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  • Day26

    Day 26: Hotel Ruanda

    February 27, 2019 in Rwanda ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

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    Today I went on a day trip to one of the neighboring countries, Ruanda. Ruanda has a very sad history as in the 1990s as well as before that it had to experience genocide. The saddest thing is that most of us don’t even know about this genocide ever taking place ... at least I can’t remember anyone teaching me this in school. If you are interested I suggest you watch the movie “Hotel Ruanda” ... it’s a good movie which provides some insight into what has happened back then.
    Out of respect, I haven’t taken many pictures at the memorials ... it was a very emotional day with lots of tears.

    Apart from its history, Ruanda is a beautiful country. Very clean (plastic bags are illegal) and also quite developed in terms of infrastructure. I will come back one day for sure ...

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  • Day7

    It's all about the cache!

    July 6, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We had a later start today for the trip to Nyungwe Forest, with breakfast scheduled for 7.30am... but I've had my eye on a nearby cache, so this morning was our opportunity to attempt it. It is only 500m from our hotel, as the crow flies, but considerably longer following roads, so I discussed the best route with our tour leader, Aloys. He thought it was too far to walk and suggested taking a moto taxi, but Oliver wasn't keen on sitting on the back of a motorbike in Kigali's traffic!

    He offered to go as a detour on the way out of town, but I didn't want to delay the whole group, so he offered to meet us at 7am and take us alone, then come back for the group after breakfast. So we met him at 7am and drove to the cache site, at the entrance of a hotel. Amazingly, the road off the main road was rougher than any we encountered in Akagera! The streets were teeming with children on the way to school (7.30am start) and the hotel staff were interested to see what we were doing. They knew there was an "item" in the area, and that previous finders had looked on the gates, but didn't know exactly where it was. After a few minutes searching, we had it in hand, much to the delight of the hotel chef, gardener and security guards!

    We got back to the hotel in time to squeeze in some breakfast, and still made the 8.30am departure time with ease.
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  • Day17

    A Sunday at the pool in Kigali

    July 16, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Our last day in Rwanda, before our flight to Amman tonight. Qatar Airlines have cancelled all their flights to Kigali, and at the same time cancelled our onward flight to Amman - fortunately our travel agent was onto it quickly and rebooked us a Kenyan Airways flight to Nairobi, then Qatar Airways to Doha, and a new flight to Amman. The net result is that we don't have a 12 hour stopover in Doha and we get to Amman 4 hours earlier, so it's turned out ok.

    Late breakfast - massive smorgasbord of cereal, fruit, hot and cold meats, freshly squeezed juices (bush tomato was the favourite), pastries, cheeses and our favourite new term, active cooking!

    Aloys was available today to take people to the airport, shopping, to museums, church services and caching! A few went to the tail end a local church service (the full service was from 7am - 11am), while Kerry and Ruth visited the Natural History Museum and we went along to attempt the cache nearby.

    The museum staff first told us the cache was inside the museum grounds and we would have to pay $10 USD each to access it. The cache notes indicate it was outside the museum, so we declined her offer and undertook our own search. We found the spot indicated in the spoiler photo, but the cache was gone. The security guard told Aloys she knew the location, but she took us to the previous coordinates, so we went back to the correct spot and found an empty screw top container in the grass that looked like it could have been the cache container. We were carrying a spare log, so we put it in the container and found a more secure hiding spot very nearby.

    We returned to the hotel briefly before heading out again with Kerry and Ruth to the Genocide Memorial - Ruth to check out the souvenir shop, while we took Kerry in search of the cache we missed 2 weeks ago. We had it in hand very quickly this time, while 2 armed guards looked on quizzically - funny how on second look you wonder how you missed it the first time! We can now claim to have competed every cache in one country - I'm sure that won't happen again!

    Back to the hotel for packing, and the atmosphere has hotted up, with a live band playing near the outside bar. Sunday afternoon around this pool was the place to be seen pre-1994 - local families, expats, politicians, military and business people all mingled together and much of the capital's business was done here over a drink.
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  • Day3

    Doha to Heaven,via Entebbe

    July 2, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Wake up time was 4.20am for a 5am departure to the airport. The roads are busy already and the overnight construction is still going on - most construction during summer happens at night because of the heat.

    Our flight to Kigali was via Entebbe, Uganda, where we stayed on the plane for an hour while they cleaned around us. The jump from Entebbe to Kigali was the shortest international flight we've been on, 30 minutes. Fortunately for the hosties there were only about 50 people on the flight so they had time to rush some food around before we landed.

