Waterfalls, coffee and corruption

Sipi Falls are very beautiful. They are actually 3 separate falls each of over 90metres high.  Just a shame I couldn’t enjoy them to the full as I had hoped.  My groin muscles are currently so tight after horse riding that I can’t stride out which means climbing up hill where in some places you need to make big steps to get over obstacles very difficult.  Downhill is just as painful and I think I may have ended up tweaking my left side.  So it mean I could only climb one of them and the other two I had to see from either the bottom or viewpoints – which was rather annoying.

Hotel I was staying in was lovely – right at the bottom of the middle falls – only downside was that the rooms weren’t on-suite (which was a surprise for the price they were) and the toilets were natural ones so didn’t smell too pleasant.  I hate that feeling of having to get up in the middle of the night when it is cold outside and put on shoes and a coat just to go to the toilet.  Doesn’t endear the thought of kili to me next week.

As hiking was cut short I went to make some coffee – starting by shelling the dried beans, roasting them then grinding them to a powder – unfortunately then I had to drink it. Being a non coffee drinker these days even I thought it tasted good however for the next hour my head didn’t feel like my own.  There is a reason I no longer drink coffee – my body can’t seem to cope with it – but its easy to see how people get addicted.

Yet again very few people staying in the hotel – I am getting really fed up with being on my own all the time – I miss having friends to talk too.  The downside of this is when I do find someone to talk to I can’t seem to shut up and become quite boring!  Which was a good job as the only other person staying in the place was a young Belgian guy who really was the most pretentious and arrogant person I had come across in a while.  I preferred to sit on my own to talking to him.  I also made friends with the hotel cat – just reminds me how much I miss having pets – I need to get a job where I can get animals again.

I read an engaging but depressing book called An Ordinary Man – its by the hotel manager of the Mille Collines through the genocide in Rwanda – the film Hotel Rwanda was based on his story.  I really must stop reading these books as they put me in a low mood which I have been sinking in ever since. 

This was not helped by the fact that on the way back to Entebbe we got stopped over several times by corrupt policemen demanding money.  Each time they claimed we were speeding (we were not) because the driver braked when he saw them.  At the first one he was saying that he had a speeding camera in his car and what should we do if it was proved that he was speeding?  Basically he wanted a bribe.  I wanted him to prove it and show us the camera – which I know they only have hand held ones in Uganda so it was no use what so ever locked away in the car.  Plus I very much doubt it has been calibrated in a very long time and I also would have asked to see his badge, demanded a receipt and taken note of his name and number – however my driver took him behind the car and paid him off before I could get very far into my rant!  He claims it’s much easier that way as otherwise they will keep us tied up in paperwork at the station for hours and he will just make up what he wants anyway. 

I managed to keep my tongue the second time but corruption and inefficiency really really frustrate me.  Maybe I’m not cut out for Africa.  I am starting to miss things from home (not just ability to cook, not having to live out of a suitcase and friends) but also fresh air – well over 50% of the vehicles here are not really roadworthy and belch out thick black smoke all the time from the exhausts.  When its hard to overtake or in traffic jams in the city this becomes quite unpleasant.  Roads without potholes are just a long forgotten dream.  I am longing for the day where I no longer need to wear DEET insect repellent – its horrible stuff – as are the mosquitos and food that isn’t fried is just a pipe dream.  I tried ordering grilled potatoes last night and they came fried too!

Last day in Uganda today then two days back in Korogwe again (joy of joys) where the food is even worse – why did I agree to it?????? Before attempting Kili – which again Im apprehensive about and not looking forward to, followed by two days of diving in Zanzibar (I can’t even get excited about that at the moment) before home.  Sure I will snap out of this soon.

Oh great a storm is coming – I have to get on a plane in 4hours – hope its passed by then.

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Walking like John Wayne at the source of the nile

I took the bus to Kampala where I met up with Lina for dinner.  Bless her she still isn’t great and is only just back on eating food again so only managed a soup.  I on the other hand being faced with a very good thai restaurant gorged myself silly on food I had been missing and felt quite sick!  Having had enough of public transport I got a private car to Jinja – the source of the nile river and the adrenalin capital of Africa – or so they like to say.

