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Friday, January 7, 2011

Airplanes, Rwanda, Uganda

Airports are weird places. They exist as large buildings full of people in transit, such that no one in an airport is ever exactly where they want to be. Those arriving from travel abroad are still a ways from home, those working wish their shift over - and those about to depart haven't a clue what they're in for. Therefore everyone in these locations are connected by a common displacement. With this is mind, you can understand that upon arriving to Kigali, Rwanda after twenty-one hours of travel, the last place we wanted to be was facing down customs and immigrations officials - being informed that we required a visa issue at home to enter.

As we came to understand, the visa regulations for Rwanda had been changed as of November in regards to Canadians. Now apparently Rwandan officials did not rush to get the word out, as our guide book and official sites still said that Canadians could receive them at the border or airport. As a result, we found our selves as the last people in front of customs at 9pm local time being told that the place we should go is 'back where we came from'. Not an option. Luckily, Jessica and I happen to be very lovable, and we adopted our most exacerbated and near-tear faces we could muster (part act, part pure exhaustion and frustration) and managed to guilt the guy into letting us into the country. I would meet a woman from Ottawa later that night who had had the same problem a week earlier - but had known the number of a local to pull some strings.

We were picked up at the airport by a young local named Jack, who I can only ballpark to be around my age. He was friendly and spoke considerable English despite telling us he was terrible at it. Rwanda, like many African countries, is predominantly French speaking. Such that sometimes exchanges between myself and the locals were confined to both of us trying to explain what we wanted in parsed English/French semi-speak. The biggest problem I had was that I actually instinctively kept falling back to Spanish when spoken to in French. Bad habit I suppose?

The hostel was nice and clean, and occupied by six students from Columbia University in New York. Talking among them was a man from Burkina Faso, a country in west Africa, that ensured me that when I come out to his country I would and must stay at his house with him and his wife and daughters. I didn't have the heart to tell him that chances were slim of me making it out there, not that I could have articulated it anyways - as he was another French speaking African.

We were picked up at our hostel (the Chez Rose) this morning at around nine o'clock and began the twisty drive to the Ugandan border. Kigali is a rather breath taking city. It's core is built in the valley between and extending up the sides of two great hills. As you wind your way around the different levels of the city, your gaze is drawn to the city limits which provide a vista of endless mist-capped mountains and terrace farms over rolling hills. The closest cities I can equate it to is a mix of Quito and La Paz, the way it is built at elevation into the sides of hills.

Outside of Kigali proper, urbanization is relatively non-existant. Farms and houses seem to melt into each other as well as the surronding landscape, with the one large paved road of Rwanda acting as the spine of the country. This road is also similar to Bolivia in a way such that the further from the capital you were, the worse it could be. Non-stop lines of people walked the shoulder of the road, and even in the most empty looking of areas there would be locals traversing the shoulders with various things being carried on their head. The diversity was amazing - people in suits, rags and everything inbetween carrying the crops from their fields. There was even one unfortunate boy who had no legs that was shuffling himself along on his palms...

The ride to the Ugandan border took about an hour and a half, with the first real town we came to being Rungheri, a mere 25 km from the border. The road is by no means straight, and twisted and turned up and down the spines and ridges of the rolling hills. The driver, like so many others in developing countries took the road at a pretty good clip - the difference being that for whatever reason, his car had the drivers seat on the wrong side - such that sometimes as he went to pass, the impomptu English/French silence would be loudly interrupted by meing say "NO, NO, NO!" as he thrust me, and my shotgun seat over the center lane into the path of an oncoming truck.

Border crossing was non-eventful, and we were greatful for it. Knowing that we would not be able to get back into Rwanda once we emigrated, we prayed very hard that nothing would cause an impasse on the Ugandan side. From there, we were retrieved and brought to Kisoro by one of the organization workers named Edison. Our arrival was punctuated quite enjoyably by reggaeton over the car's speakers, and a whispering of Muzungu by the people that saw Jess and me through the open window. It literally means white person.

The day in Kisoro has been fairly eventful, we checked into the Golden Monkey guest house and then set off with Edison to see the town after a brief nap. We managed to find a bank and some rubber boots for the Jungle. The poverty here is at a level I've never experienced, and it can really take you aback if you're not prepared for it. However, the people at the guest house, the organization and the town in general have all be very kind and friendly. It is about 10:50 local time, and we only had dinner about an hour ago - vegetarian chilli, very good! I think however that I will wrap this up and try to get some rest.

Tomorrow we head up to the National Park in the early afternoon, and I really have no idea what to expect!

Hope you all are well,

Much love, take care



  1. Your fist day sounds great! It reminds me of my time in Zambia, especially about the part of seeing people on the roads where it appears that you are in the middle of nowhere. Hope you have an amazing time! Enjoy the people and the monkeys :)

  2. thanks for sharing. looking forward to the next installment. stay safe.