DAY 62 WEDNESDAY 8th FEBRUARY 2017. RUSIZI, RWANDA
More of a mixed bag today. The morning was magnificent but by late afternoon I got in a bad mood. You’ll have understood by now that one thing that irritates me is when I feel I am being cheated or ripped off. All my innate stubbornness comes to the fore and I get pissed off! I made the mistake of thinking I might stay at the edge of the large national forest twenty miles from where I am tonight, until I realised that Rwanda is into fleecing the tourists like Uganda. I viewed several hotels and guest houses all of which had cranked up their prices (I left one with a sarcastic shrug, “I don’t want to buy your HOTEL, just a room for the night!” They wanted over £100 for nothing special at all). Another one showed me rooms of much lesser quality than I have used for the past four weeks for double the prices I have paid. Then I saw a bus full of white tourists and I understood that this is the policy where there are captive tourists. To take the 200 metre-long canopy walk – which is just some ropes slung at treetop level, fun to see and do but still just ropes at treetop level – is charged out at £50!! It’s TWO HUNDRED metres long! That’s a pound for about every eight steps you take or £2 a minute! I have done a fine treetop canopy walk with Wechiga in Ghana for about £2.50! A three hour ‘nature walk’ in the national forest is £40. I bet the guide gets about £2.
The result of all this – and then some kid demanded money, as has almost everyone I’ve stopped near today; he got the full brunt of my irritation – was that I rode away angrily, deciding that I’d have to make for Huye, the next town I intend to visit. It was over 60 miles away through the wonderful forest (where I can see as many primates as I would on a £40 walk). Thank goodness, I stopped and told myself that I was acting irrationally (I do sometimes!). I turned in the road and made my way back to the end of the lake and the scruffy towns of Kamembe and Rusizi, (which could be the same place with changed names…) for they were only twenty miles away and I was sure I could find some sort of accommodation here. I have. It’s faded and ratty but the staff are very friendly.
There’s a slight troglodyte feel to the stained hotel, built into the side of a steep valley, my room having its only window under a fifteen foot balcony of the bar above. Right in front, not much more than a couple of hundred yards away, rises the other wooded face of the river valley, with tall houses clambering amongst the trees. Over the small muddy river that is the end of Lake Kivu is a rickety bridge. I am looking at the Democratic (haha) Republic of Congo across from my room. Not far to the left is also the border to Burundi, neither country one that I can safely enter these days. So near yet so far thanks to African politics, corrupt leaders and internecine wars. The tall houses, that look expensive despite the fact that Congo is pretty dark at night, are probably those of the corrupt politicians, ready to be the first to leave and claim they were actually innocent.
It was a glorious morning when I left pleasant Kibuye. Sometime overnight, Munvaneza the hotel security guard, had done a magnificent job of washing and polishing my bike. It positively gleamed! He was pleased to be rewarded £3 for his effort. He probably doesn’t earn that in a day. It was cleaner than it’s been since it arrived in that truck from Nairobi. I’m bonding a bit better with it now. It’s still unexciting to ride and far too underpowered, and the seat is terrible, but I am easier with it now. I am so grateful for Rico giving me a pair of handlebars that are exactly the ones on my old African Elephant! One thing I DO appreciate is its lightness. When riding off road it is so lightweight and manoeuvrable. I’m beginning to think I just might keep it for another year. I still want to visit Ethiopia and having invested so much in this little bike, I guess it’d make the journey. A bit slowly, it’s true. I’ve another few weeks to decide. I’m wondering about a two-centre trip next time: southern Africa (Lesotho!) and Kenya/ Ethiopia. We’ll see…
It’s very confusing that these fine new roads that sweep and glide through the reshaped hillsides of Rwanda are not actually on the tourist maps on which I am relying for information. I felt completely lost by late morning: the lake was on my right, so I knew I was going south and I knew that when the lake ended I would be at the last bit of the country, but I really couldn’t get much idea of what I was looking at from the colourful but uninformative map in my pocket. However, it was a magnificent ride through the heavily cultivated mountains. At last, about twenty miles later than I expected it, I found the junction that led me to the tip of the lake, Burundi and Congo and, to the left, into the forests and over the hills to Huye. I turned right to see the end of the lake…
Here again were tea estates cloaking the hillsides so prettily. Tea and coffee are Rwanda’s main exports and currency earners. I rode off into one estate and watched many workers pulling at the top green leaves and tossing them into baskets slung from their shoulders. Their multi-coloured clothes made for great views, but as soon as the camera came out, so did a lot of jokes at my expense (by their tone) and the incessant demands for money in the one English phrase known to all, “Give me money!”
