Monday, 11 September 2017

Rwanda - A Country of Hills and History



One country in Africa has had my attention for some time now…the reason being that this country suffered so much tragedy not many years ago. The tragedy put the country in the spotlight but today, the country has made itself one to visit!

You guessed right, it is Rwanda! I visited! I stayed at first in Nyamata, outside the capital, Kigali. It is about 30km and a 30 to 40 minute drive into Kigali. Nyamata might not be the usual urban city but it has its own allure. I stayed in La Palisse Golden Tulip hotel. I hear it is government owned. It has the facilities needed for a comfortable stay.
One side of the hotel
There is an Olympic sized swimming pool which is well maintained.
I was there for work but I have learnt to seize every opportunity! After work, I stayed on for five more days to explore. The training I attended took place in the same hotel. Having the pool to go to each day was a delight!

The rooms were neat and spacious, the bed was so good and the hotel had everything necessary for a comfortable stay. There was wifi everwhere in the hotel.

The view from the balcony of my room
I could jump into this bed anytime!
Rwanda has a high elevation so temperatures are cooler, compared to my country, Nigeria. The weather in Rwanda ranges from 12 °C to 29 °C

The people -  I was told that the people were somewhat reserved but I found that they were normal and outgoing. It may have taken knowing them more to discover if they had reservations confiding in other people. Living in a place is always different from visiting so who am I to say?
They are law abiding, which helps to keep the country in order. Well, I noticed from going around that people talk comfortably on their phones when driving. The conversations could last a while and it seems like people aren't bothered by it. While I was in buses, this was usual with the drivers. Back home, someone would be quick to remind the driver that he is driving! This made me notice how drivers speaking on phones contributed to slowing traffic down.

Food - Things I have found everywhere are roast goat stick meat and boiled plantain (either in sauce or plain). They eat a lot of rice and irish potatoes, swallow/fufu. Nothing unusual.

Going down memory lane…

Rwanda faced its biggest tragedy in 1994 for a period of 100 days when the genocide happened. We were briefed on the day of arrival that one thing not to do in Rwanda is to engage in political discussions/debates. Especially using the words Hutu and Tutsi following the genocide. The government set some strict laws and went through a lengthy reconciliation process so the people decided that they were all one people, Rwandans. They no longer think of themselves in factions. Those words attract a prison sentence!

Nyamata has one of the genocide memorial sites so I went by. The story was quite unpleasant, the country has done its best to keep souvenirs of the event. The memorial site in Nyamata was formerly a church. People ran to the church for refuge but were massacred. The church was filled with clothes of people who died there. Skulls and bones have been preserved, so we saw a lot of them. 

One of the stories that had me sick to my stomach was of a lady who was raped by many of the perpetrators. Like that was not enough, they put a log of wood through her private part and forced it through till it came out of her skull. Her coffin now represents all the women who were raped then killed, as the site guide mentioned that all the women were raped.

Genocide memorial in Nyamata

When I went to Kigali, I started by going to the site where the Belgian Peace Keepers were killed. 
Plaque with their names

The building
Stones from Belgium set up in a circle to show their formation

The day after, I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial centre...it was horrible! 




The genocide is depicted in films, accounts by victims who are alive and in pictures with notes under them. I understood there that rape was one of the weapons used to harm the Tutsi women or Hutu women who were married to Tutsi men. They were gang raped, brutally, then killed or left to suffer then they were killed slowly. The only crime these people committed was being born into their ethnicity. I had lumps in my throat, I died too many times inside...I thought I had it all together until I walked into the room where photos of children were displayed with their stories. The way one infant was killed...he was smashed on a wall! Good grief!!!!!!!

I took a moment to collect myself before I walked out of the centre. There is a yard and from what I noticed, people came out of the centre sad, some crying, so they would collect themselves on the benches. 
The yard, there are a few benches around...
A lady beside me was crying, while another one was speaking to her and trying to comfort her. I looked up at some point and the comforter had just stepped away. I walked up to her and asked if I could give her a hug and she held so tightly onto me saying thank you. These connections of us all being human beings warm my heart. When she finally let me go, she asked for my name, then we shook hands laughing. Just then, a young couple of Indian descent walked out, the guy was pacing in circles while the lady walked straight to a bench and started crying. Someone came by to comfort her just as I was leaving. It was hard, it was heavy. My conclusion at the end of the visit was that "we all have it in us to be evil...how we choose to live and the decisions we make have an impact on others".
 
