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Rwanda. Volcanoes (Virunga) National Park, Kinigi Guesthouse. Saturday 1 August. Week 14, day 111.

We had no choice really but to leave Paradis Malahide as there was to be a wedding there today. We were given the option to continue in the car park but were already feeling too much under public scrutiny and inquisitiveness. We are starting to feel a little like gypsies. It amazes me how much attention we as self-driving tourists and our rig attracts. It seems as if we are a dying breed in this part of the world. Anne and I have had to develop quite thick skins and it is difficult in the more urbanized centers to quickly change out of your sleeping kit such is the scrutiny, I just ignore much of it and I think many has been the observer amazed by the wazungu’s startlingly white bum. It has not been so easy for Anne of course. In Rwanda the high population density makes it difficult to stop for a quick widdle, even in the countryside. I gather it might be even worse further north, well necessity is the mother and we will have to come up with some sort of plan. Others have managed and so will we. The rare public toilet facilities are tough to tolerate, especially for Anne. It is easier for us males seeing that there is no need for physical contact. Anne has developed a very effective technique of hanging off a wheel or the vehicle bumpers. I daren’t take any photos. The kids would kill me.

Leaving was a pity as it was a stunning day with no clouds and minimal haze, usually present almost every day at this time of the year in Rwanda. I took the opportunity to take some photos of Lake Kivu and Paradis. This is a good place to stay in the Rwanda context. Rwanda really does not cater for campers. If your budget allows take a room, a choice we did not have as “the inn was full”. In a densely populated country like Rwanda it is nice to get out of town a bit. This setting on Lake Kivu outside Gisenyi in Rubavu village, is near-idyllic. The restaurant is good and we had a great pizza last night, the coffee is also great. The before-wedding party did not disturb us too much, we are really hardened veterans now and sleep through anything. The security guard volunteered to wash Slow Donkey, a mammoth task as the last wash had been the service at Arusha Toyota. We tipped him generously.

We needed to do some shopping and after some initial difficulty found a fresh produce market, a small supermarket and a fishmonger in central Gisenyi. We bought some lovely Tilapia (bream from the lake) fillets, Rwanda has good fresh produce. The bread and cheese are good because of the French/Belgian influence. We quite enjoy this sort of informal shopping. We were in no rush as the Virungas are less than 2hr away. Driving in Rwanda is an absolute pleasure, the traffic is light and the drivers very well behaved. There is a very strong police presence but we saw few speed traps. They never pulled us over and some have said they are told to leave tourists alone. One also sees plenty of armed soldiers around confirming Rwanda’s reputation of being tightly controlled. It is just driving on the right side of the road which is difficult, especially in the larger centers with complex intersections and traffic circles where one has to remember to round in the counter-intuitive direction and give way to the left. At times there were a few sharp words from Anne, water off a ducks back. It certainly fools T4A which will tell you to leave the traffic circle via the first exit, when actually it is the third, as you are rounding it anti-clockwise. We have had remarkably few personal clashes but sparks tend to rise when it comes to navigation which I do not regard as my duty as driver, but as the trip has proceeded I have been very careful not to say too much. Navigation can be difficult especially in the cities, but the unspoken word is often more effective than a sharp comment.

We have been thoroughly enjoying our short stay in Rwanda and we still have the highlight, the gorillas to come. It is a small country and one does not need to spend a great length of time here. About a week or two should be enough for most, especially if you have chosen gorilla viewing here rather than in Uganda two weeks is more realistic, as in our case. I think we did the correct thing in heading straight for Kigali and making our gorilla bookings first and then working around that date. We have left out a visit to the Akagera NP in the southwest as we felt that we had seen plenty of East African wildlife and quite frankly felt it did not have anything new to offer. Others may feel differently and then it is easily visited after the Rusumu Border, before Kigali. The trip from Kigali, to Nyungwe Forest, Lake Kivu and finally the gorillas flows nicely. Be sure to spend enough time in Kigali, it is a charming and unique city in the African context.

The obvious question is why we have chosen Rwanda ahead of Uganda for gorilla viewing. There does not seem to be too much in it but we wanted to get the gorillas done and dusted. Should there have been any booking problems then we then always had Uganda in reserve. Apparently the gorillas are usually an easier hike in Rwanda and are more often in the bamboo forest as opposed to the tree forest, making close-up contact more likely. Photography is also easier and the contact is often more intimate as the gorilla groups are apparently more habituated. Our biggest fear is a marathon hike and having to conk out due to fatigue or just holding the rest of the group up. This we would find embarrassing. The only negative for Rwanda is the extra US$150 it costs. Others may well disagree.

We still have 3 days to kill before our hike and have decided to spend them at the Volcanoes NP. After the usual research and excellent advice we settled on Kinigi Guesthouse right on the park boundary and the most convenient for the early morning beginning of the gorilla hike. It is run by ASOFERWA which is a non-profit woman’s aid organization. The park HQ is very conveniently only a few hundred meters up the road. Kinigi has car park camping for rooftop tents but quite a nice area for ground tents. This costs Rwanda Franc 8,000 (US$10) per person and they will give you a room to use for ablutions. The rooms are very nice and we could not resist treating ourselves to a larger one with a bit of a lounge for Rwanda Franc 15,000 (US$ 20) each, including breakfast. This is named the VIP Room and has a separate sitting room area with a very handy fireplace and in fact 2 bathrooms, one with a shower and the other a bath. This cost only RFr 5,000 (US$8) more per day than a standard room. They have a pub, restaurant and adjoining lounge with a roaring fire, all very nice without being as swish as the more expensive private lodges up the road. The situation close to the park HQ for the initial hike briefing could not be beaten.

The drive to Kinigi was very pleasant on a good tarred road, T4A still lists sections as gravel. One travels through similar steep terraced hills and frequent small villages as elsewhere in Rwanda. All the villages have speed limits of 40km/hr but they are of short duration and are not dragged out needlessly. We arrived at about lunch time and have had plenty of time to stroll around in the gardens and walk to the park HQ doing some birding. It has been a great luxury to have a really hot shower and finally I think all the Serengeti dust has finally been soaked out. The room service lady has offered to do our laundry for what I am sure will be a reasonable fee. We feel that these people need the extra income and have no qualms about exploitation or the like.

So here we are very comfortably ensconced in our rooms at Kinigi with the Virunga volcanic peaks towering above us. Unfortunately they are covered in cloud as apparently is the case most afternoons at this time of year. I will be out with the camera early in the morning when it has been promised they should be clear. It is absolutely peaceful and quiet here. It is strange how we far more prefer rural Africa to the cities, Kigali being a notable exception. We will be looking for outings and things to do for the next couple of days as we wait for our gorilla hike. We probably have one day too long to wait for the gorillas but we were fortunate to obtain a booking so soon. We were not keen on pre-booking the gorillas as one of the great pleasures of this trip has been the freedom to change any sort of schedule overnight. Fortunately we are very close to the Uganda border here and soon the caravan will be on the move again. We seem to be running more or less on schedule and will be able to be flexible in Uganda. I enjoy sleeping at least 2 nights in a place of interest as this gives you a full day to explore properly.