I’m finding it difficult to relate with the Rwandans. You have perhaps read that between the lines. Firstly, it’s a matter of communication, for outside tourist areas few people speak even French, let alone English. Then there’s the matter of everyone seeing me as a source of money in this Francophone country. Whenever I do stop and try to engage, hands come out palm up and demands – literally demands – are made: “Give me money.” After a time, it begins to rankle. As I ride everyone is ready to return my smile and give me thumbs-up, but if I stop, so many of them demand money… Of course, I generalise, as I have spoken with many charming folks too, but those who speak English are, of course, educated, and the educated don’t demand alms… It’s making me miss the Ugandans, almost universally charming and polite, with pride that’d never stoop to pointless begging, like almost all of ex-British colonial Africa but so familiar in every French African country I have toured. I have been thinking of returning to Uganda despite the driving! I did like that country. I have to get back to Kenya eventually and I feel that riding right round Lake Victoria might be tedious and rather flat. Well, doubtless I will make the decision on a whim as always!
There’s a genocide memorial in just about every village and town through which I pass. Maybe they serve to remind the populous of the terrible events and keep any repetition at bay. It impresses on me just how widespread the carnage must have been, for some of these memorials are in villages that must have populations of mere hundreds… Imagine the horror. It’s difficult. These people were neighbours, colleagues, schoolmates. Suddenly they became enemies to be annihilated, bludgeoned, stabbed, burned to death in churches. It is said that children as young as ten took part in the murders. Many of the people I pass on the road; who wave and give me thumbs-up, are murderers, and killed their friends and neighbours, defenceless children, terrified innocent women and weak old people. Mass graves are to be found outside almost every village and town. It’s a sobering reflection on mankind.
I asked amusing Renee, the young man who’s been looking after me since I found this somewhat grim hotel, where he’s from, for he has a narrow, ascetic face and a tall skinny frame. Many Rwandans are noticeable by their very small stature – most of them reach my shoulder at most – and squarish faces. “Ah, we have different tribes,” he explained. “We have Batwa (pigmy), and Hutu and Tutsi… I am Tutsi.” It was, generally, the Hutus who slaughtered the Tutsis in the genocide. Renee is, I suppose, young enough to have been no more than a baby during the 1994 rampage that reduced the population by about a fifth in a little over three months. He must have escaped.
It was Renee, with his rather earnest enthusiasm at helping a real foreign guest, that persuaded me to search no further tonight. He gushes with eagerness to help in a refreshing manner. By staying here I can still enjoy the ride through the national forest tomorrow, even if I won’t be partaking the canopy walk or guided tours. In the few miles I rode in the forest this afternoon, I saw large numbers of monkeys! And the canopy walk’s a bit like standing on a hill anyway! I’ll ride over a lot of hills tomorrow on my way eastwards.
Funny how one person or event can make the difference. Young Renee, in his almost pathetic desire to help, has made the evening better. “What do I have to do round here to get some warm water?” I asked before supper. He had forgotten to turn on the water heater. Several times over my not very memorable tilapia supper he gave me updates, following me to my room later and pushing into the bathroom to run the shower tap to prove that I could now have a hot (warm!) shower. You can’t remain disgruntled in the face of such ardent zeal!
