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  • After our not so relaxing relax day from yesterday, we made up for it today!

    Jack and I decided to separate for the first time since we got here (except the couple hours Jack spent alone in Addis when I wasn't eating). She wanted to do a tea factory tour, and I wasn't that interested. We decided a bit of time apart isn't a bad idea. I got to just walk around Gisenyi and walk down the beach, enjoy some quiet solo time. To be honest, for me, it just confirms that I'm not that great with solo traveling. I don't get enjoyment out of doing it alone, I like the company. I'm not outgoing enough to just meet people along the way. So I checked out the town, mapped out where I wanted to prep our picnic lunch date, and headed back home for a peaceful tea and reading.

    Jack unfortunately didn't get to do her tour afterall. She got there successfully with the minibuses but apparently the factory was closed for the day. At least that's what the security guard could gather in English. Little did I know she was back in town after just an hour.

    Meeting at our hotel at our agreed upon time, we went to the local market to gather our lunch - salad, fruit salad, and chapatis! It was too easy, no one in Rwanda has set foreigner prices on us... All fairly priced produce. Drop by the supermarket (which is what they call their do it all corner stores) and off we go! Incredibly peaceful, waterfront, waves and birds being heard, Valentine's day lunch. Again, only thing missing is hand holding and steeling kisses.

    I lied about the birds. It sounds like birds which makes it sound better. It's bats. Tons of them. I don't get it, I thought they liked the dark, but there's hundreds of bats hanging upside down in the trees above us. It's kind of cool. I've got batman imagery in my mind... Lol.

    We took the lunch as an opportunity to "check in" with each other. Open and honest communication y'all! I finally got to articulate why it is I'm so impressed with myself here, and I'll try to do the same for you all.

    Over the last few years, I've seen my anxiety worsen. Situations that would not have affected me in the past have started to make my heart race, to keep my up at night, making my mind go over and over possible outcomes, making me react inappropriately to situations, to make me doubt doing certain things, or stop myself entirely from certain experiences. I've travelled long term in the past, but it's been a few years since I've left the country for longer then a few weeks. I thought my increased anxiety would translate to my needing certain comforts. That I would have a stricter limit on how long I could be put in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations before my body or mind gives out. I thought I could no longer tolerate, as well as I used to, not knowing where I was staying or going. All these preconceived notions about my anxiety is why I'm so impressed with myself today. I have been in uncomfortable situations, I don't have my usual comforts or support system from home. I don't get to go home and hide for a few days when I'm overwhelmed, and yet, I'm doing great! I'm eating all kinds of new foods (as you now know, my anxiety is closely related to my ability to eat), I'm staying in all kinds of accommodation (including homestays), and leaving towns and arriving in towns with no set plans or need to set plans, I'm doing great. And I'm proud. I just thought I'd share this proud moment of mine. :)
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  • We're in Rwanda! Kigali to be exact! We treated ourselves - I'm writing this blog while laying in bed, eating my first chocolate bar since I've arrived, and drinking from our mini wine bottle. Simple pleasures.

    To save on the details, we took a boda-boda for 10 minutes, a minibus for 2.5 hours, another minibus for 3 hours, a shared taxi for 30 minutes to the border, and this same shared taxi for another 2.5 hours. And done!

    As you'll notice in the photos, the first bus stop we were dropped at this morning was very official. Obviously they pack the minibuses very well - 12 official seats, with up to 23 people in them at any given time.

    Timing was flawless though, we'd get off and there was another bus leaving... And we scored big time with the last shared taxi! For the same price as what our book was telling us it would cost for a ride to Kigali after crossing the border, this taxi picked us up in Kabale, brought us to the border, where we all crossed by foot, then picked us up and we drove into Kigali. And this time, unlike the one on the island, Jack and I shared the back row of the car with one person, one seat per person! Luxury!