A few years ago I would have been one of the first in line for the bungee jumping (it was only 40m high – piddlely after my 160m one in Nepal) and the class 5 white water rafting, but after my experiences in Nepal where we saw the safety kayaker who had been with us for the last two days get wedged between a rock and drown it had kind of put me off the rafting a bit.  The rafting company said it wouldn’t happen here as river was much wider and not so much rocks – but I wasn’t convinced – what the hell causes rapids if it isn’t rocks????  So instead I went mountain biking for a few hours.  Was fun but the gears on the bike were awful and having not really ridden a bike since breaking my coccyx in August last year it was more than a little painful by the end.  So what did I do the next day – the sensible thing of course – I went off on a two day horse riding safari!!!!!  Owwwww!

My horse was a 16.2hh dark bay Kenyan thoroughbred called Mwimbi.  Nice enough horse and he didn’t take much riding – very easy to make go and not that hard to stop – although he did overreach a bit in trot causing him to throw a shoe – but one of the guides was a farrier so all was good.  Day 1 we were riding for just over 4 hours – we followed the course of the river for a bit before heading off through villages.  Nice ride – with lots of canters – however having not ridden in earnest for a while I had forgotten several key facts – horse riding is better at keeping you fit than most people realise and gloves are an essential part of horse riding gear!  By the time we got to our overnight stop not only was my bottom rather sore but I had blisters on my hands and sore knees.  I have never had sore knees horse-riding before!  Although TJ (the aussie owner) says that he always gets sore knees and blames it all on trotting and sometimes the type of saddle.

Overnight was in a lovely guesthouse called Haven which was right next to one of the rapids called the Dead Dutchman!  Having seen it I was quite pleased I hadn’t bothered with the rafting!  And to my surprise I bumped into the Dutch couple there who I met in Kisoro.  It was good to see them again but they were off home back to Holland the next day so weren’t around for long.

Day 2 of the riding TJ had told my guides no trotting so it was a much faster ride.  I had managed to get some gloves which made the world of difference and kicking my feet out of the stirrups when we were walking helped the knees so altogether a much less painful day – which was just as well as it was a longer ride.  We set off thorough a few villages and then went through a forest – it was so peaceful and then through sugar cane plantations.  It was a lovely ride – so much more interesting than day 1 – we also when to a couple of viewpoints over the nile and lake Victoria.  Finally after 5 hours of riding we arrived back at the stables.  It was only when we got off just how sore my bottom actually was!  Back at my guesthouse (2Friends) I went straight into the swimming pool hoping that would help my legs a bit.  Got chatting to several of the people there and gave one Canadian couple some advice on places to visit in London next week.  However although the pool helped it still didn’t stop my bottom swelling up!!!!!  Its big enough as it is – I don’t need it swelling up to get bigger!

I am now walking a bit like John Wayne and sitting down very gingerly.  Good job tomorrow is a transit day spent in a car going to the Sipi Falls to the east near Mount Elgon and the Kenyan border.

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I am the Pied Piper of the Rwenzoris and lunch for Tsetse flies!

As there were no direct buses to Fort Portal I had to get the bus to Mbarara, then to Kassese and finally one to Fort Portal.  Now this should have been easy – but as you soon learn in Africa nothing is as easy as it seems!  The bus dropped me off at some random service station in Mbarara rather than at the bus park.  I was going to get a taxi to the bus park when the driver offered to take me to Fort Portal for 200,000USH (about £50) – in the end I gave in and said yes as I knew it was a long way and I still had to change buses again.  It took us over 3hours to drive there so I was quite pleased of my decision in the end. It was much more comfortable and more space than the bus.  When we got to Fort Portal the driver then asked me if I wanted to buy him lunch!  For some reason he seemed quite shocked and offended when I said no!  Not my problem – there was no way either that I was going to take him back to the UK with me as he kept suggesting either.

Stayed at probably the worst hotel of my stay so far the Rwenzoris traveller inn.  It was cheap but so loud – even with ear plugs in I struggled to sleep for the road and bar noise.  Left early the next morning on my 2 day mini trek.  Lina was supposed to have been coming with me but she was sick so couldn’t make it.

