). It looked like an art perfected by the locals who somehow managed to fill their plate higher than they were wide. I did my best to imitate the professionals as did Di, but we ended up serving ourselves too much. For fear of wasting food in Africa we ate as much as we could and stumbled off for the night.

Posted by jaredlking 01:25 Archived in Rwanda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Arusha, The Northern Parks and Mwanza

For Better or Worse

sunny 27 °C

Arusha was close to Moshi so without any planning we walked to the short distance bus station. We found a bus in no time and 2 hours later we arrived in dusty Arusha. Although close in proximity the two towns are world apart in atmosphere. Because Arusha is the base of most Tanzanian safari operators a lot of foreign cash passes through it and everyone wants a piece. It was partly due to this that we chose a campsite a few k from town.

We had a preference to get out of Arusha ASAP so we looked feverously for a tour leaving the next day. We had the dilemma that we wanted a customized trip. Unlike the standard circuit safaris we wanted to be dropped off at the western end of the Serengeti so that we were close to Rwanda. To our surprise we were informed that this was an uncommon request. I was skeptical though when the next guy that walked through the door asked for exactly the same thing. We teamed up with this guy, Robert, in order to get a better deal. We went to most major operators in town and just when we were about to give up and bypass the parks altogether we got an offer for $112.50 per day all inclusive which allowed for our itinerary. It was too hard to come to Tanzania and not go to the Northern Parks so we accepted.

Tired off touts and dusty streets we escaped to our campsite. That night the rain came down heavy. From inside the tent it sounded like someone was pouring 44-gallon drums of water over us. The next morning we gave our tent the tick of approval, as we didn’t take on a single drop. Other campers weren’t so lucky.

We were picked up by the tour operator and taken to the office where we paid the remainder of our fees. There we were reunited with Robert and also introduced to Miguel from America. Despite being in the car by 7 we didn’t leave Arusha until nearly midday.

The first destination was Lake Manyara. It’s only a couple hours from Arusha and a it's a small park so half a day was ample. Before starting the safari we stopped in at the campsite to drop off the luggage and have lunch. The location was perfect. Perched atop a steep hill it overlooked the national park providing a stunning vista. Lunch was also excellent and no one could remember the last time they'd eaten this well.

It wasn't long before we were inside the park instead of looking down on it. The terrain was actually a little bit similar to that of Selous. We hadn't been inside the park for more than a few minutes and had already seen several primate species. On our way to the hippo pool we saw numerous elephants and giraffes only metres from the car. The ever present hippos were wallowing in the lake whilst buffaloes and a handful of wildebeest were eating grass on the flood plains. The driver thought he saw a cheetah but it was far from the car so we couldn't be sure. For the remainder of the drive we didn't see any new animals but we saw some impressively sized tuskers on the resident elephants and even more giraffes as well as some perculiar species of birds.

Dinner was a hearty meal with generous sized servings. It had been a fantastic day and considering that Lake Manyara is called the warm up park we tried to imagine what we would see in Ngorogoro.

Di and I got up early and were ready by the time we had arranged the night before, but we were the only ones. While we were waiting for the others to get ready a taxi rocked up, we had a new recruit, a Japanese guy named Kei.

The drive to Ngorogoro was short but the wait for the entrance fees was long. In hindsight I think the guide was stalling. As with the previous day we dropped off our gear at the campsite and drove down into the caldera. It was something like 10 o'clock when we reached the crater floor.

Considering the descriptions we had heard the place seemed void of life. There were a few antelopes and a scattering of ostriches but not much else at first. Not that we expected lions on every turn but on other safari days there was always an abundance of antelope. Dave, our driver, stopped the car and snatched up the binoculars. He handed them over and pointed to the horizon, "rhinoceros". We passed them around so we could all get a close look but even with the magnification it looked like nothing more than a blob with horns. I was happy to have seen it but I hoped that we would get closer later in the day. There were more hippos in the lake who's waters looked almost pink from the flamingos that stood in it to feast on the algae.

We drove for a few more minutes and spotted a line up of cars, we knew there must have been a big cat in the grass near by. When we drove up we saw a lion, it was moving very slowly towards a pack of wildebeest but due to the heat it was pretty apathetic about the whole thing. We vowed to return later to check on her progress. We continued on our way and stopped to scope out two distant figures laying against a rock. With the assistance of Dave's binoculars we could see two cheetahs as clear as day. After marveling at their spotted coats and sleek bodies we drove to the lunch spot.