    The border was hilarious. A wooden gate lifted by a person to let the car in, which pulled over to the side to let us out. We all go in line at the exiting Uganda office, where we filled out an exit card, got a stamp, and were told to go on. We had our east Africa visa so no charge for us. We then walk about 6 minutes on a dirt road surrounded by construction trucks over to the Gatuna Immigration office. We hand over our passports, simple questions, thumb print and photo and that's it. We walk back to the car, they looked through our bags really quickly, and off we go to Kigali!

    We've been told by many travellers that Kigali was something special! It was organized, and clean, and welcoming. I was expecting to be wow'd. Meh. It was hot, we decided to walk up to town from the bus station, which even the book says you need "gorilla legs" if you decide to walk it instead of taking public transportation. I do not have gorilla legs. But we made it! One soaked freshly washed t-shirt later we were at the top of the hill! We asked about 5 different people where this central roundabout was called Place de l'unité Nationale. We were pointed in all kinds of directions. Turns out, if Rwandans don't know where something is, they point somewhere anyway.

    A 3km walk took 2 hours. And at this point, with all the transportation, my last meal was an egg and chapati at 10am. It's now 5pm and we've just dropped our bags off at our room. I'm hungry! FYI our lonely planet map blows for this town, nothing makes sense on it. Restaurants aren't where they should be. Roads entirely are missing or just wrong... It was so frustrating.

    The town appears at times just as disorganized and chaotic as any other city we've seen, and at other times there's street names displayed, actual roundabouts, street lighting, well manicured landscaping along the streets all making it appear organized.

    Our home for the night - a nuns convent! We're room A1, that means the very first room after passing the group of nuns sitting at a table reviewing the Bible together. How perfect! It's the cheapest place in town, and quite the ambiance! Once we got back to our room in the evening after diner, we could hear their choir practising, seranating us!

    I got to call my mom from a coffee shop today, best Wi-Fi we've had yet! Felt nice to hear her voice. Jack was asking me the other day if I missed anything from home, I told her I didn't miss anything at all, just people. My friends, my family, being surrounded by people I love and I know love me... A month into this trip, and I don't miss any foods, or my bed, or my shower or clothes, just my people.
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  • Rwanda, why are you treating me so? Bus ticket offices? Listed destinations? Displayed prices? Set departure times? Actually leaving at these departure times? Just as I was starting to master the chaos of travelling in East Africa, you take the chaos away. Too much comfort, this is weird.

    In Nyanza, there were signs all along the way to the King's Palace and National Art Museum. The King's Palace was a great big straw hut, filled with rules and traditional ways like the king having his own entry to his bedroom, the Queen having to go another way, and having a sitting room for the chiefs and another for their wifes, having to walk out of the court yard backwards as to not put your back to the King, having a house for the virgin girl who takes care of the King's milk (yep, she's not allowed to marry if she's in charge of the milk), having an enclosure for the Ankole cows which are only used to parade (well respected, prestigious cow) ... Interesting. We weren't allowed to take pictures unless we paid extra, so sorry if the ones I have are blurry, they were taken behind the guide's back... Lol.

    Jack did the art gallery on her own. I had appreciated the paintings for Kigali but this was sculptures, something I usually end up mocking for thinking I could do the same... She loved it as usual. Not a difficult person to please.

    As I'm reading this to Jack, she believes I did not speak enough about the cows. Added info - their horns can reach 2.5 to 3m long. They're keeper sings poems to them and pets them. Quite different then the usual cow treatment.

    Jack also commented I should add a bit about our bus ride over to Huye. We paid for a Volcano Bus, which usually means it's a direct express bus where you actually get your own seat. It's not more expensive then the minibuses, same price, but you have to wait for the departure times, whereas a minibus leaves as soon as it's full enough. Little did we know, we took off with Jack having a mother with baby next to her, while she sat in the fold out middle isle seat. We then stopped 2 minutes outside of the city to pick up others, including another mother with baby now sharing Jack's middle isle seat. I was laughing behind her. If you know Jack, she's not the biggest baby fan. She now had 2 mothers breast feeding 6 months old babies on either side of her, while she sat with one butt cheek on the bus seat and one butt cheek on the fold out seat. Priceless. Rest assured, she still managed to sleep!