    On arrival in Kigali we were met at the plane door by a very welcoming airport staff member who checked our boarding passes (yes, on the way off the plane!), then escorted us across the tarmac to the terminal. First queue was to pay the the entry visa, which we were told had to be paid in cash, US dollars only, but they now also accept credit cards, which slowed things down a bit. Passport control was also high tech, with electronic finger printing done, in addition to taking our photo.

    We were met outside by our drivers for the next 2 weeks, and had a 20 minute drive to our hotel (some road line-marking slowed the traffic to a crawl at one stage while they were hand painting one lane of the zebra crossings)

    Rwanda is known as "the land of 1000 hills", and is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with a population of 12 million people in a country one tenth the size of Victoria. The capital Kigali is built around several ridges and valleys, so the distance as the crow flies is not large, but navigating the hills takes some time - and plenty of hill starts! Armed Police or army personnel man most of the major intersections throughout the city 24 hours a day, as a general deterrent, and Kigali is widely regarded as the safest capital city in Africa.

    Dinner tonight was at a rooftop restaurant with a spectacular view over Kigali. Goat cutlets and a Mutzig (local) beer for me, poached line fish and a Tusker (Kenyan) beer for Oliver.

    Stayed: Heaven Boutique Hotel
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  • Day4

    From Heaven to Hell

    July 3, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    7am breakfast on the outdoor deck of the Heaven restaurant, under the shade of an Umuvumu tree. This is significant because it's the tree which is found in many villages where they hold town meetings, and is a symbol of repair and reconciliation. For this particular tree, the workers cut through the large roots on one side of the tree when constructing the deck - even though the owners gave instructions to leave the trees untouched - but to their amazement, the tree sent down stilts to support and repair itself on the damaged side, and is still going strong today.

    After a fab breakfast buffet including fresh juice (pineapple, Japanese plum/bush tomato and mango), and an omlette toasted in a chipati, we headed out on a city tour.
    It's a public holiday today for Independence Day (it was actually on July 1, but is observed on the next working day), but the streets were still busy with moto-taxis, bicycles and pedestrians galore.

    Our first stop was the Genocide Memorial and Museum, which was a very sombre experience. On the site, there are 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide buried in mass graves, where tourists visit to pay respects, and locals visit to have a sense of family, where often they are the only surviving member of their family.

    The museum follows the history of Rwanda from pre colonial days to today, mainly concentrating on the 100 days from April to July 1994 where 1 million people were killed, mostly by machete.

    After the killing stopped on 4 July 1994, a government of national unity was formed, which urged people to rebuild their lives together, without seeking revenge - quite an undertaking! It's hard to imagine how they do it, but Rwandans try to meet face to face with the people who killed their loved ones, or with the survivors of people they themselves killed. They have a determination to move on with life, to get past the seemingly impossible, no matter who or what they must forgive, in others or in themselves.

    They achieved this feat through Gacaca (grass) courts, literally held in the village square, often under an Umuvumu tree. Over the space of 10 years, 12,000 community based courts were convened across the country, and 1.9 million cases heard - those who admitted their part in the genocide, confesed fully and asked for forgiveness face to face with surviving family members, were offered half their sentence as community service building roads, making bricks or building houses for survivors. Many survivors were able to learn the fate of loved ones, locate their bodies and bury them with dignity, often at the Genocide Memorial site.
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  • Day16

    Hotel Rwanda

    July 15, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Our last morning in the volcanoes region, breakfast was 8.30 and we chose the "active cooking" option (omlette cooked while you wait).

    The drive back to Kigali is only 80km, but the winding roads and number of hills makes it a multi hour trip, especially when you throw in souvenir stops!

    We departed Kinigi at 9.40am, had a lengthy stop at the local souvenir market, then a stop in Musanze for water. The town was festooned with red, white and blue, the colours of the president's party, RPF - the general election is on August 4 and the current president, Paul Kagame, was due to visit the region this weekend. As part of his election campaign, he offered free petrol to all moto taxis, so there was quite a queue at the local servo.

    We made a stop at the halfway point for some supplies of banana wines and to sample some bbq'd maize.

    We arrived in Kigali at 2.30pm and headed straight to the Hotel des Mille Collines - the "Hotel Rwanda", as depicted in the movie. Lunch was under the verandah near the pool (NY Club sandwich for me, chicken burger for Oliver).

    After we settled into our room, we went for a quick shopping expedition. While we waited for the drivers, we looked for the cache in the hotel car park. It didn't take long with 6 sets if eyes looking! (for the record, muggle Vaal found it)

    Shopping was at a craft market for last minute souvenirs , then the supermarket for food supplies. Tea was in the hotel's outdoor restaurant (pork chops, Nile perch).