The trek when we started was harder than I imagined – first off I hadn’t realised it was going to be 25km long (not a problem as I needed to train anyway) and that it was going to be the hottest and sunniest day I had faced in a long time.  Climbing the 500m in altitude through valleys and up the side of the forest in the national park was very tough and took me almost 4 hours by the time we reached the top.  On the way we walked past a primary school with this odd bee hive looking contraption. It was actually a small water turbine that harnessed the power of the stream to generate enough electricity for the school so they could have lights on all night.  Quite a neat invention as they wouldn’t have any other means of power there.

The walk carried on over and along the ridge through the forest and then started down the other side.  This was as tough – if not worse that the way up.  For one it was steeper and even more slippery (something I hadn’t thought possible!) so much so I was very grateful for the lack of rain and the walking poles.  And secondly we had to descend much further that we had climbed.

After a while my legs were really starting to hurt.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if there was the odd flat bit in there to stretch out legs but no – it was steep tricky descents for 3 hours before we reached the villages and then it was steep descents for the next hour and a half!  It really wasn’t fun especially in the heat.  But I only fell over twice so I was pretty impressed with myself!  Walking poles were a godsend!

When we reached the villages it became clear that the little children don’t see white people very often.  The first group we came to seemed to think it funny to run up to me and try to touch me.  This then seemed to develop into a game of postmans knock.  If I caught them coming to me then then ran back screaming with laughter.  They clearly weren’t well versed in this game as they couldn’t stop giggling as they were coming up to me.  As we walked on more and more children joined this group.  At one point I had over 30 children under the age of about 6 or 7 following me!  I felt like the pied piper or in one instance the child catcher as one very small boy took one look at me – burst into tears and hid crying behind his dad!  Now I really don’t think I am that scary but he clearly begged to differ.  All the children also seem to know how to say ‘how are you?’ and nothing else so all I heard for the next 2 hours was calls of how are you from all over the mountain – most of the time I had no idea where it was coming from.

Finally after 8 and a half hours walking we made it to the accommodation over night – I was so pleased to have a shower (even if it was a cold one) and a lie down.  I was shattered – how am I going to manage on Kili???????

The next day surprisingly my legs felt fine, I had been expecting a lot of pain so we then set off for a short drive to the Semiliki Park and the hot springs.  I set off with park ranger as a guide first to the female hot springs and then the male hot springs.  Natural volcanic springs similar (but not as large) as in Iceland.  Expect you couldn’t swim in them as the coolest one was 96deg c!  As I seemed to have seen most of the animals and monkeys the ranger pointed out to me before the ranger then decided we were going to go off tracking the elusive and very shy bearded monkey.  Off we went through the muddiest and boggiest section of the hot and humid tropical forest in search of these blessed monkeys that I wasn’t really that fussed about seeing anyway. 

Through a bog I went – wet feet yet again! And then on through a tsetse fly area where I became their lunch – I have so many bites over my shoulders now.  I so wish I hadn’t worn a black t-shirt – black attracts them.  Finally the ranger heard the monkeys but they weren’t near the path so off we when into the depths of the forest trying to forge a path yet doing it quietly so as not to frighten the monkeys.  The ranger kept getting very excited and pointing at various spots in the trees.  I saw a few tails but none of the beards!  He then got a phone call which frightened them all away!  It was my driver wondering where we were as we had been due back an hour ago and he was cooking lunch.  Oops.  So finally the ranger decided we should head back.  By the time we got back to the hot springs where the driver was cooking my lunch we had been walking for over 2 hours more than we should have.  Apparently I was very lucky as very few people ever get to see this type of monkey – even if I did only see its tails!

Lunch was potatoes, Matoke (a type of banana) and eggs cooked in the hot springs – because we were so late the eggs had been cooking for about 30mins so were rather hard boiled!  This was served with avocado, tomato and bread followed by pineapple.  Don’t know what the driver was thinking as he cooked more for me than the other guide who was there was cooking for 5 people!  I think his family ate well that night!  After that it was back to Fort Portal and this time a lovely guesthouse called the Rwenzori View.

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Feeling old in a fit of madness

Crossing the border into Uganda was fairly uneventful except for the argument I inadvertently caused on the mini bus. I hadn’t realised that I needed to buy a second ticket for my bag – not a problem as it was only about 40p but the conductor didn’t seem to want me to do that – he wanted to squeeze more people on to the already packed bus instead. The whole bus seemed to get into an argument which I had no idea what was being said. In the end they forced a small child onto the seat aswell so it was a little cramped but was only for 40mins.

