Wow. Rwanda. Like, really, wow. I know what I like and I like what I see.
I dragged my reluctant carcass out of bed at some ungodly hour and headed over to the bus station with a local guy called Charles who was also taking the bus somewhere. It was too early for me to focus on anything, but before I knew it I was sitting on the front seat of a minibus heading towards the Rwandan border.
I arrived at 9.30am, glad to discover that the ‘six-hour’ border process took less than ten minutes. And, what’s more NO VISA REQUIRED!! So Rwanda started well and it just got better from there on in. One of the things that was annoying me about Tanzania was that my Vodafone mobile internet thingy wasn’t working, and it took about half an hour just to send a text from it (updating my twitter was a nightmare), but in Rwanda it worked as soon as I crossed the border.
And the scenery… my word. If you like hills (I do) and trees (I do) and you like hills and trees together (I especially do, see my comments on Colombia and Madagascar) then you would LOVE Rwanda. It just looks seven shades of gorgeous from to bottom. And… you’re not going to believe this, but there is no litter. Like seriously, no litter AT ALL. It’s incredible. After slogging it through 40 countries worth of filth and garbage for the last seven months and especially after just coming from the-city-tip-is-the-city Comoros, saying Rwanda is a breath of fresh air is somewhat of an understatement.
They even close the roads for half an hour on the last Saturday of every month so people can clear up any rubbish from the sides of the road. AWESOME!!
Finally, a country where people look after their country.
And then there are the towns. They are splendid, with well built brick buildings (which are – shockhorror – FINISHED and PAINTED), manicured lawns, flowers, trees and playing fields. Christ I could be in the friggin’ Cotswolds. The roads are all sealed, signposted and painted… what the hell is going on here?
And, as if the icing on the cake, the minibuses are brand new (incredible!). Makes a change from being trucked around in vans that were old when the Darma Initiative came to the island.
Finally, and there’s something else Rwanda has that will have me returning one day when I have more time… Gorillas. Oh yeah baby, SHOW ME THE PRIMATES!! No time on this trip I’m afraid, but I’ll be back. Oh yes, I’ll be back.
So yes, Rwanda got me grooving from the word go. I got to the capital, Kigali, at about 2:30pm which was a bit of a worry as I knew the border with Burundi (Nation 126) closed at 6pm and it took at least three hours to get there. But Rwanda had yet more good news for me – it’s an hour behind Tanzania! So it was really 1:30pm. SAFE!
So I trundled towards the Burundian border, excitedly sending Colm my blog entries for the past five weeks (all four of em – heh). At the delightful little town of Budare I changed my mode of transport for a taxi-motorbike and buzzed the last 20km to the border. I got stamped out of Rwanda (why not eh?) and crossed the river into Burundi. I filmed my crossing and had a chat with the border guards on the other side (you can get a three-day visa for $20 on the border, take note overlanders!) before turning back into Rwanda.
Lucky I did, as a my motorbike guy had disappeared and minibus for Budare was just leaving.. I dived onboard, excited at the prospect of racing all the way up to Djibouti this week. Dino has come through with the goods and found me a space on the ship CMA Turquoise next Sunday and if all goes to plan (it won’t!) I should be sitting pretty in Djibouti this time next week ready to meet Mandy before midnight on the 31st.
We rolled into Budare just in the nick of time – the last bus back to Kigali was revving up to leave. Go go go go go!!
Getting back to Kigali around 9pm, I was greeted with the delightful sight of the city by night. A few months ago I read a book by John Steinbeck in which he pointed out that cities that are flat have to try and make up for their lack of drama by building huge skyscrapers. In a town like Kigali that is just not necessary. Rwanda likes to bill itself as the land of a thousand hills and, for once, the place lives up to the hype and Kigali is no exception.. The million multi-coloured points of light scattered over the hillside of this pleasant, breezy capital are just magical.
I’m sorry, I know I have a tendency to gush over places that I like, but in Africa those places are few and far between so I think it’s just a case of credit were credit is due.
I headed over to the main bus station to try and get a ticket for the direct bus to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya (via Uganda) which leaves at 5.30 tomorrow morning. The offices had just closed but the guy there said there should be seats available in the morning, so I hunkered down for the night in the Kigali Guest House, had some goat stew for din-dins (yum!) and got rather excited about the new Forum page on the website.
You know when somebody says that something was a breath of fresh air, I can’t describe how apt that saying is when it comes to Rwanda. It is there that you find all that Africa could be if only its scumbag criminal leaders would allow it. But there’s no time to dilly-dally, I’ve got a mission and a damn good reason to get to Egypt in 11 days time… Mandy.
I hopped a motorbike taxi (and for the first time in Africa, crash helmets are mandatory) to the bus station nice and early and before long I was being whisked out of the country towards Uganda, past the green terraced hills and the cute little villages along the way. Since the darkness of 1994, Rwanda has turned itself around like you would not believe. THAT’S what you can achieve with 15 years of half-decent governance and well-structured aid programmes.
