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Week 12: Rwanda/Uganda: From Nyungwe National Park (RWN) to Lake Bunyoni (UGD)

Our 12th week on the road saw us arriving solidly in the rainy season in this part of the world! I still prefer to call it the “short” rainy season (supposed to be from mid-October to mid-December), but no-one else seems to know what I’m talking about, and just calls it the RAINY SEASON!! This week saw us waterproofing Aardvark, and realizing why everything in Rwanda and Uganda is so green and lush…because it is raining all the time 😊 Oh and the volcanic soil also helps! We also crossed our 8th border into Uganda, and said goodbye to Rwanda knowing that if at all possible, we will be back again! First our normal stats: • Total days travelled: 85 • Total distance travelled from Cape Town: 12,979km • Total borders crossed: 8 o It is incredible how the attitudes of some of the border officials differ between countries. In Tanzania (crossing from Malawi at a fairly busy’ish border with loads of trucks), a customs official insisted that Irene opened every single door of Aardvark, and doing so in a very rude manner. Coming into Rwanda, two young officials who were obviously bored, decided to do a basic check of Aardvark for plastic, but all in good spirits. And then entering Uganda (fair enough, it was at a small border crossing on a Sunday afternoon), it was smooth sailing. No car inspection, no hassles, just a quick stamping in-and-out of passports and Carnet (our car passport), payment of road tax, and we were off again in under 30min! The longest part was the police lady with her loaded AK47 that she kept swinging around, that took forever to write Aardvark’s details in the police register so that we could go through the police gate! And then the Aardvark stats for Week 12: • Best drink: We entered Rwanda with a couple of leftover Kilimanjaro beers from Tanzania, which we first had to finish off 😊 So our first ice-cold Rwandan beers, a Mutzig for Irene and a Primus Citroen for myself, overlooking lake Kivu after a shortish hike through the hills, were definitely the winners for the week! Oh and in Rwanda you have to specifically ask for a cold beer, else they’ll give you a warm one…a lack of refrigeration space left the majority of the locals to get used to, and prefer, warm beer…we are not yet there! • Best food: In Gisenye we stayed over at Irina, Khurshed and Eva’s house, 800m away from the border with the DRC. Irina treated us to the most moorish stuffed pepper and vegetable soup, called “goubste”, a traditional Tajikistan dish…exactly what we needed on a very rainy day! Irene’s pulled pork and homemade roti’s (with some of her mango chutney and avo’s from Kigali on the side) was also a winner – especially seeing that she had to make it on a single gas burner after the wood was too wet to get a decent fire going in Kibuye! • Best view: Rwanda Rwanda Rwanda 😊 The views of evergreen rolling hills with tea plantations and forest and lakes wherever you look…and then seeing the stars peeking out over the volcanic mountains surrounding the Volcanoes Park… Day 79 woke us up with a beautiful misty sunrise over Nyungwe Forest. And the joys of sleeping again in the back of Aardvark just cant be described…Aardvark is truly living up to its reputation (as an animal that is) of providing a home for other weary animals (read travelers) – we both gave huge sighs of contentment as we woke up in our own super comfy bed! Anyway, I managed to pull a muscle in my lower back the previous evening – a combination of not enough stretching, bad driving position, as well as actually typing last week’s blog whilst sitting in a very award, bending down, position. So we decided to not risk going on a long slippery, muddy hike through the forest, but rather went for the safe option of a short walk on flattish roads, and then driving through the park, slowly admiring the views, and drinking loads of Brufens to try and sort out any remaining muscle madness. The downpouring of rain might also have played a role, as the heavens opened up whilst we were driving through the forest – apparently the forest gets twice as much rain as Kigali, which in turn gets twice as much rain as Paris – why they’ve chosen Paris for a comparison, nobody knows! Because we knew that we were going to hike and trek in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda in search for gorillas, we were not too concerned about missing out on a forest hike in the rain…there are plenty of forests, and plenty of rain, still coming up 😊 Afterwards we slowly made our way towards Lake Kivu, Rwanda’s largest lake, through very steep, winding roads – even though they were beautifully tarred, going was still a slow 50km/h due to the inclines/declines and constant trucks and busses sharing the road up and down the thousand hills. But that luckily gave us ample time to take in the breathtaking scenery, where every inch of land is cultivated and green…truly incredible! We ended up pitching camp at Bethany B Hotel in Kibuye, where they allowed us to set up Aardvark on their green lawns right on the lake. It is not really a campsite, but the closest that we got to one in Rwanda. As an example, there were no camping ablutions / washing-up areas etc, but they gave us a key to a room up a hill for the use of a hot shower, toilet etc. And this is also where we ended up washing the dishes in a hand basin, our clothes in the bath (with our plastic plunger to ensure all the dirt is removed) etc…multiple uses of a bathroom, and all in a day’s camping! Regardless, watching sunset over the smooth waters of the lake, with a glass of red wine in hand whilst trying to get a small fire going, just cant be beaten! The next morning we woke to rain, rain and more rain! Irene had grand plans for making a slow pulled pork dish over the fire, but had to convert to cooking under our canopy on the spare gas burner after a while…as the wood