I arrived in Kisoro in Uganda to stay at the Travellers Rest hotel – the place where Dianne Fossey said was her second home and Jane Goodall used to stay there. Nice place with rooms around a courtyard.

I was immediately faced with a problem through – getting money out in Uganda is not easy! ATMs don’t seem to like to work very well and then when you do you can only every get 250,000 USH out a day – about £62 – which when you need to pay for hotels and trips is not good news. Add to this the added complication that because someone has managed to clone my bank card I have to phone to phone the fraud line of my bank to get them to temporarily remove the block on my card while I get money out and they need to be on the phone while I do this. My phone bill is going to be huge! I have even had to resort to getting cash out on my credit card which is really not good news either. And mum before you start panicking the bank picked up the fraud very quickly so no money was lost. My chief suspect for the cloning is the ATM in Kigali airport! And the card has been tried to be used repeatedly somewhere in Kenya.

Anyway money issues a side in a fit of madness I decided that it would be a good idea to get a training hike in for Kilimanjaro – sensible you might think – until I mention that the hike in question was up a 3,700m high volcano called Sabinyo which had been graded as strenuous and difficult. So up I got at 5.30am only to find that I wasn’t the only one stupid enough to attempt it – there were 5 others. However all of these turned out to be 19/20 year old guys on a gap year. I was nearly 20 years older than then which was an incredibly depressing thought. And of course there was no way I could keep up with them.

The trek started and although for the first few kilometres it was gradually uphill it was made all the harder that it was incredibly boggy so it was quite tough walking. During this time although I lagged behind a bit I managed to keep up with the young guys admirably well I would say! Soon after though we got to the volcano proper they were off and I didn’t see them again! I was also surprised that the main guide (who was in his 40’s) soon swapped places with the guide that was at the back with me. He told me later that he couldn’t keep up with them either and preferred my pace – I don’t know whether he was just saying that but it made me feel a bit better.

Now this climb was tough. We were starting at just over 2000mtrs and to get to the top required climbing higher than Ben Nevis at 2000m higher altitude! And being conical shaped it was straight up through 3 different stages of rain forest. Now to begin with it was very warm and I coped reasonably well with my pole pole style. However the rain soon came and the steep climb became slippery. And the repeated climbing ladders of round slippery bits of wood wasn’t fun.

Soon the altitude also started to take an effect and breathing was hard. I was getting wet and then the climbing ladders got even steeper. I made a few of them but I was starting to get really scared by them and after falling over several times going upwards I finally made the first summit. I had climbed over 1000ms and that was enough for me, I was cold and dizzy. I couldn’t face anymore of the ladders in the rain so turned back. I had still climbed higher than Snowdon on a much steeper climb. Going down the ladders was even worse. I think I fell over at least 10 times – and that was with climbing poles that saved me repeatedly. I have a few bruises to show for it. The guide told me that this climb was much harder than Kili – I really hope he is right!

When I was finally back down I had been walking for over 7 and a half hours with no views what so ever due to the clouds. Later that evening back in the hotel the clouds finally left the mountain and I got a view of just how high I had walked and I was quite pleased with myself.

I then headed over to the Birdsnest Hotel on Lake Bunynoni – a beautiful hotel on a beautiful lake. Here I kicked back and did nothing – which was a good job as for 2 days by thighs were screaming at me after the climb. I am the only person staying there – apparently they are very busy at weekends but it is rainy season so quieter during the week. Swimming pool was lovely and staff very friendly – had the best steak I have had since leaving the UK in January. And there is a lovely labrador called Pacino who has befriended me – ever since I gave him my pork chop bones – he follows me everywhere and sits and whines outside my bedroom door!

Stayed here longer than intended but it was good to do nothing for a few days and I read the whole of the book Shaking Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire the UN commander during the genocide – very gripping book but really quite depressing – I think I need to read something light-hearted next . Went into Kabale today to buy my bus ticket – I wasn’t impressed so pleased I stayed at the lake.

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Gorillas in the mist (and rain!)

