Category Archives: Rwanda

WPC – Look Up To The Skies

A submission to this week’s photo challenge :Look Up – looking up to see the birdlife around us in Tanzania and across Africa.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth (Cultivating the Hills)

Our recent trip to Rwanda took us right through this small country from the border to Kigali and Gisenyi and back again.

One of the most surprising things was the degree to which this tiny country has cultivated the earth from valley floor to mountain peak. Here is my second submission to this week’s photo challenge.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Looking into the Future by Looking into the Past

These photos taken on Lake Kivu in Rwanda last week are a second submission to this week’s photo challenge: Future.

When we look at anything we are looking into the past as the light from the event, even an event like a lightning strike, takes time to reach our eyes. Yet we could also be observing our future – in this case the oncoming storm which hit just after we landed our boat.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Kigali – Looking to the Future

More than any other country I have yet seen in Eastern or Central Africa, Rwanda and in particular Kigali is a city looking to its Future. This is as much as to be drawing a line under its past but the futuristic architecture of the centre of Kigali is a testament to the distance this country has come in 22 years and its vision of a different Rwanda. Here are a selection of photos from our visits last week. Here is my submission to this week’s photo challenge.

A Mountain Detour and an Italian

Our journey back to Kigali was straight forward enough. Having decided against the Congo / Nile Trail as the roads were quickly becoming impassible (we started along it and quickly gave up – having had some unfortunate recent experiences!), we returned via the route from whence we came. 

   

  

  
    
    
    
    
 However, and hour or so in and seeing signs to Volcano National Park we decided to turn left. The next hour or so took us up into the mountains skirting the edge of the park and gave us some excellent scenery. The road itself remained good and doubled back to our original route puting us about 10K further back. It was worth the diversion and provided an interesting view of rural Rwanda.  

    
    
 
  



 Later we passed and explored a rope suspension bridge. 

    
    
   
Stopping in Ruhangeri we found virtually all the shops and businesses closed or closing. We managed to get a lunch order in for Brochette (meat kebab) and chips at a small bistro/bar before it too closed. Here in Rwanda they are observing a National Week of Mourning in commemoration of the 1994 Genocide. In this annual event the Rwandans gather at  memorials to remember their loved ones, this daily event closes businesses early in the afternoons with some re-opening in the evenings. We saw many Rwandans walking from these ceremonies as the finished or gathered in specific locations in every village and town. 

  
Approaching our destination we got some excellent views from the top of the ridge as we descended down towards Kigali. 

   
Reaching the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel our only frustration was the poor parking of other guests who made it impossible  to park inside. Seemingly unwilling to move their vehicles we unloaded and headed out to a fabulous Italian Restaurant (Sole Lunar) possible the nearest good Italian Restaurant to Mwanza (another 13 hours journey away).   


    
Tomorrow we head home. We have greatly enjoyed our first family  trip to Rwanda and hope to be back soon.

A Boat Trip to the Hot Springs

One of the things we wanted to do whilst here in Gisenyi was to take a trip to the Hot Springs. A result geological conditions here in the Rift Valley and the location on the volcano ( Mt Nyiragongo) super heated water emerges from the rocks on the coast of Lake Kivu where it mixes with the lake waters.

Initially we intended to walk to the Springs (a 4 hour round trip) but whilst on the beach we encountered a man with a boat and negotiated a trip by water – much more relaxed. It also gave us a chance to view the coast from out in the lake, including the massive Nyiragongo Volcano across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – see previous post

Our trip took a circuitous route out past the gas drilling platform avoiding it’s pipeline before heading around the coast.

Rounding the peninsular we approached a fishing village, this was also the location of the hot springs where we disembarked. Walking to the Spring we were shown to a bench and placed our feet on rocks in the hot waters of the lake, which had been cordoned off by sanbags. Two ladies then began a massage of arms and legs using the hot water which they rubbed onto the skin. The water in this pool was very warm – the temperature of a hot bath. There were other springs on land which were scaldingly hot as well as some in the lake which bubbled up into the lake water making the waters warm. After the massage we made our way to a second pool where I went for a dip in warm water – I will spare you the close up pictures!

The springs are sited opposite the local brewery which we passed upon our return. The boat sailed back past the peninsular and gas rig and on to the Congolese border before returning to the beach. Our return gave use excellent views of the Volcano plus a front row seat of a thunderstorm.

    
 

Living under a Volcano!

Gisenyi and the neighbouring city of Goma across the border in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) lie on the shores of Lake Kivu. Both of these cities are located below Mount Nyiragongo – one of 37 active volcanoes worldwide and located in the DRC.

