“Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness”.
This was the day to get the show on the road again. We had 6 days to explore the Nyungwe Forest and Lake Kivu, before reporting (the night before) to the Volcanoes NP for our gorilla trek on Tuesday 4 August. We had made many friends, most half our age, at the Youth Hostel. The consensus was that seeing the Genocide Memorial and Museum in Kigale had made such an impression on us that we should definitely visit the 2 churches with Genocide Memorials about 20 – 30km south of Kigali. The advice given was that these provide a rawer but more intimate insight into the terrible happenings of 1994. However the most direct route to Nyungwe Forest was further to the west. After a long discussion the easterly route via the 2 churches was linked to the normal western route by a dirt road only 60km long. We are never ones to shrink from the route less travelled and out came the laptop and the GPS and the route plotted and found to be perfectly possible to do within 7 hr giving us enough time to visit these churches en route. We were really pleased we visited these churches.
However the previous night I suddenly remembered in mid-conversation that we had neglected to purchase a Rwanda motor vehicle third party insurance when crossing the border. This was never mentioned to us by the border officials and there were certainly no signs indicating that it was for sale anywhere as far as we noticed. Still this was no excuse for pure stupidity and we had just been lucky that we had been through no police checks. We were able to buy it simply (R320) at an insurance company just around the corner, but it meant that we only hit the road at 09H20.
First we visited the rural church of Ntarama, about 20km south of Kigali off the more easterly of the 2 main roads south. It is only 3km off the tar, although poorly signposted. T4A directed us straight there. This is a simple rural church with none of the sophisticated displays of the Kigali Memorial. It has been preserved in its original state for genocide memorial purposes but there is some upgrading of the surrounds underway. You are taken on a tour with a personal commentary by a guide with a relevant university training. There is no charge but a donation into a sealed container is appreciated. Over 5,000 Tutsis took refuge in the church, believing that its sanctity would not be breached by the Interahamwe extremist Hutu militia, carrying out genocidal murders, with government encouragement, of all Tutsis. All in the church and its surrounds were killed mostly with machetes and clubs. The children were in the Sunday School section and they were massacred by being picked up by their legs and having their heads bashed against the wall. The stains and dried gore are still clearly visible on the wall. Thousands of skulls with their wounds and nature of death are displayed within the church, together with the clothes recovered from the bodies of the victims. The broken down doors and windows are left in the state that they were discovered after the massacre. Body remains are still being discovered from surrounding mass graves. We both found this hour long tour profoundly moving and its intimacy had a greater effect on us than the visit to the more formal Kigale Memorial. The motto is “never again”.
We were now running a little late and set off directly for Nyungwe Forest NP going through villages with names like Gahembe, Mayange and Kagasa before turning off the tar onto the dirt road shortcut as directed by T4A, indicated by a sign Ruhuha. There is of course a reason for this detailed route description and if anyone as much as smiles at the mess we landed ourselves in I am going to throw a tantrum. Anne is such an even-tempered person, there was not one word of recrimination despite this hare-brained scheme costing us a whole day. Don’t worry we are also laughing about it now.
As the road proceeded in a southwesterly direction it became slowly less used and of course this was significant. We passed through numerous villages, waving in a friendly manner to these rural folk, and not one of them said a word to us. T4A had reported that it would take us about 90min to cover this 65km short cut. After 31km the reason for the derelict road became apparent. One of the largest rivers in Rwanda is the Akanyaru River, which runs north to south. If we had taken the normal route out of Kigali, we would have crossed it on the outskirts and southwest of Kigali, via a substantial bridge and would have found ourselves on the correct side of it to reach the southwest. However here we were in the middle of nowhere and this swiftly flowing wide river lay between us and our destination and the high, strong metal bridge crossing it was impassable. It was buckled and partially collapsed. It was self-evident that it had been in this state probably since the last rains. We both reverted to the childlike excuse, “no-one told us”. For pedestrians a suspension bridge had been constructed. Out came the maps, laptop and GPS. There were only 2 bridges crossing this large river in Rwanda and the other was all the way back in Kigali. We thus arrived back at Discover Youth Hostel rather shamefacedly and tails between legs some 7hr and 215 fruitless km later.
In fact that is not true at all. On the way back we stopped at the second of the Genocide Memorial Churches, that in the village of Nyamata. This is the main parish church, which the one at Ntarama falls under. In and around this church some 50,000 Tutsi bodies have been recovered from mass graves. This setting has been more formalized but the church has been preserved in its original state and the bullet holes and grenade damage is there for all to see, particularly striking in the ceiling. Once again the clothes of the victims, their possessions, ID Cards and their bones and mutilated skulls are on display. Chilling! The tour is conducted by a real expert who gives a highly professional narration. Once again only a voluntary donation is expected. Although this day appeared to have been wasted it was far from a disaster and these 2 churches are well worth including as a day trip from Kigali, should you have found your visit to Kigali’s Genocide Memorial and Museum significant.
To soothe our troubled souls we asked 2 young South African friends to join us for supper at the highly recommended Indian restaurant (thanks), the elegant Kigana Kazana in central Kigali. Our South African companions were Wayne J (previously met at Lake Manyara) and Nick from Mooi River. They are both doing solo trips to Europe. The food is as good as you will find in the best London Curry Houses and prices are reasonable. We went by taxi instead of driving and when split by 4 it cost about R20 each. Taxi is the way to get around Kigali it seems.
So in fact through a positive effort a disastrous day was turned into a fun one. I am in fact surprised how enjoyable our stay had been in Kigali and how much we enjoyed staying at the youth hostel, despite our age, sleeping in the car park and how busy the establishment is. A very good atmosphere existed there and both of us thoroughly recommend it. It is certainly situated in a very convenient and decent part of the city. The ablutions can be overcrowded at peak periods early in the mornings, but we found it best to shower off-peak when there was always hot water. The ablutions were cleaned a number of times each day. If you have a ground tent the pitching sites are fine too. Beers and good coffee are reasonably priced and the simple meals are fine. Because of its convenient location you might want to eat out.
The main pic and the following 7 thumbs are from the Ntarama Genocide Memorial Church.
The main photo of the skulls gives an idea of how the Tutsi were blugeoned to death.
Thumb 1 is the entrance and coffins
Thumb 7 shows the weapons used in the massacre.
Thumbs 8 to 11 are from the Nyamata Genocide Memorial church.