I got woken up at 3am by one of the loudest thunderstorms I have ever heard.  For the first time in a long time I just wanted to hide underneath the bed covers – however the storm was so bad that some tiles had come off the roof of my hut and it was leaking so I had to get up and move all my clothes out of the way.  Then I got back to hiding under the covers!  Luckily my bed stayed dry.

After the horrendous storm I expected bad weather the next day too but to my surprise it was bright blue skies.  So along with Mark an Australian guy I met at breakfast (both of us had thought were the only ones staying there as we must have just missed each other the night before) we took out the hotels canoe and paddled out to the nearby island and got a good view of the Congo.  It is hard to imagine that there is now fighting going on just 5km away. 

From what I can gather some rebels have deserted from the army on gone on the run near the border.  The fighting is between them and the army but tens of thousands of civilians are leaving their homes to become refugees in Rwanda and live in a pretty depressing camp (I drove past it!) so things must be pretty bad over there.  I met an American couple, who had been in Congo in the mountains taking photos, who had just been evacuated out and they had heard gun fire as they were leaving.  Mark and I both agreed that 5km away from gunfire was as close as we wanted to get!

I left Gisenyi and travelled to Musanze which is the base for going gorilla tracking.  We had to meet at the park headquarters at 7am and then they are meant to allocate you based on fitness levels and the groups get to go to different families of gorillas (only a max of 56 permits are issued a day – 8 permits for 8 groups).  We got there and there was a local dance troop singing and dancing – felt very touristy and not what I expected – also I was very surprised by the amount of people who had turned up in jeans and trainers!  Idiots I bet they suffered! 

Now the groups clearly weren’t picked on fitness levels – my group seemed to be the first ones who arrived – there was 1 group that had 3 young fit looking guys with 5 unfit looking pensioners with make-up trowelled on their faces – I wonder how long that lasted!  In my group were a Dutch couple in their 20s, 2 Indian/UK guys in their mid 20s who turned up in jeans with no jackets and a German lady who was 47 with her 32 year old Rwandan boyfriend –plus me. 

We were trekking the Kwitunda group of gorillas, a family of 24 of them.  The day looked promising and dry but it soon started to rain – just as we had to climb over the fence and into the park proper.  The park proper didn’t really have paths so we had to cut our own.  This meant not just walking up hill (we were above 2,600mtrs when we started climbing) but pushing through bushes, thistles and nettles while climbing over trees.  We soon got very wet – I wish I had gaiters or waterproof trousers with me as that was the most uncomfortable aspect of the day.  I was the best equipped from my group (I had proper walking boots, tough poncho that covered me, my rucksack and the top of my legs plus walking poles) so the two Indian guys with jeans and no jackets must have been miserable! 

After hiking like this for a couple of hours we got close to them gorillas but it was really pouring now and our guide made us wait for over 30mins to see if it slowed up as gorillas don’t like rain and they hide in the bush.  This was when I started to get really cold – my boots started to get wet (up until that point I was the only one who had dry feet!) and my trousers got even wetter.  Finally when we were truly miserable we went to go see the gorillas.

Now you are not meant to get closer to them than 7metres however due to the terrain I don’t think we were ever further than 3 metres away from them!  They are amazing – huge creatures with hands that look just like ours.  We watched one male silverback breaking the bamboo off and then stripping it of its casing before eating it – he was a messy eater!  Bamboo is apparently known as gorilla beer!  If they eat too much they get drunk! 

After a while he moved off so we followed.  He then sat down to eat something else which was when the rain really started to hammer it down again.  We laughed as he tried to use a branch of a tree he had just pulled down as an umbrella.  He then sat there looking really miserable and sorry for himself – I know how he felt!  Nearby we also saw a female holding her young baby.  The baby really didn’t seem to like the rain either and was constantly hugging its mum.

The hour we were allowed to spend with them soon vanished.  The pictures I took weren’t great (I have had to delete most) as it was so wet and we weren’t allowed to use flash – but I think I have a few good ones.  We may have only seen 5 of the 24 gorillas but we saw them very close and the guide said we were very lucky as most of the time when it rains that hard they hide!

