Week 11: Tanzania/Rwanda: From LakeShore Lodge (TZN) to the Nyungwe National Park (RWN)
Our 11th week saw a couple of very long days on the road, with a variety of random, and not so random long-awaited experiences, culminating in our arrival in Rwanda. This was one of the countries that both of us were very excited to experience for various reasons…and so far, it has exceeded our expectations!
But first our normal stats:
· Total days travelled: 78
· Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 12,475km
o We had to change our first tyre this week – and we are super proud that it took us only 15min from the point where the tyre pressure monitor system (TPMS) alerted us to the deflating tyre to us being back on the road again! Nothing like “see one, do one, teach one” – with thanks to Hein from Burnco to insist on us leaving the high lift jack behind and instead getting a 5ton hydraulic jack, to Eben and his team at R&D Offroad for welding the chassis bracket to the jack, to Peter the Livingstonia mechanic for sorting out the oil in the jack, and also to the looming rain clouds that spurred us on…well done team Aardvark! And yes, now we are ready to teach one 😊
· Total borders crossed: 7
And then the Aardvark stats for Week 11:
· Best drink: We stayed at Justine’s Villa Asimba in Kigali for 3 nights, and she served an incredible breakfast to us each morning…with amongst other things a fresh fruit juice consisting of passion fruit, mango, pineapple, hibiscus and ginger…amazing!
· Best food: Justine also made us the most incredible avocado salad – fresh creamy avo’s with tomatoes, onions and a French vinaigrette…njum!
· Best view: This seems to be getting more difficult every week to pick just one! But we’ll have to go with a toss up between our first view over the green rolling Rwandan hillls and rice-planted valleys, and my current view overlooking the Nyungwe Forest National Park in SouthWest Rwanda – the largest forest on this side of Africa!
We treated ourselves to a beautiful dinner on the lake’s edge at Lake Shore Lodge on day 71, tasting some of the fish that the local fishermen caught overnight and sold directly to the lodge. Earlier that morning we were having a swim when the fishermen came in with their catch, and the size of the fish were testament to the health of Lake Tanganyika, which stood in stark contrast with what we’ve seen at the likes of Lake Malawi as well as Lake Bangwuelu. We also braved the immense heat and humidity for a hike the next day, but after temperatures soared to 38° at 10h30 in the morning, we called it quits and decided to rather spend our time in the balmy, crystal clear 28° water 😊 We were told that the immense heat is a sign of the rains to come…our journey was planned around the long rainy seasons, and up to this point we haven’t seen a drop of rain…but this was soon to end!
After spending 2 lazy days at Lake Shore Lodge, we felt sufficiently recouped and ready to continue our journey further north on day 73…waking up to the sound of soft rain falling on Aardvark’s roof also spurred us into action (and an early morning start!). After 45min driving, the TPMS’s alarm went off, alerting us of a massive drop in pressure in our left rear tyre. And true enough, when I opened the passenger door, we could hear the “pheeeeeeeeeeewwww” release of air out of the tyre due to a massive, sharp rock stuck into it! (I still think the remains thereof looks like a crocodile tooth…and that makes for a way nicer story!) But for the sake of staying true to what happened…it was a sharp rock! And that led to our official first tyre change on this trip! Yes, I know this is not supposed to be a big deal on an overland African adventure like ours, but again, this was our first 😊 And like I said above, due to all the advice, tools, and “stealing with our eyes” that happened earlier, we dealt with it like pros…watch out Africa, we are ready! And yes, the thunder in the distance and the looming rainstorm spurred us to become instant experts 😊 Spare tyre on, we drove off towards the Katavi National Park as the fat raindrops started hitting the dirt! And it was incredible how the bit of rain transformed all the colours, from everything being coated in a thin layer of reddish dust, to this sparkling display of blue, orange/red and greens wherever we looked – one of our most scenic drives through a National Park thus far!
Our initial plan was to stay over at River Side Camp, right next to a hippo pond filled with over 100 hippos enjoying the early rains and slightly deeper water / mud than what they usually would have to endure this time of the year. And it certainly was very impressive, only marred by the tsetse flies that decided to also inhabit the campsite right next to the hippos…so onwards we went to Jakobsen Beach Camp at Kigoma! The extra 338km took us a good 6h30 to drive, which meant we arrived in the dark and in the rain at Jakobsen…and after a bit of miscommunication with the security guard (who told us that (a) there are other people also camping – not true, we kept on looking for them, and (b) left Irene in the forest in the dark as I had to take Aardvark via a round-about road to the campsite – no joy there either), we set up camp for the last time right next to Lake Tanganyika…
The next morning we woke up to yet more rain, and realizing that we have now definitely hit the short rainy season, decided to rather continue further north – but first we had to get the puncture fixed. And after a couple of false starts and wrong turns, we hit upon the only tyre repair guys in Kigoma, who did an incredible job (with what looked like instruments from the stone age, coupled with an old broken suspension leaf as tyre leaver) - not only did they fixed and patched our tyre, but Irene also made such a big impression on the tyre guy, that he promptly asked her to marry him! Luckily she was already taken, else this might have been a solo trip for the rest of the way 😊
Afterwards we made our way towards the only decent spot between Kigoma and the Rwandan border (as per iOverlander, an incredible useful app for any overlander!) to the Swidish Moden Hotel in Kigomo – and yes, the spelling is correct!! It was a bit of a surreal experience, paying the same for a double room as we did for camping the previous night, with décor (both inside and outside the “hotel”) that at times seemed like a surreal movie, and at times as if someone got hold of a garage sale’s specials, and decided to display it all at once! Regardless, it was clean, safe, Aardvark got a wash to remove all the Tanzanian mud, and we could buy some cold white wine…all in all a win I’d say! We also met up with a couple of Norwegian NGO workers, who were kind enough to not only tell us about a short cut to the border, but also drove in convoy with us the next morning to ensure we didn’t miss a turnoff and accidentally end up in Burundi!
