“Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection”. Lawrence Durrell.
At the rate we were spending money we decided to leave the luxury of the very nice hotel and move to the Youth Hostel. This had come very highly recommended and we do concur with this. The most popular place for self-drivers in the past was One Love but it has apparently deteriorated although we did not verify this. Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel is located close to our hotel in the center of Kigale and its situation is most convenient. It mostly caters for the younger set with backpackers in rooms and dorms. It has really very nice lounges and a pub area with fast free wi-fi. However it certainly is a number of grades higher than a youth hostel in our estimation. There were not only youngsters there. It is in a quiet area with a raised view of the hilly city of Kigali. They have camping but vehicles with rooftop tents have to park in the courtyard, not inconvenient at all. We used the same clean ablutions as those staying in rooms. Camping is 8US$ pppd. They have a good restaurant and this is where we will have some of our meals. The reason for its excellent standards becomes obvious when one realizes that it belongs to the Aegis Trust, heavily involved in NGO work in Rwanda and amongst other things they established and financed the famous Kigali Genocide Memorial Center that we will visit tomorrow.
It would be badly amiss of me not to mention how much Kigali has impressed us. It is by far the neatest, cleanest and most pleasant city we have seen since leaving South Africa. It is so good to see a population taking obvious pride in their city, its appearance and the impression it makes on visitors is very positive. There are numerous modern buildings and the older ones are in an excellent state of repair. There is absolutely no littering and the public areas are manicured. There are no informal trading shacks and the accompanying shambles. There appear to be plenty of good hotels, retail outlets and restaurants. Both Anne and I find it beautiful and could easily see ourselves living here. It is just a pity that to have this sort of stability something approaching a benign dictatorship is required. Police and military are all over Rwanda, but they have strict instructions to lay off tourists. At the end of the day this does result in tourists feeling very safe in Rwanda.
My vehicles crank battery was not holding a charge well and we managed to buy and have a new one installed on a Sunday. I cannot complain as the original battery has never been replaced in 6 years. As we were becoming accustomed to, we were grossly overcharged for it.
We are busy planning the activities and places to visit which we are wanting to do in Rwanda, other than the gorillas. We have decided to give the Akagera National Park (Peace Parks Foundation) a miss as we are just about “animal-ed-out” and are looking at places like Nyungwe Forest NP, Lake Kivu and possibly the Congo-Nile trail, the various Genocide memorials and museums and the gorillas in the Volcanoes (Vurungu) NP. We have specifically come directly to Kigali to first seek out gorilla permits and depending on which dates are available, plan the rest of our itinerary around these bookings. Many are the debates around where best to visit gorillas, Uganda or Rwanda. We have decided to try Rwanda first, although it is more expensive. If we fail to secure permits or the viewing flops in any way, we can always fall back on Uganda as we travel north. Rwanda has the reputation of running the most professional of the gorilla hikes and we had no cause to regret our choice. In Uganda we listened to some first-hand accounts of gorilla tours there that did not always go so smoothly. If really adventurous one can pop over the border from Rwanda at Gisenyi at Lake Kivu to Goma in the D.R. of Congo. Although ostensibly cheaper, after transport and visa costs the price difference is not as large. This is what Wayne Jos. ended up doing, the main motivation for him was to climb the live volcano near Goma.
As I type this the harmony of African voices singing hymns from their long Sunday church services, drifts beautifully up the hills of Kigali. We experienced similar beautiful singing in other areas of Rwanda and a lasting memory will always be the sound of beautifully sung hymns drifting over the water of the lakes. This is really a country that has successfully hauled itself up from the depths of depravity. Although not completely comparable, I can only hope that my country can have half this sort of success as we enter the adolescence of our young democracy.