DAY 63 THURSDAY 9th FEBRUARY 2017. HUYE, RWANDA
Oh dear, I’m on the slippery slope. Today I started my first beer before five o’clock, but only so that Sandrine, the lovely and conscientious server can go home earlier to her little boy. She insists that she must stay until my supper is served as she’s the only one here who can speak some English and I might get a bad impression. I tried to explain that I am the most flexible guest but to no avail. It’s her job – her duty – to make sure I am looked after. Sandrine is tall and slender and the first Burundian I have knowingly met. She’s very charming.
It took me almost six hours to ride from Kamembe to Huye, Rwanda’s second city; well, it’s not much more than a town really. The distance was a mere 75 miles, but the road was spellbindingly lovely. It passed through the extensive mountain tropical forest and climbed up to about 2500 metres, curving and winding amongst more impressive piece of road building. Rwanda is certainly a place of scenic delights. This was the best ride yet, over and through all that incredibly abundant greenness. I stopped often to gaze across the vast density of it all. Plenty of L’Hoest monkeys, with their white chin beards played and groomed by the road, not very concerned about the piki-piki rider that sometimes stopped to watch. Sadly, the chimpanzees were rather more shy. Apparently, you do sometimes see them from this road, so said John, with whom I chatted for some time at the park visitor centre.
John was driving and guiding a family of Americans, their tens of thousands’ of dollar holiday perhaps making up for some of the paucity of mine, in Government revenue. I spotted their receipt for US$240 on the book in front of the park officer for their brief canopy walk. John was more in tune with my form of travelling, it seemed, comprehending that I was as likely to see animals from the road as from an expensive guided walk!
Of course, my conversation with John was FAR more valuable to me than any guided excursions, even if we’d spotted chimpanzees at 200 metres! John is a Tutsi by birth and opened my eyes to so much I have been seeing – as he waited for his rich clients. “We are no longer Hutu and Tutsi,” he said, “just Rwandans. What happened must never happen again. You are right, the memorials you see are to remind us…”
Rwanda is very impressive in many ways. They suffered a terrible tragic, horrific event, and they have faced it down: are still facing it down. John gives much credit to the president, Paul Kagame, who’s been in power for 14 years. He is astonishingly advanced in his social politics. “On the last Saturday in every month we have Umuganda when everyone must take part in community activity from 8 until 11! You MUST do it. Even the President, if he is in the country, he takes part. At the least, one member of your family must be seen there. You must have a very good excuse not to attend: maybe you have to take someone to the airport or something, but if you are found driving about without a good reason, you’ll be fined by the community! And when you’ve been to the airport, you must stay there and join the activity before you go home again. We clean the streets, pick up rubbish and those things. Then, and this is even more important that you attend, we hold meetings; meetings in the community. We sit together and we discuss our problems: ‘I have a problem with this man…’, ‘there are difficulties with these land issues’… We discuss it together. We must never be Hutus and Tutsis against each other again. We settle our differences. And each month, if he is in the country, the President will visit a different district and community. It is announced and you must be there -maybe in the local stadium, or the mayor will choose some big place – unless you are unable and can have a good reason. The President, he comes and he asks the people, ‘have you any problems?’ And there’s a microphone, so you say, ’yes, I have a problem with this man… He is claiming my land!’ The President, he will ask, ‘have you spoken with your chief?’ ’Yes,’ replies the villager, ‘I have, but nothing has been done!’ Then the President will call on the chief to stand and explain! And if there’s no satisfaction, he will say, ‘very well, this will be investigated from Kigale!’ Also, the police, the army, they will help needy people. If the community says ‘this old man has no house’, or this old woman’s place is falling down and she has no children to help’, the army or the police, they’ll go and build a house even!”
As to the wonderful cleanliness (SO much cleaner than my own disgusting, litter-smothered land), it’s the responsibility of bus drivers, if they see a passenger throw a plastic bottle or rubbish from the window of his bus, to stop and make the passenger retrieve the discarded items. Wow, we could do with some of this imagination from our government.