(**take the B8 from Kibondo to Kakonko, then turn west towards Burundi – do NOT continue north on the B8 to Nyakanazi. T4A will then kind of direct you very close past the border with Burundi, to join the T1 again at Muzani where you will head straight to Rwanda – a beautiful quiet gravel road, giving you a glimpse of the beauty of Burundi’s hills).
So day 75 saw us leaving Tanzania for Rwanda…but as anybody who’ve driven the last 100km to the Rusomo border post can tell you, it is by far the worst road in Eastern Africa (yeah yeah, I know that every week there is a new “worst road”, but this one really was the worst!) Luckily our friendly escorts ensured that we missed the first worst 30km stretch, that apparently usually take at least 2hours to navigate…as it used to be a tarred road, and now it is just potholes, deep enough to swallow small cars (!), linked to tiny islands of old tar that will eat your tyres if you are not careful, with 18-wheeler trucks and busses charging past to leave enough dust behind that you cant see 2meters in front of you…not a road to look forward to!! Anyway, we made it to Rwanda in one piece, and what an absolute stunning country! The one-stop border post was a breeze, taking less than 30minutes to exit Tanzania, get our Carnet stamped out, enter Rwanda with a new East African visa, get our Carnet stamped in…and off we went. We obviously then had to go through the mandatory search for single use plastics, but as we were forewarned we got rid of it all earlier in the journey, and with a smile and a wave we were off…onto the tarred roads of Rwanda! From the moment we entered Rwanda, it was almost as if it was a different continent…not only do they drive on the right-hand side (thanks to the French and Belgium influence) which takes a bit of time to get use to, but it is the cleanest country we’ve seen so far! Not a single scrap of paper, cigarette butt, or the obligatory official blue African flower (aka blue plastic bags) were in sight…everywhere people were working, roads were being build and tarred, children were all dressed in school uniforms - all together an incredible example of a country who decided to put its very ugly past behind it, and work together towards a bigger and better future!
We decided to spoil ourselves in Kigali and stayed in Villa Asimba, a guesthouse run by Justine (originally from Cameroon, used to be a psychiatric nurse, met and married to a Swiss guy who worked for the UN, then became an aromatherapist in Switzerland, before they moved to Rwanda, and she opened the guesthouse with her sister)…best thing we could’ve done to ease ourselves into the new country! Oh, and it was also because there is a distinct lack of camping sites for overlanders in Rwanda – if you are lucky, you are allowed to sleep in the parking lot – which is not level by the way! After 11 weeks on the road, we also felt the urge to feel a bit “normal” again…and having an ensuite bathroom (for those middle of the night quick toilet visits), a pool to cool off in overlooking the lights of Kigali, and then the luxury of visiting a german butcher and bakery, being able to fill our Cadac gas bottle, and then relaxing in the Inzora rooftop café - a bookshop / coffeeshop that stocked quite a nice variety of books, maps, and amazing coffees with a perfect vantage point over Kigali! The only thing we couldn’t find was hair dye…so for now we’ll go all natural hair colours…apparently my head is looking like 50 shades of grey/brown/black…we’ll have to sort this out before we get back home oneday 😊
It is impossible to come to Rwanda, and not read about the genocide and atrocities that took place in 1994 (and for that matter, in the 1930’s and 1960’s as well) and the way the country has grown and evolved positively since then – and also then to compare it to the South African journey from the peaceful power transition in 1994 to today…there is a lot of food for thought just on this topic alone! We visited both the Kigali Genocide Memorial, as well as the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre on our way from Kigali to the Nyungwe Forest National Park, to get a better understanding of the history, the role of the colonial powers, the evil of racism, the power of propaganda, how easy it is to turn a blind eye as outsiders, and in general how easily humanity can swing to the dark side...but also the flip side – the stronger powers of survival, reconciliation and human tenacity. And I think part of the reason why I’ve taken so long to write this week’s blog, is because I’m still trying to get to grips with not only what we’ve seen, but also to make sense of the energy at those genocide sites, where it really feels as if there is a tangible darkness and oppression that come to sit on one’s shoulders…And to look at it through the lens of the spectacular beauty of this “country of a thousand hills”, where every inch that can be cultivated is standing under lush green tea or coffee plantations and the people are friendly and proud of their country, and contrast it with the horrible history that should be used as a beacon to ensure that the same does not happen again. Anywhere. To anyone.
Anyway…I digressed a bit…back to the trip report! I’m writing this overlooking the Nyungwe Forest directly in front of me, and with tea plantations all over the hills to my left – truly spectacular! Tonight we are going to be sleeping in Aardvark again for the first time in 5 days…and it is quite scary how much we are looking forward to it, even though it is parked in the not-so-level parking area of the lodge 😊 Tomorrow we are heading for a hike in the forest, and then a couple of days next to Lake Kivu, before we are turning northwards again to Uganda, but will first stop over at the Volcanoes National Park and Lake Ruhondo on the way!
Till next week.