The journey back was very slippery and wet and I was glad I had two poles with me – they kept me on my feet several times when others went flying.  The Indian guys were really struggling by this point.  On the way we had crossed a small stream – it was now a fast flowing river that had burst its banks (shows just how wet it was) and we had to walk for ages around and then to walk though it –by then my feet were well and truly soaked!  I was pleased I was spending the night in Musanze rather than going to Kisoro as at least I was able to get a warm shower and dry clothes – the others all had a two hour drive back to Kigali in wet clothes!

When we got back to the cars it was 1pm so we had been in the rain for over 4 hours!  The Indian guy who had struggled the most tried to tell me that Kilimanjaro was a doddle in comparison to what we had just done (with the exception of summit day!) so there is hope for me then.  But for that trip I need proper waterproofs, more jumpers, socks, trousers and a warm down jacket!  When I next get internet I will be ordering some stuff!!!!!  I also need to re-waterproof my boots.  I currently have newspaper in them to try to dry them out but I’m not sure its working.  I think I am just going to have to take wet clothes with me when I move to Kisoro tomorrow.

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Early starts in a country that continues to surprise

Had to get up at 4.30am to go start the chimp trekking – good training for Kili I suppose.  We met the Anthony my trekking guide and then drove over an hour to the start of the trek.  By the time we started to walk it was 6am and it was daylight.  Anthony wanted to try to catch the chimps in their nest up in the trees as they were easier to spot that way.  So we set off at quite a pace – I was very glad to have had walking poles with me – it was all downhill for the first 45mins and very slippery.  Unlike Tanzania, Rwanda has had lots of rain – too much really as all the rivers are flooded and there have been multiple landslides– and I was in a rain forest!  Nearly fell over several times but just about managed to stay on my feet.

After a while we heard the chimps and met up with two of the trackers – the noise was that the chimps were now on the move – great!  There are four trackers whose job it is to follow the chimps wherever they go (day and night) so they can guide the tourists to them easily.  We then set off uphill (me and 3 guides!) to go over the “hill” and then catch up with them on the other side.  So again off we went at a very fast pace up the hill.  I was much slower than them!  I have realised that up and downhill I am a pole pole walker and only walk at a decent pace on the flat – I can keep going at that pace – but not at the pace we were setting here! 

We came across some safari ants – evil little creatures with nasty bites.  I am so pleased no one had a camera pointed at me at that moment in time, I must have looked quite a sight!  A sweaty, red faced white girl, with her trousers tucked into socks that weren’t big enough to truck trousers into (Anthony made me do it because of the ants) trying to sprint up hill on tip toes with a rucksack and carrying poles!  Had to sprint like this for about 50metres – there were millions of the ants!  When were past then it was a case of pat down to make sure that none had got on me – several had but managed to get rid of them before they bit which was lucky.

Rest of hike was uneventful and we eventually came across the chimps in the trees.  They weren’t wearing clothes or drinking tea like they are on the TV adverts!  There was a family of about 10 of them we could see although couldn’t get a great view as they were quite high up.  After only a few minutes though they made a noise again came down the trees and then were off again.  Queue another uphill sprint to try to catch up with them.  We came across them right by the other car park (could have just started from there and saved a lot of hiking!) and managed to scramble through the bushes to get a better view.  This was the best pictures I got.  There were actually 14 in the group we couldn’t see them all last time due to the tree cover and the size of some of the young.  They were eating fig leaves and again they soon moved on through the trees – they cover a lot of ground in a day.  It was interesting to see how the mother and father worked together on the branches to allow the babies to cross.  They are intelligent creatures.

As we were at the car park we called the driver to come and pick us up rather than walking the 2 hours back (which Anthony seem reluctant to do).  My chimp trekking experiences was all over by 9.30am!  So much for a full days hiking as training but I guess running up hills at over 2000m altitude is a reasonable start to training.  One thing I did learn in time for Kili is on summit day when we start hiking at midnight is to keep some snacks readily to hand in my pocket.  Having not had breakfast, running at altitude and walking into a tree (don’t ask!) I felt quite lightheaded and didn’t have time to stop and go into my pack to get food.

Got back to Kigali about 5pm and checked in to the Golf Hills Residence.  Nice friendly place a bit out of the town and was highly recommended on trip advisor.  My room was huge and the hotel also had a lounge with some comfy sofas.  Which I needed as my food took so long to arrive!  I got a bit annoyed with them and they ended up giving it me for free which was nice of them.