Africa has always needed benevolent despots. Maybe here it has one? One can only hope he doesn’t continue until he’s 94, like other well known criminals, as he’s only in his late-fifties… Then in April, the anniversary of the atrocities in 1994, the whole country shuts down in commemoration. “For some people the memory is too strong and they leave the country,” said John. “April is a very quiet time for us. We remember. There were even small children killing. A small child killed his mother because she was a Tutsi. His father was Hutu and the boy sided with him…”
That child will be in his mid-thirties now, with children of his own. How can anyone live with that memory..?
My conversation with John, cut short at last by the return of his clients who’d looked at the tops of trees for £50 each, not into the depths of the human psyche as we had for that half an hour, was SO very valuable to my understanding of this small country and its recent appalling history. To have this trauma, this unimaginably horrible hatred, this incomprehensible tragedy – and to FACE it! I have so much respect for what I am witnessing in Rwanda. It even softens, to some extent, my dislike of ‘give me money’; but were I to attend one of the President’s public meetings, I feel I might out up my hand and ask him why, if he has created one of the cleanest countries it’s ever been my pleasure to travel in, he can’t stop the endemic, habitual demands for money from white-skinned people? “Yes,” said John, reflectively, “family members even killed one another. We must never let it be forgotten. It must never happen again. Our president is doing well. We respect him for his work in bringing us together. Those memorials you say you see everywhere; it happened in every community, however small…”
Tonight it was the turn of Sandrine, a Burundian refugee, to tell me some of her story. Her father was an army officer – on currently the ‘wrong side’ in little Burundi, where a few ruling families feud and murder for control in the sadly African fashion. Sandrine and her baby boy (father typically absent) and her brother managed to escape to a refugee camp here in Rwanda. Her father is somewhere in Kampala. (I passed a huge refugee camp on the way here this afternoon – but THAT one is for Congolese refugees…). Sandrine began to study medicine at the university in Bujumbura, but what with babies and politics, she has ended up working in a cheap hotel in Huye, Rwanda. “Oh, when I go home and I have nothing for my son, I sometimes cry. But what can I do? There’s nothing at home in Burundi… Here they pay me 25,000 Francs – a MONTH! (£25) But at home, what can I do? In the evening I must pay 1500 for a moto to get to my home. It’s far! And the ‘padron’ of this hotel, she give me sometimes money for the fare but not always. In the morning is OK, I can get the bus, 500 Francs… I was working in a job in the American embassy in my country. A lady, she saw me and saw I was good to working with customer relations, and she say, maybe I can get you work there. But then we had to leave. Men would come to my house and beat us wth sticks, my brother and me, because our father was gone away…”
Half the world lives with these dilemmas.
Up in the high mountains, I was riding on the Congo/ Nile river watershed. For Nyunguwe park claims to be the REAL source of the Nile. Water falling on the western slopes flows into the Congo and the Atlantic, on the east to the Nile and the Mediterranean. Seventy per cent of the rain that falls on Rwanda, falls on the Nyuguwe mountains, that reach to roughly 2500 metres in altitude. About two metres a year falls. Today, small localised showers could be seen all around, just a cloud at a time, fortunately, none of them over me! Scientists believe that these mountains were one of the only places in Africa to remain green during the last ice age, and thus the area has an impressive diversity of species and flora. Interestingly, begonias and impatiens are indigenous here, those delicate popular British garden annuals. There are also 140 species of orchids in this lovely park area.
All in all, a very satisfactory day! I reached Huye, very relaxed, about four in the afternoon, and set about looking for a place to stay. I tried a couple of smart hotels on the main street through the small town, both asking £25 or £30 and then wandered off, as is my wont, into a pleasant suburban side street. Here I found signs to guest houses and soon pulled into one: a place of newly built round houses. Sandrine welcomed me. The price is a very modest £10 for an en suite large semi-circular room (where to put the lavatory pan hasn’t been well answered in this configuration!). The place appears new and unoccupied. There’s a restaurant that conjured up some grilled rabbit (!) and I ate early so that Sandrine could get home to her child. Now it’s only 8.20 and I reckon there’s not much to do but go to bed!