Much of our time here in Gisenyi it has been hidden by mist but yesterday we were able to see it on a boat trip out in the lake.

  
In the night the volcano looks even more impressive with it’s red halo formed by the reflection of light from its enormous lava lake on the clouds of steam above.

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Nyiragongo is one of the world’s most active volcanoes at the moment and it’s lava lake is one of the largest.

On the Rwandan side of the border there seems little threat from this giant, but Goma has been affected as recently as 2002 with fast flowing lava streams leading to loss of life. Apparently the lava is so runny  it can flow at 100kph. Thankfully for now the lava remains in the crater lake.

Pictures (not mine) can be seen here.

One effect that does occur on our side of the border is the presence of hot springs which we visited yesterday and form part of the next blog post.

Gisenyi Beach Hotel

We’re here for four days in the Discover Rwanda- Gisenyi Beach Hotel. We booked this place on a last minute deal with Expedia and we’re really pleased with our choice.
    
This old colonial house is part of a group of hotels run by the Discover Rwanda Group which is linked to AEGIS Trust a charity supporting the country following the 1994 Genocide. They also run the Youth Hostel where we stayed in Kigali and the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. From AEGIS’s own blog the following quotation 

Through the Museum Cafe, the Museum Gift Shop and the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel we offer beneficiaries career opportunities in various industries by providing training in high-demand areas such as tourism, customer care and the culinary arts. We are committed to providing top-level training in skills that will create the best career opportunities for our beneficiaries and put 100% of the proceeds back into Aegis’ continued work in Rwanda

This also applies to our location too. We’re in a family room with a great view overlooking the garden towards the beach. 

  

  

 Gisenyi Beach Hotel has a relaxed home from home feel. A place to chill and unwind. 

   

     

  

  

 Food is excellent and in the evening as it cools to a chilly 21°C (for us that is cool!) they light the open log fires.  

   
 The hotel is a stone’s throw from the beach, just beyond the palms which are alive to the chatters of the hundreds of fruit bats hanging in the branches. The noise is actually quite soothing as you drift into sleep.   

   
The waters of Lake Kivu are warm and though the sand beneath makes the water brownish the lake is clean. 

   

Road to Gisenyi / Weekly Photo Challenge: Rwandan Landscape 2

This second submission to this week’s photo challenge: Landscape fits in nicely with our Rwandan Travelogue so a combined post.

The journey North West from Kigali towards Gisenyi takes you up and up through the mountains. Well maintained throughout this road takes about three hours to travel and the scenery is breath taking. As you climb you come across terraced hills (coffee and/or tea plantations) and cultivated values. The road undulates but eventually reaches just under 2500m. The  hills above are cultivated so that almost every square meter is given over to agriculture up to 3000m or so.


The roads are full of bikes some towed others walked and some ridden laboriously uphill but reaching great speeds on the downhill runs, heavy laden at 80km+.


Eventually a series of steep descents into the Rift Valley bring you to Lake Kivu and the town of Gisenyi (Rubavu).

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rwandan Landscape 1

A submission to this week’s photo challenge: Landscape

Crossing the border from Tanzania into Rwanda there is a change of landscape. Rwanda is a mountainous country, lush and green. Much agricultural land is confined to the valley floors, but is well used.Paddy fields predominate. Here are some pictures of our journey to Kigali.

Rwanda Genocide Monument

Genocide is the intent to systematically eliminate a cultural, ethnic, linguistic, national, racial or religious group.

The term did not exist before 1944 when it was used to describe the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish People. Sadly this was not the only occasion in which it has occurred and since 1944 there have been further atrocities.

In my lifetime there have been three major genocide events among others.

  • Cambodia – 1975-1979
  • Bosnia – 1992-1995
  • Rwanda – 1994

In 2013 I spent a short time in Cambodia and visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center in Phnom Penh – you can read about this place here. It was a both humbling and awesome experience and one which lives in the memory still.

 

On our visit to Kigali we visited the Genocide Memorial.

This like Choeung Ek is a place to commemorate the innocent victims of mass slaughter and both explain the causes and warn future generations of the dangers which led to genocide.

The account below is my understanding of the events leading up to 1994 and beyond and  any inaccuracies are my own. However I have tried to convey a simplified account based on information gleaned from the exhibit.

