Saturday, August 25, 2012

Eastern Rwanda: A land of a thousand hills

From Kigali we headed west to Nyungwe National Park, a high altitude, mountainous rainforest that is about a 5 hour drive from the capital. Monika and Martin who had left for the park a day earlier had had issues finding camping there (the parks board apparently were charging $30pppn for a site with no water or facilities!) and had kindly organised our accommodation for the following night where they were staying at the Gisakura Guesthouse. The guesthouse is attached to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s research station, about 20 minutes past the visitors centre, and should be booked in advance due to limited capacity. Its rooms have shared bathrooms and include breakfast; I think we paid around $50pn.

The view on the drive to Nyungwe National Park
Hills as far as the eye can see
Originally we had intended on seeing the chimpanzees as that is what the park is most famous for; unfortunately this really also needed to be booked as they only do two tours per day for 8 people and this activity was full for the time we were there. Again I can’t remember the exact cost, but I think it was around $80- $90 per person. Either way, we weren’t too disappointed having already been to see the gorillas. Also the drive to the park and within the park is beautiful. You can do hikes, bird watching, etc., however we opted just to drive around, enjoying it from the road. We were able to see monkeys on the road as well as the large tea plantations just outside the park. All lovely and at no additional cost. 

Nyungwe National Park
Tea plantation
Tea leaves up close
Tea and more tea...
We met these two little boys while taking photographs of the plantation after
they ran at least 500m after our car :-)
We drove to Kamembe, on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a short drive from the park, where we had a nice lunch while enjoying lovely views of the lake and what was on the other side. DRC looked really beautiful from where we sat.

More hills on the way to lunch in Kamembe
The DRC border....
...and the view of DRC from across the lake
A couple of days in Nyungwe was nice and enough for us to decide to move on further north along Lake Kivu. There are a couple of different routes you can take but we decided on one of Rwanda’s only bad roads so that we could take the scenic route along the lake. The road wasn’t great but certainly not the worst we’ve had and the surrounds and views made it all well worth it; Rwanda really is the land of a thousand hills! The drive was absolutely stunning; very green with views of the lake, lots of terrace farming and a number of amazed locals who are probably not used to many foreigners out that way. Having said that, the kids were well versed in asking for things, money, food, etc. But all were harmless.

View of the lake from the road
Notice the small islands...not what I expected at all!
Rice farming
Another amazing view of the lake, hills and islands
And more islands!
Hills, hills, hills!
Terrace farming. This is every where in Rwanda
We eventually arrived at the town of Kibuye, situated about halfway north on Lake Kivu and another stunning area. Initially Mike and I had planned on having lunch there and then heading further north in the afternoon, but only 20 minutes there and we decided to follow Monika and Martin and stay a night as well.

In Kibuye we stayed at Centre Bethanie ($25pn), quite a basic establishment but located right on the lake and with a good bar and restaurant. The town itself was quite small with a good fishing industry. Kibuye is also infamous for its role in the 1994 genocide where it is reported that 9 out of 10 Tutsis were killed. We had a quick look at their memorial (there are memorials in every town) and the church behind it before heading north the next day to the town of Gisenyi, this time on tarred roads.

Where we stayed in Kibuye: Centre Bethanie. Not too shabby a location!
View of the lake from Centre Bethanie
Kibuye: Fishing town
Kibuye Genocide Memorial with skulls on display of some victims.....
......and Mike's rather inappropriate t-shirt for the visit. We didn't notice it until we
were leaving
We had initially planned on a couple of nights in Gisenyi after hearing how nice it was and after our quick stop in Kibuye we had expected it would be a bit the same. However it was not! Gisenyi is located at the top of Lake Kivu but doesn’t have the beauty of Kibyue. It also had a bit of a sinister feeling, although I can’t say why it felt that way. It felt like a really quiet town where big things could happen at any moment. Perhaps it was that the town shares a border with Goma, DRCs largest eastern city? Either way we decided that the afternoon and one night there would be enough for us. Accommodation there was also limited; we stayed at Peaceland Hotel, basic but ok for $35pn with breakfast.

The lake beach at Gisenyi
Tree lined road in Gisenyi
View of the Lake Kivu
And view from our hotel in Gisenyi
One last dinner and drinks with Monika and Martin and we again went our separate ways, Mike and I heading to Uganda the following day. On the way out of town we had a quick look at the border where there is a large stone fence separating Rwanda from DRC. Surprisingly what we saw on the DRC looked very nice with large houses lining the fence. It would have been good to have gone across there for a day however the $80 visa and the $30 return visa into Rwanda made it a bit of a deal breaker! 

THE wall....
......and the houses that line it on the DRC side
Road to DRC border and the town of Goma
And so, we headed north towards Uganda, stopping for a nice lunch at Virunga Lodge which overlooks the Virunga volcanoes and lakes Ruhondo and Bulera. The view was amazing but lunch less so and in hindsight a drink there would have been enough. Still it was a nice way to finish our time in Rwanda, a country that we had enjoyed so much and were (with the exception of RHS driving) very sad to be leaving! 

Virunga Volcanoes: Too bad about the haze :-(
View from the lodge
Mike and I while waiting for lunch (feeling a bit sad about leaving Rwanda)
The view from lunch... much better than lunch was!

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