Wherever I ride in Rwanda I cause a stir. It’s odd this, for there are tourists in Rwanda these days, although I have yet to see any independent travellers, only those on organised tours, even if just a family with their own guide. Not many seem to try to see Rwanda on their own. I realised that being on the motorbike makes me very accessible to the people, especially with my open-face helmet. I become a sort of public property, so unlike the average tourists, seeing Africa through glass and being seen, detached, behind that same glass. I am very much part of the landscape, exclaimed over as I pass, waved at, thumbs-upped at, yelled at, pointed out to babies and smaller siblings, commented upon and inspected when I stop in villages for tea. While it can get wearing, it’s fun too to be such public property, a representative of the mzungu race at close quarters. It’s very immediate and, since I love to try to understand my fellow people of other cultures so much, it’s a wonderful, immersive, immediate, intense and sometimes funny way to travel! I’m happy I’m not seeing the world through a tinted window but am out there in the dust, sun, rain, stinks, weather and mobs and multitudes.
DAY 64 FRIDAY 10th FEBRUARY 2017. MUHANGA, RWANDA
A cultural day, today: an ethnographic museum, the last King’s Palace museum and the National Art Gallery. What’s remarkable is that outside South Africa, there are so few museums on this continent south of the Sahara, and certainly almost no ‘museum culture’. There are some faded old places from colonial days here and there, generally looking very sorry for themselves with total lack of investment, but few others, and new museums are a rarity indeed. But all these Rwandan are initiatives from the past 15 years or so.
The Rwanda ethnographic museum has an impressive collection of the culture that was washed away by the TV and Coca Cola generation. It made me think, looking at those quaint old black and white photographs of people dressed in goat skins, beaded loin cloths, traditional headdresses, with braceletted arms, spears and all the traditional accoutrements, now totally gone except for tourist performances – it made me think that the later photographs were taken within my lifetime… Older ones dated from the early part of the 20th century, but there were a lot from the 1950s too. It’s like when I watch old Ealing Comedies: those whimsical kids in shorts, pudding basin haircuts and school caps could have been me. I don’t FEEL that old! A recreation of a chief’s hut and a fine collection of iron spearheads from the 18th and 19th centuries were the items that most impressed me. That woven grass and reed hut, so beautifully constructed, would have been seen in villages within my lifetime. How Africa has changed; all that tradition and culture wiped away by exposure to the cheap cultural and material values of American media now so prevalent. Of course, those times weren’t all good and cosy, much of that life was arduous, cruel and harsh, life expectancy short, disease rampant. Trouble is, in Africa, it still is, and it’s not improved by the aspirations created by the new world view people now have. Every day I tell people that unemployment is a world problem, not just – as everyone thinks – a Rwandan or Ugandan one. “Oh, in your country there’s work..!” I hear this every day…
The king’s palace in Nyanza is actually a rather ugly 1930s bungalow – with some fine local art decorations on fireplaces and friezes. On a hilltop, it must have been pretty impressive to those in the mud and grass huts around. Until, that is, the king went on visits to Belgium and came back realising that his palace was a mere colonial style bungalow. So he started to build a fine hilltop villa with balconies, terraces, sweeping staircases, terrazzo floors and all the rest. Unfortunately he died before it was completed and his son, the last king, who ended up scarpering to USA leaving a republic, never lived there either. Now that’s the national art museum, filled with a worthy but not very inspiring collection of ‘contemporary art’ from the region, derivative and not very African.
Behind the palace bungalow is the traditional palace, a recreation of the previous structures, magnificent domes of straw and intricately woven sticks and wicker. Lined with fabulous grass mats and adhering to age old traditional designs, THIS palace was impressive! So too were the royal cattle, a herd of cows with extraordinary horns a metre or more long, docile animals that seemed to like to have their heads scratched – but they are rather pampered beasts in the now museum compound.
I tried to visit two large genocide memorials today, one near the King’s palace and one on the side of the road, but on university grounds in Huye. In both cases I was stopped because I hadn’t got a ‘permit’, and getting one involved a great deal of trouble. What’s the point, I wondered – completely vainly to fairly basically educated security guards – of having a memorial if I am not allowed to visit it? Sometimes Africa can be so illogical.