Next day I was asking about the buses to Gisyeni and the hotel offered to go buy my ticket for me which was great – saved me the hassle of the bus station.  Always really busy places that I find quite intimidating.  I then walked down to the Genocide Memorial Centre to depress myself again.  It is very well done and l learnt a few more things about it.  The UN commander General Romeo Dallaire (what a name!) had been trying to flag to the UN that something was going to happen.  When it all started he said give me 5,500 troops and the mandate to use them and I will stop the genocide.  The UN never gave it to him.  In the same UN meeting they discussed the tragedy that was unfolding and how it needed to be stopped while ordering the withdrawal of the UN troops!  They used more troops to forcibly remove UN personal that Dallaire was requesting to stop the genocide! 

The UN senior staff now, at least recognise that their response was wrong here and also in Bosnia which was happening at exactly the same time.  But one of the most worrying things about the museum is that it ends saying that genocides will happen again (so much for the cries of never again after the holocaust!) so the world needs to learn from them so they can be prevented from occurring again.  It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for genocides to occur in some of the Arab spring countries.  Dallaire has written a book about his experience during this time which I think would be good (if depressing) to read.

When I tried to walk back the heavens opened up and I got drenched – I was in a spot where there was no shelter!  I eventually hid under a hedge until the worst had past but decided I was going to be brave and get the next free motor taxi that came along.  Only problem was none came or ages so I got wetter! Eventually one stopped and I hoped on to the back.  At least in Rwanda these bike taxis are heavily regulated – they all have to wear a tabard with their number on and provide helmets for the passengers.  But it still doesn’t stop me hating motorbikes and sitting on the back of one felt so unsafe.  I really hated going round corners and was holding onto the bike really tightly.  I was so pleased when I reached the hotel, it only cost me 50p to go 6km along a very quiet and quite straight road but I still found it terrifying!  So when I got there I had a beer with an American girl who I had met at breakfast to calm the nerves! 

She had to go out that night so I had dinner with a Nepalese guy I met in the lounge area.  He has just moved to Rwanda and will be here for 4 years.  He works for the UN refugee arm.  He was telling me how the UN grade the assignments based on the facilities the place has and how good the schools are etc. Category A are the best places but category B are still very good.  Delhi, Kula Lumpur, Bangkok are all category B – as is Kigali!  It says a lot how far this country has come in the last 18 years.   I was asking about the need for refuge work in Rwanda these days and he was telling me the issue is with Congo.  Looks like trouble has flared up again and this week alone over 5,000 refugees arrived in Gisenyi (where I am now!) which he is having to deal with.  In a way I wish I had asked him if he could arrange it for me to go see the camp but it’s probably a good idea I didn’t.

The bus ride up here was fairly uneventful but one thing I have noticed is how different everything is from Tanzania (and I don’t just mean the hills!).  The roads are good, every bit of land is being farmed (although I understand soil erosion is a problem), there are few mud huts – mostly bricks or wood and you don’t see women carrying water or bundles on their heads all the time and there is a sense of pride here.  Seems to be doing well – let’s just hope it can continue – the guilt money from the West won’t last forever!

I am staying at a place right on Lake Kiku – it is lovely – I have a stone bungalow overlooking the lake and as I write this I am looking at the mountains of Congo the other side of the lake.  I am sure mum is going to go in a panic when I say I am only 5km from the border with Congo and the civil war – but don’t worry its meant to be perfectly safe here – just not 5km away!  The lake is beautiful though – it reminds me a lot of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I hope to take out the canoe tomorrow or maybe even swim to the nearby island.

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Am I still in Africa? And why I am rapidly going off the French

My first impressions of Rwanda were – wow this place is clean.  No dirt or rubbish anywhere, tree lined boulevards, proper pavements, concrete/metal transmission poles.   Turns out that there is one day a month where everyone has the day off work to clean up.  And it is working – in Kigali (the capital) I couldn’t believe I was still in Africa. The buildings too are very modern clean and new looking.  This place has had some major capital investment and looks good on it.  Rwanda is apparently regularly voted top in the easiest African country to do business with which I guess has a lot to do with it and maybe less corruption than in other countries (still so see about that last point!).