    Staying in Huye for the night, a university town. The campus was beautiful! There's a full on forest next to it, monkeys and all. I can only imagine myself finishing class and going to study amongst the monkeys! Still getting stares from everyone but not much commenting.

    Now that we are out of the capital, we are getting some "Give me money"s but not anywhere near as often as Ethiopia. People still try to help us as best they can, but the English in incredibly limited. I just had difficulty telling the waitress to come back in 2 minutes because we hadn't chosen our meal yet... English and French wasn't working so I pretty much just motioned my hand for her to leave the table... I felt bad, but when words aren't working, you're left with motions.

    FYI - a test to see who reads this - I changed my lockscreen photo when I got here to one of my family at a paint night event. My brother is next to me. I decided if I felt "discovered" or if I was asked about my family, I could show them the photos of my husband and his sister and mother... Lol. So far I haven't had to use it, but it's there in case!

    So Frank, you're my safety husband!
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  • Odd combination, I know. For most of the trip, Jack and I have found a way to compromise on our styles of traveling. I usually like to take my time, doing fewer towns whereas she likes to bus hop with our backpacks on from town to town, sleeping in the last one we wind up in. Unfortunately, a compromise means I don't get enough time in places and she doesn't get to move around as much as she's like. So for these last couple days, we're doing it her way. It's exhausting! Lol.

    Huye and Nyanza yesterday, today Murambi and Gisakura.

    Murambi had a memorial we wanted to see because, as per others, it was a very moving experience and they displayed preserved bodies exhumed from the mass graves. They were right. It started with much of the same information as the first memorial about the history before the genocide and the events that unfolded. But this specific site was set in a school where an estimate 50,000 people were killed between 3am and 11am April 21st. One day, 50,000 people. The bullet wholes still seen in the walls. Preserved bodies in lime (they become white), some showing expressions of terror, some holding each other, some holding their children. Tiny bodies, on display. After seeing this, you really wonder how anyone could ever have attempted to call this an ethnic war or civil war.

    Following this, a lovely walk back to town brought us to a bus, which brought us to a town, which had a car conveniently going to where we wanted to go, which drove us to Gisakura National Park head offices, which had the hike we wanted to do leaving NOW as per the office... I was starved! And we all know I don't do well hungry, and the hike is 4 hours long, and it's now 1pm and I haven't had lunch. Arg! So I bought 4 bananas and a waterbottle and rushed to change my shoes, and shot something angry at Jack to express my hatred for rushing, and off we went! I calmed down once I had my banana and cookies. :)

    The hike was through one of Africa's oldest rain forests, and the vegetation was absolutely gorgeous! You know you're amazed by everything when you listen to information like "that is the oldest plant on earth" - a fern - and you're amazed! The waterfall at the end was strong and perfect.

    Of course we thought 63$CAD was absurd for a room at the guest house across the street, so starved and grumpy we made our way to town, 8 long minutes of walking, to find a place for 37$CAD. Still not anywhere near our usual price, but Rwanda's expensive y'all! 50$US each for this 4 hour walk...

    Leaving on this trip, I had a set idea for a budget. Im the type to convert prices every now and then to make sure I'm still on my mark. I wanted to average a maximum of 100$US per day, since according to everything we read, Africa was expensive! This was to include safaris (if we do them), our hikes, diving when we get to the coast, everything. To my surprise, Ethiopia, the country in which we were spending the longest, was super easy on the budget! 35$US was our (very rough) calculations, right on par with the books budget suggestion of 30$US per day, seeing as it was written 3 years ago. Jack's more the type to just keep it as cheap as she can without holding back on things she wants, and it all works out in the end.