So, after a flask of African tea on a smart hotel balcony, I rode north towards the capital, Kigale. But by four o’clock I realised that at the average speeds I ride here I’d still have a couple of hours to plod along on the curling mountain roads, so I decided to stop here in Muhanga, a small town that sprawls along a few ridges of the terraced mountainsides. It’s not very attractive, but there were various options for accommodation. I found a bizarre place tonight. It’s a multi-storey, shiny, mirror-glass place that seems to be an office block and supermarket. But instead of offices there are small hotel suites. I’m on the second floor overlooking the valley and have a sort of sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and enclosed balcony – that seem like they should be offices. But I have a first tonight! My £30 room costs me £15! That’s impressive, a 50% discount – or ’promotion’ as the quietly charming Pacifique described his reduction. Round the back, next to the supermarket, is a bar and restaurant and the whole place seems to have Catholic overtones of some sort and there are a great number of nuns visible about town too. It’s all a bit of a mystery, but who cares? It’s cheap and quite comfortable and the Turbo King is chilled.
There’s a middle-aged French couple staying here tonight. We all agreed that we had seen almost no independent travellers here in Rwanda or even Uganda. Funnily enough, I spotted their bicycles in the passageway of the hotel in Fort Portal a couple of weeks ago. They also bargained a half-price deal, but they managed it with a nun and that must be more of an achievement than my agreement with Pacifique! Beating a catholic nun down to 50% is momentous! We chatted for a bit over our suppers and I found them to be Africa enthusiasts, with a special place in their affections for Lesotho. Cycling there must be even more extreme than on these mountains. They are heading towards the lovely road through the forest that I so enjoyed two days ago. On bicycles it will be hard but wonderful, to experience the peace and calm of that landscape. Laughing, they agreed that they too will enjoy the ‘canopy walk’ by standing on the side of the shelf road and will get enough forest walking with their bicycles. You bet they will. That road climbs for tens of miles.
How I have been enjoying the cleanliness of this fine small country. It is so refreshing not to see blowing litter, plastic bottles, rusting cars, dereliction and dirt. People even care for the verges by their small houses, sometimes even to planting a little formal garden of clipped and topiaried shrubs. There’s been a government policy to replace all mud and thatch dwellings, which deteriorate quickly and are fire hazards, causing poverty and suffering. Everywhere are new zinc or pantiled roofs and poor but neat dwellings. The roads are generally excellent, the traffic light, disciplined, and courteous, the police apparently uncorrupt, vehicles kept to a standard, all the motorbike taxis licensed and their passengers helmeted. Traffic police are visible – I’ve been stopped just twice as they don’t usually bother with me. It’s relaxing to ride here. It doesn’t feel like Africa.
Conscientious Sandrine knocked on my door at 7.09 this morning to ask how my night had been. To my mind, at 7.09, it still was… Twenty minutes later she declared with another knock that my breakfast was waiting – the breakfast I thought I’d ordered for 8.15 to 8.30. Oh well, it IS her third language. So it’s been a long day. Actually, the night was stiflingly hot under an overweight duvet and sleep was intermittent. Yawning away at 8.30, there’s a lot to be said for fresh air, sunshine and complete lack of stress for a healthy life!
DAY 65 SATURDAY 11th FEBRUARY 2017. KIGALE, RWANDA
I’m not at all sure what to make of Kigale, Rwanda’s small capital city, a place of about 1.5 million, spread over a steep ridge and the surrounding hills. In some ways it is so unlike any African city I have seen; in others it could be on no other continent. There’s evidence of astonishing investment, tall modern buildings and an international feel (banks making a LOT of money of course), but at the same time I am constantly importuned by traders, touts and beggars. There are many trees and public gardens and neat roundabouts covered by clipped grass, smooth streets, quiet traffic; but at the same time you cannot walk on half the pavements because they constantly change level, have elephant traps in them and are covered in goods for sale. Traffic stops at zebra crossings – that’s amazing! People are well dressed and enjoying smart shopping malls and tidy coffee shops; but at the same time the street outside is being dug up by legions of poorly paid workers who are carried away crammed in the back of a truck. People are somewhat remote and aloof; but at the same time service is good and professional. There are policemen and women on guard tonight every block or so, cradling their guns; and at the same time I feel completely relaxed about my personal safety.