I stayed at the Hotel Mille Collines – the hotel that the movie Hotel Rwanda was based on.  The story about how the local manager risked his and his family’s lives to protect the Tutsis hiding there.  I would really like to see the movie.  The real hotel on the other hand was a bit of a disappointment to me.  Don’t get me wrong it is a lovely hotel and totally earns its 4*s but for such an historic past you would think they would make something of it at least have a memorial, pictures of the guys, details of the story but there was nothing.  It was a nice place to stay with good food, nice views and lovely pool but that was about it – it could have been just any hotel, which was why I was a bit disappointed.

My driver for the next 2 days picked me up from my hotel at 9am.  Because of where the chimps are the only way to get to see them is through a private tour – there is no public transport there and they are a long way away.  On the way there we stopped at Butare for the National Museum.  It was empty but was really good – I was quite surprised.  This evening I read the lonely planet about it which says it’s the best museum in the East Africa Region and was donated by the Belgium’s after 25 years of independence.

Bit of history for those unfamiliar with Rwanda.  At the end of the 1st world war when the British had kicked out the Germans out of East Africa the British took over Tanzania and the Belgium’s took over Rwanda (as it bordered their colony in the Congo).  Rwanda at that time had a king (he was a Tutsi).  The Belgium’s tried to reduce the power of the king telling the Hutus how much the Tutsis hated them (mistake number 1).  Rwanda finally got its independence from both Belgium and the King in 1961.  This was when the genocide of the Tutsis actually began.  The president stood back as Tutsis were killed in the run up to independence and then afterwards.  As far as I can tell they were hated because they symbolised the king.

The first president only lasted 3 months and was succeeded.  Again more propaganda was spread against the Tutsis and many were told to leave the country as was no place for them here.  Many did. This president lasted a few years before being forced out by a military coup and a general took over.  The civil war started in 1990 with the RPF based out of Uganda started attacking.  This was seem as trying to reinstall the Tutsis in power.  After a few years of fighting the general met the head of the RPF in Arusha to sign a peace deal in early 1994.  His plane was shot down on his way back to Kigali by people who didn’t want peace and he was killed.  This was when the genocide really began.

We visited a genocide memorial on the way too.  Now after saying I didn’t want to go to the churches because I thought it would be too harrowing I accidentally ended up at the place the lonely planet describes as the most graphic of all memorial sites!  It was originally a technical college built up on a hill.  When the killing started, the Tutsis when to the local governor for help, the mayor told them to go to this college as they could protect them there.  This was not chosen by accident and had been carefully planned.  There were about 50,000 people (men woman and children) at this school.  The water supply was cut off to make them weak and they were killed if they tried to venture into the valley for water.  Then one day the death squad arrived and in a matter of hours killed all 50,000 of them!  Then arrived the caterpillars and mass graves were dug. 

In the museum there are stories of the few survivors and also the accounts of the perpetrators but that wasn’t the worst.  The worst thing about it was the outside – there were many buildings at the back where inside 1800 bodies had been excavated and many had decomposed. One thousand of these have been coated in limestone and placed in the rooms where the massacre happened.  The smell in these rooms was horrible – I couldn’t bear it for more than a few seconds.  Some of the bodies still had hair and clothes on.  There were rooms dedicated just to children and babies.

After the massacre solders were billeted at the college – including some French soldiers who built a volley ball court on the mass graves!   The French really don’t come out of this well.  Firstly they were the ones who in the time leading up to the genocide trained the death squads and apparently their conduct during the genocide was more supportive of the Hutu than the persecuted Tutsis.  The UN don’t come out well either – rather than using the troops they had in the country at the time to help prevent the genocide – they actually left the country and left it all to happen.  It was the RPF who eventually stopped it and told the world what was going on.  Many people involved have still not been caught.  Many responsible for the genocide are hiding out in France where they can’t be extradited.  It is actually quite sickening how the people who planned and organised this mass killing to try to wipe out the Tutsis all together are living an untouchable life in a country that especially after the 2nd world war should know better!  Doesn’t make me like the French anymore!

The good news though is that the country seems to have recovered from its tempestuous past – let’s hope it stays that way.

Anyway on a happier note tomorrow I am going to go tracking the chimpanzees!

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