In the case of Rwanda the origins of the genocide lie with the colonial powers who ruled this country, Germany and notably Belgium in the post world war 1 era. Belgium strove to impose a view which divided the hitherto uniform Rwandan society into three groups Hutus (85%), Tutsis (14%) and Twa (1%). In particular they allied themselves with minority Tutsis whom they regarded as more intelligent than the majority Hutus. Over time this differential split society into privileged and underprivileged. All Rwandans were allocated identity cards which (in some cases arbitrarily) conferred one of the three ethnic groups. Hutus were discriminated against but as general education levels rose became more vocal. Eventually the Belgians realizing the errors of their ways reversed the situation and Hutus took power. On independence in 1961 Hutu goverments dominated and discriminated in their turn against Hutus. Even so in many communities Hutu and Tutsi lived alongside one another and we’re friends, in some cases their was intermarriage. When in 1973 a hardliners sized power tensions increased still further. A narrative developed referring to Hutus as ‘cockroaches’ and stirring up racial tensions. Many Hutus were driven out of the country and a rebel group RPF was formed made up of mainly Tutsis. The army was solely Hutu and there was also the Hutu militia (Interahamwe) who were being trained up. In spite of attempts at a peace treaty, and following a plane crash (shot down by assailants unknown) which assassinated the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents in 1994 the violence erupted.

On April 7th 1994 the genocide began, Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 100 day period. Neighbour turned on neighbour, friend on friend, urged on by the Hutu government and it’s militia.

An estimated 1,000,000 people were killed in this period (20% of the population and 70% of Tutsis). Much of this killing involved machetes, clubs and other blunt objects. Tutsi women and girls were raped (many by men with known HIV), Tutsis were maimed and killed. There was no leniency shown to children or the old all were targeted and often mothers and fathers were murdered in front of their children or vice  versa. The West ignored or in France’s case actively supported the Hutus prior to the genocide and in spite of warnings the UN reduced it’s peace keeping forces prior to the genocide. The RPF mobilized and strove to regain the country and after 100 days drove out the Hutus, many fleeing to Congo DR.

Below are images from the memorial.


Particularly harrowing are the images of children all murdered in the genocide, either hacked to death, burned, shot or stabbed.

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The time since 1994 has seen a reorganization of the country and attempts at reconciliation, which appears to have been largely successful. The large death toll and HIV infection have nonetheless left an impact, but the country looks to be booming 22 years on. It is only to be hoped that the racial tensions of the past have been reduced. The exhibition ends on a positive note referring to the way survivor victims have moved on.

The gardens beyond the memorial house the mass graves and like Choeung Ek are a place of peace and reflection.

From the grounds of the Memorial Garden you can see the skyline of Kigali rising like a Phoenix from the ashes a symbol of hope for the future of this country.

The Road To Kigali

We departed Mwanza just after 5:30pm on Friday. Destination Rwanda! Our first stop was to be Shinyanga just three hours down the road but enough to shave off our journey to allow a realistic arrival at the border

As we travelled south we saw flashes of lightning indications of the oncoming storm. 

  
As night fell so did the rain but the road to Shinyanga was fine other than the extensive use of speed bumps and the insistence of most Tanzanian drivers to keep their lights on full beam. There were many Kamikaze frogs leaping out in front of us on the roads as we travelled.

  We finally pitched up in Shinyanga at 9pm and looked for the recommended hotel- not as easy in the dark. Eventually we found the Diamond Fields Hotel. Initial perceptions were good, the rooms were clean and the food menu was extensive. 

For three of us the food promise fulfilled expectations but the fourth meal, a cheeseburger was missing the vital ingredient- the burger. There followed a long discussion in Kiswahili about what actually constitutes a Cheeseburger, our waitresses and chefs adamant that the constituents should resemble a hot cheese roll. After over ten minutes of arguing  and resorting to google images we eventually got a burger! At midnight!

We resolved we would leave at 6pm forgoing the breakfast! Although our rooms were comfortable enough sleep was a little disturbed by the sound of the adjacent nightclub, alternating with the cacophony of croaks of the locals frog chorus and finally the local Imam who sounded like we was praying right outside our door for the morning call to prayer!

Our morning journey went well – the roads were good and we made excellent progress. 

  It was as we were nearing the border that the roads began to crumble. Speed slowed as we needed to negotiate significant pot-holes. The number of lorries (especially Petrol Tankers) did nothing to speed us on our way. 


The cars taking vicarious routes along the broken road.  



There were vain attempts to repair them with earth being used to infill the pot-holes. 

We reached the border late afternoon and waited for the officials to process our visa applications. 

The other side of the line there were changes. Rwanda is a much cleaner place, a ban on plastic bags contributing to a lack of litter. The roads are much better too as we climb through the hills to Kigali, passing rice paddies and other farms.             

       

 At 6pm we reached Kigali and our accommodation -Discover Rwanda Youth  Hostel.