Rwanda shouldn’t really be in this position. Don’t forget, it wasn’t just the 1994 genocide which knocked the country sideways, Rwanda was heavily involved in the conflict in DR Congo which claimed the lives of the most number of people since WWII. It’s also totally landlocked with pretty lousy neighbours (the road from Dar es Salaam to Kigali is still not sealed all the way and you can forget about trucking stuff in from DR Congo – there are no roads!) but, against the odds, they have forged a successful state of which all Rwandans (there are no Tutsi or Hutu any more, only Rwandans) should be proud.
Unlike Uganda which sucked the big one. Yup, sorry to report but once over that border (an ordeal and an utter rip off $50 for a one day transit visa) Africa reverted back to its dusty, dirty, unfinished, grimy, sweaty, unpleasant, uncomfortable, stressful, poverty-stricken, pot-holed, manic, dangerous, diseased, dispossessed, corrupt, undemocratic, sticking, grotty, unsanitary, littered, open-drained cesspool that we all kinda expect it to be (and it is).
When you consider that Uganda has only had three leaders since independence back in the sixties (and one of them was Idi Amin) and that the current leader has been in charge since the mid-eighties, you can imagine that this is another place where, to quote the Manics when they were good, democracy is an empty lie. So Uganda finds itself in the same trap as nearly every other African nation – politicians go for the job for the money, not to make things better, the people are nothing more than an inconvenience in the way of the leaders true calling – to skim off a percentage for every bit of oil, gold, diamonds, timber, coltan whatever that is extracted at the behest of the western world with no net gain for the people.
My heart sank as I saw the same skanky shops that line the roads of every country I’ve been through since Morocco. The same shoeless orphans, the same put-upon women carrying the same mosquito-infested buckets of water on their heads, the same grind, the same unfinished concrete hovels, the same the same the same. God it’s depressing. I’ve had seven months of this and I’m sick of it. As I’ve said before, I see no romance in poverty. Life here is brutish, nasty and short. The average life expectancy is 50. The same that it was in Britain 200 years ago. The gap between us developed and them undeveloping is vast and perhaps unimaginable to bridge, but if Rwanda can turn itself around after those dark, dark days of 1994, then there’s a glimmer of hope for the future; if only Africa could rid herself of the gangsters, criminals and thugs that currently run the show. If only…
The mad thing is that these places run by horrible little thieves, bastards and con-men actually get to vote on important issues facing the planet, most pertinent this week being action against climate change. That scum like the miserable turd who is currently running nasty narco-state Guinea into the ground (although I’m kinda intrigued to see how it could possibly sink any lower) are allowed to have a say on any matter beggars belief, but on a matter of such complexity and import as the urgently needed cuts to worldwide carbon emissions it just leaves me dumbfounded. It’s like asking Ian Huntley his opinion on the matter, only he murdered considerably less children. Why are these dreadful men allowed to use international democratic institutions when their concept of domestic democracy involves taking out any opposition with a bullet to the head?
If Hitler were around today, would he get a vote? Looking around the credentials of the current crop of African tin-pot dictators one would have to conclude yes.
Anyway, so what do you want to know? Uganda was same old same old, and that’s all I have to say about it. I’ve seen it forty times before and I’m bored of it now. I think I’ve got poverty fatigue. I just can’t seem to get as excited about it as Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. There is no stoic dignity about seeing half of your children die and having to shit in the streets.
So I passed through Kampala really not caring less, but I will report that – as usual – the people were an utter delight. Incredibly friendly and talkative, and it’s great to see the increasing cross-pollination of the five East African states (Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda & Kenya) in microcosm on the bus. When I have a pop at the state of Africa in 2009, please don’t think for one second that I’m bitching about Africans. I am not. I am bitching about African politicians, who are a breed apart. A breed of psychopaths and sociopaths who don’t deserve the time of day much less a seat in the UN for their twisted cronies and henchmen.
I was a little worried at the Kenyan border that I’d miss the bus as I was last in the queue to get stamped out of Uganda and when I changed my money at the Western Union they took their sweet time about it, so I legged it over the border. Bad call. It was dark and was I really expecting a road in Africa to be, you know, flat? Of course it wasn’t. I went FLYING, scraping my left arm and right hand in the process.
Not an auspicious entry in my 128th Nation I’ve got to say. But an entrance nonetheless and the fact I’ve got to 4 nations in less than two days is a goddamn miracle. I get into the capital of Kenya, Nairobi, at 5am tomorrow. If I can get my Ethiopia AND Djibouti visas in the morning (unlikely) I should be able to get an overnight bus towards Ethiopia and then I really will be on schedule for the boat to Egypt and what lies beyond.
If not, I’m going to be pushing it, not least because Friday is Christmas Day and things (buses, border posts etc.) might shut down. But then again, if I’m in Ethiopia, no worries – they don’t celebrate Christmas until January!
Onward, my friends, onward…