It’s so funny that all my friends were so worried at my intention to tour Rwanda – about which the world knows only one thing… Thanks to that horror, I am probably in the safest city in Africa! It’s probably safer than Totnes this Saturday night; it’s certainly quieter and less drunkenly rowdy (imagine a British town or city where the strong beer is 70p a bottle! It doesn’t bear thinking about).
So I have to reserve my judgement; my atmosphere metre is swinging wildly: irritated by touts and pan-handlers, impressed by the safety, absolute cleanliness (FAR cleaner than any town or city in England or Europe), and by the calmness but a bit at a loss with the distance and reserve of the people, for this is very unlike Africa.
It’s been a sociable day for once. This morning I was late getting on the road, well, I only had 50 kilometres to ride anyway. I chatted to Tija and Titol, the French couple for an hour and a half before I got on the road. It was fun to meet them and find a common love for Africa in general and Lesotho in particular. Also it was fun to find that we are all of an age: Tija is 67 like me and Titol her husband, 71. And they are bicycling over the Rwandan mountains, having started out in Ethiopia in late October. We shared a lot of enthusiasms and attitudes, not least the fact that old age is a mental condition, the only proviso being that you have to remain healthy, but then, people like Tija, Titol and I do exactly that! We challenge ourselves and refuse to grow old in attitude. Again, I must quote a friend, who from the age of his mid-forties, used to say, “Oh, I’m too old for that..!” and died aged 63, perhaps because he was old enough? There are some journeys that really worry me before I begin them, especially if they are likely to be physically tough, but I know that the rewards are conversely satisfying when I get to the other side. I hope I’ll meet Tija and Titol again one day on their farm near Nimes! Who knows? I have passed SO many ships in the night on my endless footloose travels…
In the afternoon I felt I had to exit the African street life for an hour or so, and stepped into a smart international coffee shop, the sort of place that only the well off middle classes of Kigale and foreigners can afford to frequent. I was joined by Ivan Gonzales, as Mexican as his surname, but not his given name suggests. A cheerful fellow, with some apprehension of going towards his 30th birthday, a significant and serious landmark in Mexico, he told me. He’s doing a Masters degree at a university in Germany in some sort of development and community work, having worked in the field for a number of years. His university sent him to the Eastern Cape for three months (Cape Town area) and now to Kigale for some weeks. Then he goes back to Germany for his second semester. We had a pleasant hour. The last time, well, the only time, I was in Mexico was in 1973, about 15 years before he was even born! “Eh! That was a different Mexico!” he exclaimed. Sometimes it’s impossible not to realise that I am now a senior citizen travelling the world! But who cares? I am still doing it with the same gusto I did when I was approaching 30. I was able to assure him that the early 60s is perhaps the best period of life! That amused him.
Finding my rather down-market place to sleep tonight was easy, as Tija and Titol told me to look for this place as I climbed the last hill to Kigale centre. It’s a bit basic but it is only a few hundred metres from the central part of the city, an easy walk up the hill. At £15 I can’t complain even if the decor leaves a lot to be desired and the room’s a bit of a cell. The Turbo King is chilled and the goat kebabs remarkably tender and if I keep the bathroom door shut the aroma of drains won’t impinge. The manager kindly insisted that I bring my bike under the yard shelter amongst the tables and chairs (empty but for me, the only other clients watching – inevitably – Manchester United play Watford on the loud TV in the bar). No doubt my breakfast will be taken next to my bike, as I am writing now as a shower falls. It’s been gathering humidly all day but I am delighted when it rains as I drink my beers. It probably means it’ll dawn sunny again tomorrow: another unknown day in Africa.
In Rwanda the bill is always brought to the table in a small hand-carved wooden, decorated lidded box, a nice touch.