Swivs Travels: Uganda 2003 - Part Twelve

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Rwanda, understandably, is even less prepared for the safari-tourist than Uganda. I imagine that the exception to the rule may be the trips to see the Gorillas, but we didn't get to experience that wonder. It is a place I'd love to go back to for a lot longer, when I can speak some French and get hold of a Landrover to take myself around. I have to say that I wouldn't want to drive it myself - I'd be too scared having been on Rwandan roads - so I'll have to find someone with nerves of steel to come with me.

In the end, inevitably, we didn't see any Colobus monkeys in the forest patch that's supposed to be home to a troop of about a hundred. I think we were there a little bit too early in the morning and they were all still asleep wherever it is that monkeys sleep. We were able to spend a good amount of time in the forest though, and saw some lovely birds - though they just wouldn't stay still long enough for us to photograph!

Our guides were very apologetic that we hadn't got to see any monkeys and so only charged us the park entrance fee, leaving off the $10 for a monkey visit. They also offered us a lift to Cyangugu - the border town at the southern end of Lake Kivu, and our next stop. We were very grateful for this as we had been going to have to hitch-hike, and so far that morning we hadn't seen any vehicles.

We had very little reason for visiting Cyangugu apart from a burning desire to see Congo, even if we couldn't get there, and planned just to stay there overnight before heading to Butare. Cyangugu is actually two towns - Kamembe, the main town straggles gently down the hill towards the lake over about 3km. Cyangugu itself is little more than a border outpost. It is right by the lake shore and features the harbour, the post office and a couple of hotels. We stayed in the Home St Francois, a tidy little hostel run by nuns, and spent most of our day looking longingly at the Congolese border.

Somehow I hadn't expected to see many people crossing in and out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'm not sure why, just because the British High Commission would have started flapping its arms around wildly at the idea of us wanting to travel to north-eastern Congo it doesn't mean that no-one would go. Cyangugu itself is wonderfully dilapidated, our guidebook described it as looking like a movie set and in a way it wasn't far wrong. With its grey and brown tones and stillness it screamed out for photography.

We saw no other mzungu in Cyangugu - in fact we'd not seen any since leaving Kigali - and found ourselves remarkably little pestered. We did briefly gain a stalker, but we lost him by heading into one of the hotels to grab a soda. Having not seen another white person for two days it came as quite a shock when we found ourselves, next morning, in a matatu travelling back towards Kigali that was filled entirely with mzungu. These were five Americans who had been leading a pastoral conference in Bukavu - across the border in DR Congo. When we heard this we went a little bit green around the gills, but otherwise it was a good trip back. I think the drivers decided they were getting enough money out of the mzungu because they didn't try and pack the matatu to the rafters. While this made the trip slightly more comfortable it also meant that when we went hurtling around the corners on the road through
the forest we slid all over the seats and had to hang on because we weren't jammed into place.

We had decided to spend a night in Butare before heading back to Kabale the next day. Butare is Rwanda's university town and compared to Kigali and Cyangugu it looks strangely clean and tidy. It is home to the National Museum - which we didn't have time to visit, but it looked almost ridiculously smart when we drove past. We had some Rwandan money to use up so we headed out to the markets and craft shops. Fiona had promised some friends at home that she would bring a sizeable drum back for their small percussively-minded son. We had seen some beautiful drums in Kigali and hoped there would be some in Butare as well. I had set my heart on returning home with a small carved table and since that was all my weight-allowance could cope with (and that only just, we later discovered) I decided I couldn't take a drum as well. I'm still regretting that slightly - the drums made a gorgeous sound, and I was sorely tempted. I would have bought a smaller one but they didn't make such a lovely resonating boom and I passed.

The next day we headed back to Uganda, first by mini-bus to Kigali - the 'taxi punctual' - and then matatu to the border. There was no shoe polish on this trip, just at least half a dozen people too many crammed into the bus. At the border we changed the last of our Rwandan francs - Fiona managing to confuse the money changer who tried to con her out of a couple of thousand shillings by her sheer ability to do mental arithmetic - and were squeezed into a share-taxi back to Kabale. This was probably the most squashed trip we took - there were five of us in the back of the car, and four in the front, including two people in the drivers seat. I'm still not sure which of them actually had control of the car as I was busy concentrating on keeping my neck intact. Fortunately it's not far from the border to the town, and we were soon safely back in Visitours.

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