    Basically this little budget insert is maybe for those looking to do their own travels! No matter where you go in the world, there's expensive countries and there's cheaper ones. Rwanda - expensive. Food is double if not triple that of Ethiopia. Accommodation is double the price at its cheapest. Transportation is slightly more, but not crazy. Activities are all more expensive. The little we saw of Uganda, seems more affordable then here. Food at least was cheaper. I guess we'll find out when we tally everything in the end.
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  • Alright Rwanda, pick a name already! Honestly, except for Kigali, the capital, every town we've visited has changed their names either in recent years (so it shows as both options in lonely planet) or in the last year. For the most part, we've been attempting to explain where we want to go, plan buses, ask questions about towns, all of which we are referring to in the wrong name! The worst part is when taking the bus, because there's so little English, communication starts with us expressing where we want to go, and them telling us how much, and they hand over the ticket. The destination is written on the ticket. The following towns, all of which we travelled to, were written on the ticket as a name we didn't recognize :

    Huye was now Butare
    Gikongoro was now Nyamagabe
    Kibuye was now Karongi
    Gitarama was now Muhanga
    Gisenyi was now Rubavu
    Ruhengeri will be Musanze after tomorrow. That one we looked up!

    So for example, we were headed to Kibuye yesterday. We asked for Kibuye, they give us a ticket written Karongi. We confirm with the ticket lady that we are going to Kibuye, not Karongi, and she says "yes yes Kibuye". So off we went. We also confirm with the guy checking tickets on the bus "Kibuye not Karongi" to which he responds "Kibuye Kibuye". We arrive at the town of Karongi, as indicated by many signs, and a lady next to us tells us to get off. We were so confused, especially since our book said it would be a 5 hour bus ride and it had only been 2.5 hours (but as you've read, our Lonely Planet has been terrible for Rwanda, it's like they never came to do the research). At this point there's about 5 people telling us to get off, none of which have enough English or French to explain why, and the bus driver who is supposed to signal to us when we're there, drives off. Jack and I are still so confused. The people around us yell at the driver to stop, and finally a lady turns to me and says "change name, Kibuye now Karongi". Ah ha! English! So we get off. Turns out, they all changed names! Now we know to ask all possible names so we can avoid this in the future.

    Yesterday and today were a mix of transportation and relaxing. We stood at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere waiting for a bus for about an hour yesterday, getting us to Kibuye, a town of lounging and enjoying the scenery. There's apparently a beach somewhere, but about 2 feet wide of thick grainy sand, so we just went for a walk and enjoyed the green everywhere. Even the ride over was gorgeous! Field after field of green farming perfectly squared off. We stayed at a church of course, Home Saint Jean, where the room was clean and cheap! It was at the very tip of a little peninsula on the lake, perfect location and amazing views for 6000RFr for the night (10.90$C). Coming home on Saturday afternoon, we heard 3 different choirs practising for tomorrow. It was a beautiful and serene atmosphere.

    We walked around town, stumbling upon a market yesterday. Jack had a craving for guacamole the other day, so we challenged ourselves to make some! Got what we needed at the market, borrowed the tools from the restaurant at our hotel, and voilà! Some pretty decent guacamole, not that I eat it, ew avocado, but Jack liked it! :)

    We debatted if we should stay a second night to just laze around, but decided to make our way to Gisenyi (Rubavu now), a very similar low key water front town. We were told the transit time was 3 hours, which is easy, plenty of time to relax at both towns. Turns out, we left at 1pm and arrived here at 830pm. Yep, not so relaxing of a day after all. Our second bus was supposed to take 3 hours and it took over 4.5. He kept stopping at all the towns but then waiting there... Who knows for what. And of course no one had the English or French to try and explain the ridiculous delays. So we wait. Jack likes to remind me that the lack of communication only confirms that we really are somewhere where we are the minority, we have the true opportunity to see Rwanda as Rwandans do. There are so few tourists here, it's impressive. Untainted land to discover.

    We still managed to finish on a high note, walking over to our chosen accommodation, settling into our room (Presbyterian Church this time!), going out for some local food and having a drink. We're planning a picnic on the beach for lunch tomorrow as our on little valentine's day date. We'll see how that goes!


    Travellers we met along the way have said Rwanda is very safe. I didn't understand what they were comparing it to, or why, but that's what people said. Turns out, at night, even if it's dark out, you do have a sense of safety - people are still walking around, no one appears to hesitate around each other no matter the time of day... We met an Indian man who lives in Kigali who said he tried living in Kampala before settling in Kigali but choose to leave because he couldn't walk around at night. Here, he can. And I get it.