    Stayed: Hotel des Mille Collines
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  • Day6

    Mongoose and markets

    July 5, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    This morning we had a game drive before breakfast, to try and see some of the nocturnal animals as they return home. Coffee was served at 5.15am and we were off in the dark at 5.30am.

    We spotted hyena in the distance and were pleasantly surprised when they headed towards us to check us out. The plains were teeming this morning with all sorts of antelope, buffalo, zebra and bird life (for the twitchers, the highlight this morning was a lilac breasted roller). The unexpected find was a family of mongoose we watched darting around the grass.

    We arrived back at camp at 9.00am for breakfast, then left the park by the northern gate for the trip back to Kigali. There is no road diect to Kigali from the northern end of the park, so we drove back to Kayonza, dropped off our National Park guide Herman, and continued on to Kigali for lunch (buffet at an Italian restaurant)

    We checked in at the hotel, had an hour to have a shower, and was ready to go to the markets for our first shopping opportunity (Oliver first had to meet Justifiee, a friend of the hotel receptionist, who is sewing up a dress and skirt for her from a local fabric).

    The market area of town was very busy, mostly with locals as there are are relatively few tourists around. All the shops sell the same range of products aimed at tourists, and bartering isn't done with much vigour - they will generally only take 1000 francs (approx $1.60) off the starting price - so the negotiations are over quickly. Our tour leader Aloys took us to a number of different shops and each shopping centre had metal detectors and bag searches at the entrance, which took a little longer the more everyone bought!

    Tea tonight was a banquet at Republic, including chilli coconut fish, goat stew, fried plantain, garlic potatoes and ginger rice.

    Some of the ladies wanted to return to the market to buy some more fabric, so one vehicle went back into the centre of town. The streets were still busy, but unfortunately most if the shops were closed, so no purchases were made.

    Back to the hotel at 10.30pm.

    Stayed: Heaven Boutique Hotel Chalet
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  • Day38


    February 8, 2016 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    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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  • Day40

    Kigali. Confusing Kigali.

    February 10, 2016 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    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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  • Day10

    Kigali Genocide Memorial

    June 18, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    I don't think I fully understood the concept or extent of what had happened during the Kigali Genocide even after going to the memorial and being given all the information I am unable to fully comprehend. I have so many unanswered questions and I left the memorial centre feeling numb and lost for words.

    The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. An estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, constituting as many as 70% of the Tutsi population.

    The genocide itself, the large scale killing of Tutsi on the grounds of ethnicity, began within a few hours of Habyarimana's death. Military leaders in Gisenyi province announced the president's death, blaming the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and then ordered the crowd to "begin your work" and to "spare no one", including babies.

    The Hutu population, which had been prepared and armed during the preceding months and maintained the Rwandan tradition of obedience to authority, carried out the orders without question.

    It is estimated that during the first six weeks, up to 800,000 Rwandans may have been murdered, representing a rate five times higher than during the Holocaust of Nazi Germany.

    Most of the victims were killed in their own villages or in towns, often by their neighbors and fellow villagers. The militia typically murdered victims with machetes, although some army units used rifles. The Hutu gangs searched out victims hiding in churches and school buildings, and massacred them. Local officials and government-sponsored radio incited ordinary citizens to kill their neighbors, and those who refused to kill were often murdered on the spot. "Either you took part in the massacres or you were massacred yourself."

    Road blocks were set up and people were obligated to present their identification card, if they were Tutsi they were slaughtered.

    The genocidal authorities were displaying the French flag on their own vehicles but slaughtering Tutsi who came out of hiding seeking protection.

    Rape was used as a weapon, during the conflict, Hutu extremists released hundreds of patients suffering from AIDS from hospitals and formed them into "rape squads." The intent was to infect and cause a "slow, inexorable death" for their future Tutsi rape victims. Tutsi women were also targeted with the intent of destroying their reproductive capabilities. Sexual mutilation sometimes occurred after the rape and included mutilation of the vagina with machetes, knives, sharpened sticks, boiling water, and acid.

    The genocide and widespread slaughter of Rwandans ended when the Tutsi-backed and heavily armed RPF led by Paul Kagame took control of the country. An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees.

    The systematic destruction of the judicial system during the genocide and civil war was a major problem. After the genocide, over one million people were potentially culpable for a role in the genocide, nearly one fifth of the population remaining after the summer of 1994. After the genocide, the RPF pursued a policy of mass arrests for the genocide, jailing over 100,000 in the two years after the genocide. The pace of arrests overwhelmed the physical capacity of the Rwandan prison system, leading to what Amnesty International deemed “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” The country’s nineteen prisons were designed to hold about eighteen thousand inmates, but at their peak in 1998 there were 100,000 people in detention facilities across the country.
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