A bit like the jolly swagman we ate under the shade of a tree on the edge of a billabong. We were only metres from hippos in the water and I made sure I knew exactly where the car was. In fact most of the time I stayed in the car watching the courageous little birds which flew inside to make an attempt on my sandwich.

After lunch we were returning to see if the rhino was closer to the road when Dave saw another car that was bogged. The rhino was closer but by the time we stopped it had walked away. Although we didn't want to we knew we needed to help the other car. Dave, to the disbelief of all the passengers, drove straight up behind the bogged car and nearly got us stuck. We barely won the battle of mud vs. machine and parked back on solid ground.

The second assault was undertaken on foot. We trudged through knee deep mud for about 100m. The driver of the other 4WD had driven straight into a huge hole and his passengers looked none too happy. They had one maxtrack knock off and about 8 able bodies to try and get it out. It took 20 long minutes of pushing and pulling to get them free. By the end we were covered in mud, none more than Kei who nearly face planted straight into the hole as the car drove out. Robert and Miguel were a bit pissed off that the other passengers barely managed a thank you but it hadn't even entered my thoughts. I was just frustrated that the day was coming to an end and we had spent a good slab of the afternoon liberating a clearly incompetent driver.

With haste we drove back to check on the lion. It was not much closer to it's prey than when we left it. To finish off we made a long loop back to the exit gates via the cheetahs. We arrived at the gates at 6:10pm, 10 minutes after the closing time. The guard was clearly looking for a bribe in return for our release but we were not forthcoming. To his disappointment instead of getting worked up we started joking around. In time he produced his keys with a friendly flash of teeth and let us out.

The dinner portions were a bit small that night and I noted that the car that brought Kei had brought no food, better get used to being hungry. The water had been hot but due to the number of people who had beaten us back to camp I took what was probably the coldest shower of my life. Whilst the others went to bed I stayed up with Robert swapping swigs of a local drink called Konyagi. When it came time for bed I couldn't believe the number of zebras wandering around the tents. I tried to take some photos but the flash made them panic, undoubtedly waking up fellow campers.

In the morning Robert woke up complaining about a terrible sleep. He said the ferocity with which the zebras ripped the grass and their incessant farting had kept him up all night. When we were packing up the tents we found out why. Inexplicably there were mounds of zebra crap all around Roberts tent and even some on it whilst there were only a scatterings around the rest of the area.

We didn't expect to see much of interest in the morning so the roof of the car was closed. We were wrong however as we saw a cheetah only 5 minutes after leaving the campsite. Then there were the elephants, gazelles and giraffes. Signs suggested it was going to be a good day.

As we passed from the Ngorogoro Reserve to the Serengeti National Park the environment changed rapidly. Whilst Ngorogoro was green and hilly Serengeti was flat savanna. It was no where near as pretty but it did make the animals easy to see. In contrast to reports from cars leaving the Serengeti there was plenty of wildlife including hyenas, antelope, wildebeest and buffalo.

As is common in Tanzania the gates to the park were actually set well inside the boundaries so it was late morning when we finally reached them. Dave told us that we could hang around or go for a walk to the top of the nearby hill. We chose the latter but the howling winds sent us back down pretty quickly. We were given a dodgey lunch and when we asked to get going Dave told us due to time restrictions in the park we had to wait a bit longer. A bit longer wound up being about two hours. The quality of the expedition was going down hill.

When we did finally get going it was like we had crossed an invisible line. The animals dried up. We barely saw a single animal for over an hour. Although when we did they were two new mammals for our viewing pleasure. Topis and Hartebeests, two larger varieties of antelopes. As per usual we drove straight for the campsite. Robert was surprised that it was unfenced. I thought his concern was a little over the top. None of the other campsites had been fenced and despite the fact that we were in the middle of the Serengeti surely the animals would stay away from a bustling campsite.

In the afternoon we took a game drive. We saw a few cars parked beside a tree and drove over to investigate. Laying in the branches was a leopard and a dead impala which had been wedged firmly between a fork in the branches to stop it falling. The leopard showed signs of exhaustion and barely raised its head. It was by far the most striking animal we had seen.