    I also have this odd, undescribable impression of Rwanda that I will now attempt to form into words... The people still all seem to be mourning... Or if it's not mourning, there's a certain lack of liveliness... It's all quite somber, or maybe more reserved. Yes people will say hi to you, they will giggle and stare, but as a general feeling, it seems somber. I absolutely loved my few days in Uganda because their people were all so smiley and welcoming and open to attempt communication, even if it's without words, there's happiness and liveliness all around. I don't have that same feeling in Rwanda. Like I said, hard to explain. I wonder if what used to be mourning is now almost a cultural trait, a way of life learned through sadness...
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  • Apparently our really long and confusing walk from our first day arriving in Kigali was not enough to teach us a lesson. We started off our first morning here thinking we could walk to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. We set out, following our lonely planet book we were 2km away... We asked about 5-6 different people along the way all pointing to different directions. Even the motorcycle taxi men had difficulty telling us where it was... After an hour of walking, we gave up and took a moto-taxi. Turns out we were in the right district, maybe 4 blocks away. But with all the hills and wavy turns, we wouldn't have found it alone.

    The memorial was an incredibly emotional and eye opening experience. We spent over 3 hours here reading their displays, seeing their photos, hearing their video testimonies. 1,000,000 people dead in 100 days. Their neighbours, the same people with whom their kids played the day before, were now the ones murdering their family before their eyes. I learnt a great deal. Now, everyone I cross on the street who's 27 years old and up, I wonder what have they seen? 1994 was not that long ago, I was 6. I would remember too if my family was killed all around me. What these people have seen, I can't imagine. Before leaving I was asked to write a message of my experience. I responded "I find it incredibly overwhelming to think of a message to write on a piece of paper right now...", and the man responded "that's perfect, write that". So I did.

    Our afternoon was lighter, spent looking at 3 different art galleries. We've now learnt no walking, so we motor taxi'd to the first and walk to the others (google map helped with that). Jack was in heaven! Unlike me, she grew up going to art galleries and art shows, learning about all these great artists and techniques. She's in her world when she's surrounded by art, and she loved every bit of our afternoon.

    Another moto-taxi and we're at Hotel Des Milles Collines, or as some of you know it, Hotel Rwanda (the movie?). This is where the Belgian owner decided to stay with his family instead of fleeing, taking in Tutsi and moderate Hutu people. We read this was the place to have a drink, but it was empty. We used their maps and reception staff for directions before heading out. Beautiful hotel, we'll kept, metal detector to get in and everything, fancy!

    Interesting that the book mentions this hotel as a memorable place post genocide. This entire city is a walking memorial. The church in which we're staying, St Famille Church, housed and protected over 2000 people! Not mentioned in the book. The way we see it, Hotel des Milles Collines was recognized as a memorial because it was a white man who stayed to help, when he could have fled. Though this is honorable and note worthy, there are an incredible amount of places and people that deserve all the same recognition. Interestingly, as most would assume churches are always safe havens, there were many churches who's clergy actually betrayed the people they were told to protect. There are 2 more notable churches south of the city who, through information given by the clergy, became mass graves and mass killing sites, including grenades being thrown and people burning alive! Some of these are mentioned at the memorial centre, with pictures of nuns and priests being prosecuted for war crimes.

    We had originally thought that we would leave Kigali the next morning. But both Jack and I felt we hadn't done Kigali justice. I can't say I like this city yet, it's not walkable, I can't find anything, and no one seems to be able to help me with directions... All the buildings are well kept. Lawns are well manicured. There's traffic lights. Helmets for the moto-taxis. It is a very different city then what we've seen so far, and yet I can't say I'm attached or have any opinion formed yet... So we decided an extra day might give us a better opinion; be it a "turns out I love it" or "nope, I don't get it".