The genocide trend...hoping it is over for good!

Discovering some of these sites was something I knew I had to do while in Rwanda as my trip would be incomplete without seeing these sites. After these two, I was certain that I would not be visiting any more genocide memorial sites, I couldn't stomach more. Not all stories are pleasant when travelling, but I like to educate myself on how the human mind works, even when it includes finding the good, the bad and the ugly. George Santayana succinctly wrote that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

Many people who knew I was in Rwanda mentioned that all they think of when they hear of the country is the genocide. Rwanda has gone past it...

The lovely city of Kigali

I noticed on the way to Kigali that it was an uphill drive. Apparently, the city of Kigali city sprawls across hills and valleys. Rwanda is known as the country of hills. I wandered around the city and Kigali sure lives up to all that I have heard. The streets are super clean, I did not see litter anywhere. Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda so paper bags are used instead. That was a pleasant surprise for me and it makes complete sense not to only keep the environment clean but also to respect it.



Nyamata is also clean and I was told that the cleanliness applies through out the country. I noticed this on my way to, and in Kibuye. Kigali is referred to as the cleanest city in Africa.
 
Clean streets, the convention centre and Radisson blu in sight


Kigali
We drove past the presidential area where we were not allowed to take photos and the Hotel des Mille Collines stared at me. It took me a few days before I could go back there. That is the hotel that was depicted in the famous film ‘Hotel Rwanda’. When I finally went, it was surreal to be sitting there where people were once trapped but shielded from being killed.

That compound

Hotel Rwanda!

This amazing woman came out with her husband to meet me at the hotel. We had a few exchanges on twitter and finally met in real life! It was a pleasure to meet them.

Not the best photo of us but I had to share..

When I moved to Kigali, I couch surfed for the two days I spent there. I had a great host and his house was a five minute walk to the famous convention centre. I was told how expensive it was, it was beautiful! 

My host in Kigali
There were police men all over in the city. It could make anyone nervous but I realised that they were not there to harm people. I didn't feel unsafe in Rwanda at any point. Wherever one was not allowed to take photos, someone would mention it once they noticed anyone trying to do so.


The Italian restaurant in the centre was recommended as the one of the best in Kigali so I hurried over for lunch! I was torn between a ravioli and a pizza, in the end, I opted for a chicken pizza. It was good!
Starter

Yummy...
After lunch, I went upstairs to get a view of the city from the top of the convention centre...

This roof top hang out spot is so chic!



I met this lovely woman and we went on chatting for hours like we had known each other for forever. She is such a delight to be around

Finding Lake Kivu

Rwanda has a few lakes but Lake Kivu happens to be one of the 20 deepest lakes worldwide. This lake flows to the Democratic Republic of Congo (one of the four countries Rwanda shares a border with). The area has such a beautiful scenery from photos I had seen and what I had heard but there is not very much to do. 

I haven't had a proper holiday this year. I looked at things to do in Rwanda before going and decided I would spend two days in Kigali and the other three visiting Lake Kivu. I knew it would be relaxing to spend time reconnecting with nature. I was excited about the trip.

I checked for hotels online and liked Bethany hotel. It is affordable, has a great view and was just what I was looking for. I took a standard room. I was travelling alone so that was perfect. It cost 25,000 Rwandan Francs per night (bed and breakfast).
The only way to get to Kibuye was by public transport. My host was kind enough to get me a taxi to take me to Nyabugogo bus station, my destination I found out was Karongi bus station. The fee was 2,500 Rwandan francs. The bus ride was smooth and the driver seemed to know the route well. Even when his speed increased, I don't think he went past 100 at any point. He didn't seem to be going too fast. The road was windy, uphill, but good. It took three hours to get to Kibuye from Kigali.
Managed to get this shot on the way...
You know that one person who throws up in the bus travelling with public transport, she was seated on the same row with me! She had her daughter with her who would not have been more than 6. The girl was so peaceful. When her mother started throwing up, she did so in a cloth she was holding. This she did over her daughter, as she had her daughter on her laps. I felt sorry for the girl. There was a stop where people came off to get food. Madam bought food also...I was thinking to myself that if she has motion sickness, she shouldn't be eating but oh well! The young man who was by the window sitting next to this woman let her have the window seat. The throwing up continued, at some point, the young man left the seat to her as some of the vomit got on him. He was quite upset. Someone in the row just in front came off so he moved. I couldn't follow the conversation as I do not understand or speak Kinyarwanda. The next time I looked over, her daughter was throwing up...I digress...