was way too wet to do anything but smoke, let along make enough coals for a couple of hours of cooking! But in the end, the result was absolutely worth it…made even better by the scenery in front of us! We were invited to go on a boat cruise by one of the local tour operators, who took a fancy to Aardvark and wanted to swop loads of travel stories. So after getting all our housecleaning admin done, we were ready for an afternoon on the waters, just to be informed that the captain of his boat picked up a tummy bug (which we were not in the mood to come close to!). So we opted to rather go for a long walk through the village and across the hills to the other side of the indented mainland – and was rewarded with the sight of local fishermen who tied their boats 3-3 together, and then row off in a convoy to catch fish through a combined netting effort, all the while joking with each other across the water…a beautiful example of collaboration to reach a common goal! The next morning we decided to say goodbye to what was the best camping spot in Rwanda, and continue up the lake shore to Gisenyi, on the border with the DRC (Goma). We met up with Irina and her family in Kigali, and they invited us to stay over at their place in Gisenyi. Which was a bit of a heaven send, as the camping options weren’t great, it was still raining, and Irina had picked up a bug and was running up a bit of a fever…so camping in their large garden, and then being treated to a homemade Tajikstan dinner on their porch, felt like being treated like royalty! I’m not sure if it was the food, or the “animal treatment” aka playing with their baby puppy and kitten, but the combination sorted Irene out in a couple of hours – the next morning she was right as rain again! (pun intended!). We also discovered a couple of leaks during the past days’ raining, and were adamant to fix it whenever there was a bit of sunshine again – incredible what a tube of silicon and some duct tape can fix!! From Gisenyi we continued further north to the Volcanoes Park, bordering on the DRC and Rwanda. This is where the gorilla trekking in Rwanda takes place, and true to form, was covered in mist (yeah I know that is also part of a cliché!). The mist and rain cleared up for long enough though to allow us to go for a short hike, and we stumbled upon the baby gorilla naming ceremonial site…”Kwita Izina” is a Rwandan ceremony where newborn baby gorillas are being named once a year, with the Rwandan president and other dignitaries attending…with a massive mama and baby gorilla statue made of bamboo and banana leaves overlooking the events…and in turn being overlooked by five volcanic mountains clouded in mist…magical! As I said earlier, we already obtained permits to go gorilla trekking in Uganda, so we thought to stop over for the night just to take in the different scenery – but it seems to be super low touristy season in Rwanda, and we were the only people in the Kinigi Guesthouse that is supposed to be a fairly popular place ☹ After a night’s camping in the parking area, and very rude staff members, we decided to instead of spending another night and waiting for the mist to clear to go for a hike, rather continue further on our journey towards northward – obviously we first made stopped at a café to watch the Springbok’s semi-final match….but I must admit the fact that they won was the only satisfying experience…as the coffee shop, again apparently a popular place, was underwhelming to say the least! (and with underwhelming, I mean they couldn’t make a cappuccino, as firstly they didn’t have milk, and then “realized” that they don’t have a coffee machine…and this is with a full extensive coffee menu displayed all around! At least their plunger coffee was lovely 😊) Anyway, after the rugby we went to have a look at the RedRocks Campsite down the road (again highly recommended on all the forums), but after realizing that we are again going to be the only people in the campsite / backpackers, we decided to drive the last 60 odd kilometers to the Uganda border, and say a reluctant farewell to Rwanda after 9 days! Our first stop-over in Uganda was at Lake Bunyonyi, which we reached after yet some more beautiful mountain passes – it almost felt as if we didn’t even leave Rwanda! Lake Bunyoni, which means Lake of the Little Birds, is dispersed with 29 little islands, and the 3rd deepest (900m) freshwater lake in the world. And the campsite is right on the shores of the lake again, affording us yet again some beautiful views along with our morning coffee – we even spotted some grey-crowned cranes, Uganda’s official birds, across the waters! And there are actually loads of other travelers here as well! The rainy season is now in full swing, with daily “wolk-breuk” type rainshowers that are thoroughly testing our waterproofing skills…but so far so good – we even had a nice cozy and warm rainy-stay-in-bed-movie-afternoon yesterday with no leaks 😊 I’m writing this blog sitting in the Bunyonyi Overland Resort’s restaurant, and watching the torrential rain pouring down as we speak – luckily we already went out for a boat ride around the small islands this morning, else we would’ve been thoroughly drenched! I’m going to convince Irene that we might have to make pancakes for dinner as soon as we bought eggs again and some cinnamon…it feels to be just the appropriate thing to do in this weather😊 Tomorrow we are on our way to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (isn’t it just an awesome name for a rain forest?!), and will hopefully be spotting some gorillas on Thursday! After that we should be stopping in Queen Elizabeth National Park to see if we can find tree climbing lions, go for a day hike at the Rwenzori Mountains, and re-stock again at Fort Portal whilst Aarvark goes for its 100,000km service…all in all another full week filled with memories to be made ahead of us! Till next week. J

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