When we drank our fill we moved on through the ghost park. It was eerily deserted. We had been lucky enough to arrive at the time of the wildebeest migration but been unlucky enough that the migration north was late. After traversing vacant roads for a while I spotted a dik-dik. Its distinguishing feature is its stature. Standing at around 20cm it is the smallest antelope in the world. Despite being far from the big 5 I had been very keen on seeing one. We also saw the familiar herds of buffaloes although these were in unprecedented numbers. I had to wonder how these bovine creatures could survive in such a dry climate when they numbered in the hundreds.

There was another period of nothing, followed by a false cheetah sighting. A comment from Robert made me take the time to survey our surroundings in detail. The trees were striped bare from the migration south but the grass, although brown and dry was plentiful. The rains were late so the billabongs and creeks were mostly empty. The ground was mostly flat and open but occasionally there were rocky outcrops which stood like sentries over the plains.

We were starting to lose hope of seeing any more carnivores when David doubled back to see what another car was looking at. In the grass lay two lionesses. Even though they were only 10 metres from the car it took me minutes to see them. I would be fodder to predators if I lived in the wild. Occasionally they got up and moved around which offered us a chance to ooh and aah at their size. Once they had settled back down they were almost lost from view. It was getting late and we did one sweep past the hippo pool on the way to camp. We were only a hundred metres from base when David started looking for a lion. We drove the road twice before I finally saw it. It lay under a tree only 1 metre from the road but more alarmingly only 100m from our camp. Suddenly Roberts fear of being eaten welled inside me. We drove back to camp and we set up our tent with as many others between us and the lion. Whilst the number of animals seen had been low for the day I couldn't complain, after all the leopard was probably the highlight of the safari.

For all the days preceding day 4 we had gotten away late with no apology from the crew. We were not unhappy though because that's the African way. However on day 4 Dave got up early, hurried us along at breakfast and we were off around 7. Then we drove at excessively high speeds past what was probably the densest wildlife we had seen. Our fears were confirmed. They planned to drop us off and double back across the park and be out before noon, hence paying for only 1 days park fees. So we were unceremoniously booted from the car by 9, handed the worst lunch to date (the sandwich had only margarine in it and consisted of three half pieces of stale bread) and left in a small town. We had payed $112 US per day and were justifiably pissed off. Despite our own treatment I felt worse for Miguel who still had 3 days to go. If the quality of the safari kept following the current gradient things weren't looking good.

We caught a bus to Mwanza where Robert shouted us a cab into the town centre. Upon approach Mwanza was very beautiful. Its a sprawling city, built up on a group of hills which line the shore's of lake Victoria. The houses are engulfed by trees and hundreds of impressively sized boulders which dot the entire region. Except for the boulders it reminded me a lot of Mount Dandenong in Victoria. The town centre is not so appealing. The streets are dusty and the stream that runs through it putrid.

When Di and I set out to determine if a day in Mwanza was warranted our answer was spoon fed to us. Whilst trying to orientate ourselves Di noted than someone had brushed unnecessarily against her bag. Minutes later when we were walking down the street I detected that there were people following us. I don't know why but it just felt strange. So we stopped and put our backs to a wall which was set a few metres from the street. Our taggers stopped just a bit further on. Then Di noticed the guy who had brushed past her earlier was standing across the street. The clincher came when one of them came up to straighten a sign that stood right next to us, real subtle! We put our day packs on our front and fastened a small zip on Di's bag where they had attempted to get in. We turned back for a restaurant we had seen earlier to grab a drink and reassess everything. On the way a group of a dozen or so locals closed in on us. We could see them coming from miles away. I grabbed two of them and threw them to the side. I ran at another and he and his colleagues put their hands up. Di caught the hand of the smallest one inside her pocket. There was less than a dollar in there but on principle he couldn't have it. I shook my hand threateningly at the man we assumed earlier to be the leader, he acknowledged me and we walked away. Clearly they operated on the sly and physical violence was avoided at all costs.

A little shaken we continued for the restaurant and relaxed over a cold drink. We tried to orientate ourselves but there wasn't enough English around to find out where we were exactly. When we ventured back into the streets we saw the police station. We went in and asked for some assistance in locating a specific bus ticket office. The man in charge offered us one of his younger associates to walk us to the door. On the street I saw the head honcho of the thieves double back quick smart. He probably thought we were looking for him. The bus company had no buses running but at least we were on the map now and could find our own way around. In the end we we found a cluster of ticket offices but no one had any buses leaving to the Rwandan border on the Sunday. Instead of sticking around in Mwanza we decided to try a more indirect route to Rusumu and bought two tickets to Nyankanazi. From there we were in the hands of fate.