Anyway, on getting to the bus station, I asked how to get to Bethany hotel. There was nothing like taxis there. I didn't know my way. Even though my suitcase was small, I wasn't ready to look for the hotel walking. There were motor bikes, so I got on one. The ride was long, I made the right choice not to walk! I figured this was the kind of place where having a car was key or relying on these guys.



I arrived the hotel on a motor bike! The staff watched me carry with my suitcase up the stairs (luckily it was not big), not even a smile, I wondered if that was the usual welcome. Anyway, I had a reservation so was shown to my room. 
 
The view from outside my room


This was my sitting spot right outside the room...don't you just love the vintage look?!
Single rooms but had two beds, the matrasses were good so I can't complain...
There was wifi everywhere in the hotel and the beds were comfortable. The view...the view was everything! I fell in love with Lake Kivu, with Kibuye.

Being my usual active self, I immediately started wondering what I would do so I went back to the reception to make enquiries. I could take boat rides to some Islands or walk into Kibuye which I didn't think was close. I reminded myself that I was there to rest so I took it easy and just stayed with the view for about an hour then went down for lunch.
Look at that swanky looking bar!

After lunch, I ventured out..as I started to walk, I realised that it would be a long walk. It was dusty, I didn't have the right shoes, so I didn't go far. The lake had a different colour from one side which was a good discovery from my hike. 
The lake looks greenish on this side


The dusty trail leading to the hotel
Lake Kivu
Just as I got to the hotel, it started to rain...so that was the end of the day for me... 

The next day, the sun came out :-) It was glorious!


Soaking in the sun
I met a French lady at breakfast, we had a brief chat and parted ways. Later on, I thought I might take a boat ride and went to find out prices, only to meet an interesting group of people from the UK! They had a plan to ride out and watch the sunset. They invited me to join them and I did. 
While I was chatting with one of them, I recognised a few of them from the Kigali memorial centre. It turned out that the lady I gave a hug to was one of them, so was the Indian couple! She had told the lady I was speaking to about the hug. When she showed up, the one I was speaking to reminded her of the incident then told her I was the one...she was speechless. Sometimes we cross paths with people without knowing why!  
Our boat...the lady I gave a hug to is right behind me
 
Meanwhile Titanic was happening in front of the boat


Watching the sun set on the lake

 
We arrived Peace Island in three boats




Of course I had to ditch the skirt!
I asked about the payment for the boat trip but was told not to bother...I had a free boat ride. Yaaayyyy! It took about an hour and a half to get to Peace Island and return to the hotel. The ride was about 12 to 15 minutes long (one way that is).


The hotel is such that guests have their privacy and can do without meeting other guests...it is quiet. There is no intercom in the rooms so if in need of anything, guests have to go where their need might be. It is a great destination for a retreat or for a honey moon.

One tip when going to Kibuye though...take snacks along, especially if you do not have a car. You'll have to cover a bit of distance to get anything and getting a means of transport out is not the easiest. If you love walking, you'll have no worries.


The 18 days I spent in Rwanda were great and this is a country I would recommend that you visit, it is more beautiful than I imagined...Know what, feel free to contact me to plan your trip already! I promise I won't charge too much!


Also featured on BellaNaija

11 comments:

  1. Beautiful Country! Nice write up. I would love to visit this serene hotel because you have described it

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    1. Thank you Maryanne. You should go when you have the chance to!

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    2. Nice work...i feel like i went there already. I particularly like ur summary where you said we all have evil in us, it's all in our choice of how to live-that's how I choose to interpret if u don't mind. Well done!

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    1. I imagine it will be so much fun with you around!

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  3. So much wonderful and sad information in this post! So informative. I love how the pool was on top of the building and how there isn't any liter in Kigali. I know if were to visit any memorials I would be blubbering like a baby. It really just hits me, how inhuman other humans treat other humans. I can't believe it was just back in the early 90's and stuff like this was still going on and I know other countries are still struggling to this day. It is so sad. #gltlove

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    1. Oh I forgot to ask where were you not allowed to take pictures? Was it political/government buildings?

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    2. I'm glad you found the post informative Chasa. Yes there were a few places where it was not allowed to take photos for ex, when passing the presidential area. But in general I could.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your delightful stay in Rwanda but I am quite jealous that you did not jump in the first plane to Bujumbura...maybe next time!!! Cheers.

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    1. I wish I could have gone also but will keep Burundi on my list of places to see :-)

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