You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 6, 2010.

Still trying to sort out seeing the gorillas in town at gorilla hq. Not only is the internet unbelivable bad, it’s also hard getting any cash out to pay for anything. The other priority today is finding out where to watch the second leg of the Arsenal v Barcelona game tonight!

Still undecided about seeing the gorillas so we left town heading towards Gisenyi, on the shore of Lake Kivu. I instantly realised on leaving town that we can’t leave Rwanda without seeing these rare primates so will sort the tickets out in Kigali when we arrive there towards the end of the week. It often works like that. Luckily, despite all the hills, Rwanda is a small country so it is easy getting around.

The weather perked up and we got a great view of the lake as we decended into town. Rwanda is incredibly beautiful. We could see the distant hills of the Demoratic Republic of Congo, which unfortunatly our carnet doesn’t allow us to visit. Lake Kivu runs 100km along the Congolese/Rwanda border.

The seven volcanic peaks make up the Parc National Des Volcans in north west Rwanda: Nyragongo 3470m, Karisimbi 4507m, Mikeno 4437m, Bisoke 3711m, Sabyinyo 3634m, Gahinga 3474m, Muhabura 4127m

Route taken: Kabale, Katuna (border crossing), Byumba, then mountain road to Ruhengeri

We’ve now covered 16,419 miles since London – half of that going round in circles in Ethiopia!

First border crossing in Africa where we haven’t needed a visa so we were on the move again quickly after exchanging the last of our Uganda money. Rwanda joined the commonwealth last November, the latest non former British colony to do so. After the genocide sixteen years ago, Rwanda has transformed itself and improved it’s border realtions with the DRC. English has also replaced French as the first language taught in Rwandan schools.

In the run-up to the election in August, there are reports that Rwandan’s government has been attacking and intimidation it’s critics.

We realised we had crossed in the right place for Kigali, but not for Ruhengari where we were heading, so after 20kms we stopped in Byumba and and took the road through the mountains to head north-west to point us in the right direction again.

It was like being back in Ethiopia again. Mountain passes that took us through some spectacular scenery. We followed a ridge looking down over tea plantations and had groups of kids jumping and waving at us as we passed. Then came cedar forest and several wooden bridges that we had to cross. After several hours we were back on track again and on tarmac for the last stretch to Ruhengeri.

We want to spend a fair bit of time in Rwanda. In Uganda we didn’t make time to venture off the beaten track much. It happened instantly in Rwanda. We were passing mountain villages and tracks that had been weathered away by the recent rains. It was the best driving days since northern Kenya.

We made to Ruhengeri quite late. The Parc National des Volcans is the closest national park and the best place to see the gorillas. A chain of seven volcanoes, it forms a border with the DRC and Uganda. It is where Dian Fossey recorded her time with the gorillas. The forested slopes of the Karisimbi volcano is where you can see the large Susa family of 35 gorillas.

Route taken: Masaka, Sanga, Mbarara, Ntungamo, Kabale, Lake Bunyonyi

We stopped overnight in Masaka to break the journey between Kampala and Kabale and camped at Masaka Backpackers. A great spot overlooking the distant hills, we had the place almost to ourselves. It rained overnight and till midday the next day.

We packed away in a rush and got going before it was too late to make it to Kabale. We dropped a Dutchman into town, who was living in the area teaching English. We passed the equator for the third time. Lunch stop at a restaurant in Ntungamo where I luckily caught the second half of the Man U v Chelsea game with the locals. Bun wasn’t too fussed. We tried some local food which we hadn’t tasted since we arrived. Stewed goat with matoko (smashed plantains), rice and a lovely sauce. A few gritty bits but it was tasty and washed down with a bottle of Stoney’s (fiery ginger beer).

The remaining drive was beautiful. We passed rolling terraced hills. It wasn’t as dense as eastern Uganda but the land was used more for cattle farming with cows with the biggest horns we have ever seen. Kabale has been called the Switzerland of Africa and we could see why.

We arrived at Lake Bunyonyi and found a place right next to the lake. Easter Sunday – only two chocolate bars in sight and Bun has found them in the bottom of the fridge which we’ve had since Luxor in Egypt! Not also forgetting Bun’s ready meal of treacle pudding which she has hid well out of sight since we left.

There are families down from Kampala for the weekend. A few passed us as they wandered down to see the lake close-up. We got the celebrity treatment when a little Indian boy raced ahead of his family and start filming the Landcruiser and then us sitting at the back whilst we were making breakfast. He poked his video camera inside the tent and then his family arrived. They were as bad and had a long look at how we had the vehicle set-up!

The same happened later in the day. Another group of Indan’s with their cameras, taking photos of us and the tent on the roof! Personal space is hard to come by in Africa! Bun also had to have a running conversation with a twelve year old kid from the other side of the lake. He was watching his cows eating grass and kept firing question over to Bun. I tried to ignore him until I shouted jokingly back at him ‘What do you want?’ which didn’t stop him. He got distracted when his friend turned up.

