After some further reading and also discussions with locals at Bethanie, discretion prevailed and it was decided not to do the whole Congo-Nile Route. The deciding issue is that it is advised to do the route with 2 or more vehicles in case of problems. It has not been too often on this trip that I have chickened out of this type of challenge, but as the trip has progressed I have slowly been learning not to demand too much of my heavily loaded Slow Donkey. We still have a long way to go and the fairly recent vehicle problems have taught me increased respect for the tougher routes.
After a moderately mediocre breakfast at Bethanie we set off for Rubavu (formerly Gisenyi) and nearby Rubona, where we planned to stay at the recommended Paradis Malahide. Camping here is in the carpark but campers are not well provided for in Rwanda. I was given to understand that the route we had chosen to the north of the lake was in reasonable condition and T4A agreed that this was the route of choice and that it would take just short of 4hr. If we wanted to stick to surfaced roads it would mean driving to Kigali and from there to Rubavu. As it turned out this might have been the quicker route and although far less scenic, appears worth consideration.
The first 18km is the same as the road to Kigali, thereafter turning off on a dirt road winding along the sides and tops of the myriads of hills and through rural farming communities. Rwanda is densely populated and even in these rural areas there are plenty of people about. Fortunately there were very few vehicles on this road which was just as well as its condition was far worse than I had anticipated. If you want to travel closer to Lake Kivu you will have to take the Congo-Nile Trail. As it was, although the scenery was remarkably attractive we were a little too far from the lake for any view of it. Despite the poor road conditions this trip was fun. There was no great distance involved, only 110km and we had had an early enough start. Fortunately this meant that I could take the rough sections of the road slowly and there was little chance of vehicle damage. Nonetheless these rough conditions take their toll on a laden vehicle, something I have progressively even more conscious of. The 110km trip took us 4hr 45min attesting to the trying conditions for much of the route. For long stretches I had to travel along at between 20 – 30km/hr or slower and mainly in second gear. The road becomes rather narrow and stoney. I would think the stones are deliberately placed for traction in the wet season. Oncoming vehicles are a hazard because of the narrowness of the navigable road surface, especially around the innumerable blind corners.
Despite the road conditions we had great fun negotiating this route and I mention the conditions so that others do not underestimate the time needed to cover this route safely. I am sure there are some who will do it a bit faster. It is similar to the route from Rusizi to Karongi but further from the lake and with more intensive farming. This is where one realizes why Rwanda is nick-named the land of a thousand hills. Most of these hills are under terraced cultivation leading to great vistas. Unfortunately the indigenous forest is replaced by exotics, predominantly eucalyptus. There appears to be a thriving charcoal industry unfortunately. As one reaches further north extensive banana plantations are largely replaced by tea, which have a striking bright green appearance. Unfortunately the seasonal wintry haze makes good photos difficult. I have tried to capture some of the natural beauty.
We experienced our first rain of the trip as we neared Rubavu and although the rain stopped it remains cloudy and a little chilly, unfortunately not the ideal weather for time on the lake.
Paradis Malahide Cottages and Camping is in the neighboring small town of Rubona, just south of Rubavu. This leads to a pleasant isolated atmosphere. It is right on the lakeshore with its own private small beach for swimming. We will be camping in the carpark and there is a separate ablution block with flush toilets but only cold showers. There is room for about 3 vehicles but no fire pit. One has full access to all the amenities including the area on the shore, the restaurant and pub. The restaurant serves simple but reasonably well prepared fare. The surroundings are very attractive.
However, having checked in we found out why the rooms were all taken. They are hosting a wedding tomorrow and most of the guests are arriving by tonight. We were warned that we could expect some noise and music with a bit of a party tonight. This clinched our decision to move onto the Virungas a day early by leaving tomorrow. To fully enjoy the lake one would need appropriate weather and surprisingly for the first time on this trip the weather was not playing ball. Not surprisingly there was not too much to keep us busy with the lousy weather.
In retrospect we were disappointed in Lake Kivu. The beauty of lakes we were to visit down the line, like Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda, far outshone Kivu. However the weather was not good and I don't think we stayed in the best possible places. I am by no means suggesting that Kivu should be excluded from a Rwanda tour.
Main. Sunrise over Lake Katavi at Kibuye.
1.Typical Lake Katavi fishing boats.
2, 3 and 4. Rwandan rural scenes on way to Rabavu.
5. Car park camping at Paradis Malahide.
6, 7 and 8. Lakeside at Paradis Malahide.