    Day 2
    Turns out, good decision! We managed to walk first to the Kamp Kigali Memorial, this time having researched the Google map ahead of time and following with my gps. It was here that 10 Belgian UN workers assigned to protect the prime minister were brought and killed, encouraging foreign troops to exit Rwanda. This was what started it all. Bullet wholes in the building, 32 years old was the oldest killed of the 10, again an emotional experience. There was these two posters, side by side, showing a very VERY simple way of looking at conditions that make for a genocide to be possible, and how to avoid genocide. I attached a photo as it resonated with me.

    We then made our way to another district called Nyamirambo, which was lively, and colourful, and full of little stores and restaurants and tons of bars. It's considered the Muslim area, but we rarely saw a veiled woman. I guess even in their area of town they're a minority. We got stared at all day, long prolonged mouth wide open stairs, but all out of what seemed like curiosity. I didn't feel judged, they were all really curious. Not too many yelled comments at all, very few "mzungu"s.

    We did a version of a day time pub crawl, walked for a bit, sat and shared a beer, and repeat. We wanted to be in this part of town of the night life so we knew we had all day here. 8 hours we spent in about 5km of town. Thanks to my gps on my phone, we didn't get lost. Didn't need a moto-taxi. It was a great and satisfying day, capped off with a shisha bar before bed... At 830pm. Yes, we set out to spend a night on the town in one of the liveliest places in Rwanda, and we were laying in bed by 830pm. In our defence, we went back an hour when we walked across the border from Uganda, so for us it felt like 930pm! Kigali, you've been alright.

    As for the people, we are pretty much left to our own devices. I can't figure out if it's just that they've seen plenty of white people considering they have a lot of NGOs and expects, or maybe they just don't care... It is rare that we get "hello" from anyone, even kids. No one asking for anything. The prices quoted to us are usually always fair. Even the motor taxis haven't tried to screw us over too much... Some speak a little French, some a little English, but still quite limited so we haven't had the chance to really have a conversation with anyone yet. They pretty much just keep to themselves, which leaves us to wonder uninterrupted.
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  • Gisenyi was perfect for relaxation. We had an amazing diner at a new Californian restaurant where we actually had baguette with pineapple chutney, and actual goat cheese, and caramelized onions... So good...

    We left early to get to Musanze so we could organize some tours we wanted to do. And then it happened. We were on the minibus about 20 minutes outside of town and Jack realized she couldn't find her phone. Last seen, in her bed last night. So we get off the minibus, pay, then cross the street and wait for another minibus. Thankfully they never take very long. Get to our "centre d'accueil", remember - this is a church, so I'm feeling good about our chances - and sure enough, phone still on the bed. Second take, off we go to Musanze!

    Again, pretty easy. Get off the bus at the bus station, follow lonely planet map to Amahoro Tours, only to find where it should be it wasn't. Then someone who clearly sees we're somewhat confused signals us to follow her, through a little alley, in a back alley, and into a courtyard and we're there! Turns out, we were at the right place but we never assumed there would be no signage at the street or any indication... Here, we reserve our camping tent, our village cultural tour and our banana beer making course. Done deal. The Red Rocks accommodation from where all this is based is outside of town, so they supply the transfer over after giving us time to explore the town for a few hours. Too easy.

    Once at Red Rocks, they decided to give us a room for the price of a tent, they say it's because they like us. We'll take it! This is turning out to be quite the useful last town in Rwanda. Harriet, the manager or something, is also planning to go to Uganda, but she says she's going tomorrow (17th) instead of the 18th because she believes the border will be closed the 18th. Even better - we get a ride! She's originally from Rwanda, her family moved to Uganda after the first genocide (1964ish), then in her childhood they moved to New York and eventually California. Anywho, she's organized our "cultural" tour to be in the morning, we get back, have lunch, do banana beer and off we go all together to the Ugandan border where she says we can then stay with her family for the night. How absolutely perfect!

    This hostel has a very easy vibe, relaxed, 3 other travellers. Breakfast included, communal meals, too easy. We're hoping to get to know some of the local culture tomorrow since it's our last chance in Rwanda and we feel we haven't seen much of it... Let's hope for tomorrow!
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