We weren't sure what the money situation was like in Rwanda so we decided to withdraw plenty of money to get us through. The machine was broken when we got there but after a 30 minute wait someone came to fix it. To my surprise the ATMs are running windows. I didn't make me feel very safe. Then due to the delay the rest of our plan fell apart. It was late and the forexes were closed. Add to that the fact that we were carrying a substantial amount of money through a town were we had already been the victims of an attempted mugging. With all this in mind we stashed the money back in the hotel.

The oppressive heat called for a quenching beer. We found a local bar and settled down. The eager manager came over and started talking to us. During the process Robert walked by and we called him over for a few beverages. When we told him about the attempted mugging the manager pricked up his ears. He wanted to know if we could identify the men. He then went on to explain how due to a consistent lack of evidence the same guys were continually getting away with theft. Due to frustration the locals had turned to vigilantly punishments like severe beatings. Desperate not to get involved in something so serious I tried to change the subject but Robert pointed out the flaws of vigilantly justice to the manager, not that it would change anything.

After 2 or 3 stouts our stomaches were grumbling. So we went out for dinner. We had a few more beers and some pizza. That night we said our final farewell to Robert as we trundled off to bed.

Posted by jaredlking 06:48 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Looking up is ample

storm 22 °C

We boarded the bus to Moshi at 5:30am and were pleasantly surprised when we departed on time. We were even more impressed with the quality of the bus. When we bought the tickets we had opted for the cheapest ticket which meant no toilet and no a/c but besides this the bus was just like home; comfy seats and plenty of leg space. The road was also good and we were in Moshi before we knew it.

We didn’t really have much planned for Moshi so after finding a hotel we just wandered the streets to check out the town. It was a very pleasant feeling city, everything ran at a snails pace and the people were friendly. That night we got a call from the German couple we had met in Zanzibar. They asked if we would like to come out and join them for dinner at the hospital residences. We gratefully accepted and caught a dulla dulla to KCMC. When we arrived the power was out so we were introduced to their numerous house mates by candlelight.

After briefly glancing over their photos from Zanzibar we were off again to another house. We were being hosted by a couple of American guys who had impressively cooked for around 15 people without any power. Just as we sat down to eat the lights sparked to life. The food was delicious and I was kept amused all night by funny anecdotes from around the world, at times I was in stitches. I could have stayed all night but I was getting a little bit pissy and it was getting late. Alex, one of our hosts, called us a taxi and the Germans walked us to the gate.

Due to my slightly intoxicated state I fell asleep as soon as we got back but I awoke even more suddenly. From somewhere outside our window came the most blood-curdling scream I have ever heard. I looked over at Di; she had heard it too. Then came the sound of running and glass breaking, followed by the same scream. I was peering through the curtains but the wall just outside the window blocked my view. The owner of the scream had started banging on the gate and some hotel staff had answered it. The distress in her voice as she called out “polisi, polisi” was unmistakable. It took them ten minutes to even begin calming her. Whatever had happened I would hazard a guess that she had just escaped death or rape by the narrowest of margins. Somewhere down the track after the voices had faded we fell asleep again.

When we woke I could still hear the scream ringing in my ears. In fact it was never far from my mind all day. I tried to find out from the reception staff if she was ok but they knew nothing about it.

At one point in time we had considered climbing Mt Kilimanjaro but we were still wearing the side affects of the high altitude in Ethiopia. Instead we opted to just visit the park gates. We chose some gates that were reasonably close to town but infrequently used. We caught the right dulla dulla to the wrong spot. We got off 10km too early and found ourselves at a junction with a very minor road. All we really wanted to do was get a good view of Kili so we followed the random road towards the mountain. It passed straight through dense banana plantations and was void of any buildings except for two out of place hair salons. We passed only a few locals and two white people on the walk. I can quote them as saying “what a strange sight”, because it really was. At the end of the road we came to a small village where the local primary school kids ran to the road to greet us. After saying hello we looked for a clearing, we found it but Kili was so covered in cloud we saw virtually nothing, in fact the view from Moshi was significantly better. There was a well signposted rest house 4km from where we were so we made tracks for it. When we got there we offered a seat or a room but they had no food or drink. The grounds were beautiful but the place was deserted. We turned back for the main road stopping at a local bar for some ice-cold softies. The rest of the day back in Moshi was spent relaxing in the laid back atmosphere of the town.

Posted by jaredlking 06:43 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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