Still, the lake is a stunning place to relax for a few days. We didn’t take a boat trip to any of the islands. There is one island over one hours boat ride away where you can see Pygmies, who had been driven from the forest and settled on the lake shore. Temperatures a little cooler here. The climate is like being in mid -Wales with red soil and banana trees everywhere.

Watching: Dexter -Season 1
Sounds: Brownswood Bubblers Vol 5 and Bonobo: Black Sands

Route taken: Jinja, Mukono, Kampala, Moigi, Nabusanke, Masake

A late start after having too many drinks with some of the people we went rafting with. Kampala was only a hour or so driving so there was no rush. An Omelette each and a pot of tea sorted us out.

Like Rome and Lisbon, Kampala is built on seven hills. A modern and laid back city, it has none of the worries we noticed in Nairobi, like hi-jacking! We camped at Red Chilli Hideaway, 10 minutes from the centre. Several large overland trucks, that take large groups through southern Africa were arriving after we turned up. They have a tendency to settle in places for one night and usually leave very early in the morning. You don’t see them above Nairobi into Ethiopia and It’s been hard avoiding them since Kenya. We’ve met and chatted to some nice Australians who have been interested in our trip.

We have nothing to worry about here. We don’t need a visa to enter Rwanda. We could, if we wanted to, sort out the tickets to see the mountain gorillas. The Dutch couple we ran into again after we met them in Nairobi were here to sort their tickets out. At $500 each to pay for an hour with the gorillas seems an astonishing price, but it’s one of the ‘must see’ sights in Africa. The Bwindi National Park is home to half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. There are other groups of gorillas in the DRC, and Rwanda.

We were still undecided but we have an opportunity to see them in Rwanda if we wanted to. We are zipping through Uganda a little. We are looking forward to Rwanda from what we have heard. As were pushed a little to get back through Tanzania by the 14th.

Shame we couldn’t stick around Kampala till the weekend. There is meant to be a great party scene here. Same goes for Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. We get to have some Thai food and stock up on provisions at the Nackumatt supermarket (Kenyan owned supermarket that is like being back in the UK. First visit was ok after Ethiopia where there is nothing of the sort. Now five minutes is more than enough time in there).

Traffic is horrendous in Kampala but not as bad as in Nairobi. We are aiming to get to Lake Bunyonyi for the Easter weekend. A volcanic lake surrounded by high hills near the town of Kibale

We moved to the other side of the White Nile and based ourselves at the Nile river explorers camp with the idea of getting in a days rafting on Tuesday. Based high above the Bujagali Falls with amazing views, we got a taste of what to expect the next day. The rains came and went, sometimes heavy.

Early start on Tuesday. We had to catch the open bus with the rafting company to take us into Jinja so we could have breakfast before going rafting. The weather looked good for the day. A healthy breakfast of fried chapatis and jam finished off with some coffee! We were introduced to the other four people joining us whilst we ate breakfast and tried on our life jackets

We have both seen it many time on TV and wondered how people avoid getting their faces smashed on rocks and legs trapped and broken! We would soon find out. Time for an adrenalin hit. Neither of us had done this before so we were very excited at hitting a massive rapid and falling out.

We reached the river by ten. The driver took his time by turning the truck around so the rafts were closest to the water to unload. I thought the day would have come and gone before he managed to turn the truck in a tight muddy spot!

Finally we made our way to the first rapid. We had a few fire drills so we knew what to do when we got hit by a rapid and all got flipped out. We took it in turn to get wet by falling out of the raft as we practised pulling each other back in. The water was lovely and warm so we all did it again.

The White Nile, along with the Zambezi, is one of the best rivers to go rafting. It’s deep and warm and the rapids are forgiving if you make a few mistakes. The rapids cover the whole range from grades 1-5. Some of the names include Silverback, Intanda and Dead Dutchman, named after an explorer who went down the wrong side of this rapid and was obviously killed.

Alongside us was a group of support kayaks and one extra raft which carried the cameras in waterproof boxes. We had the choice, if any of us bottled it, to join this raft and take it easy through the rapid. None of us chose this option. One rapid, where we were almost guaranteed to flip over, we sailed straight through and the support raft flipped over instead. We somehow got through it to then notice the raft bailing out with the help of one of the kayaks.

We finally got a rapid where we flipped out. Jane, the instructor, shouting like mad saying PADDLE, PADDLE’ ‘ until she then shouted ‘DOWN’! I mistook the word paddle for down and was enjoying the ride in the low position whilst everyone else paddled like mad! Bun behind me made up for my lack of effort!

Intanda (bad place), is the last and killer grade five rapid. Having covered almost 10 rapids up until then, we had to get out and move the raft around the first part of the rapid as it is too dangerous. As we got a look of it as we traversed the ridge to the other side we couldn’t believe we were about to take on the next part. They are so ferocious and long they seem almost impossible to navigate a route through. We were reassured that it was deep if we flipped which was almost guaranteed. We flipped!

April 2010