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Rwanda. Kibuye, Lake Kivu, Presbyterian Hotel Center Bethanie. Thursday 30 July. Week 14, day 109.

We were up early as mentioned and soon were leaving Nyungwe Forest. The total length of the road through the NP is 50km, with Uwinka being close to the midpoint of the road. With the new road this is a lovely drive through stunningly unspoilt and ancient rainforest. This road is really good except for short segments where it is under repair despite being relatively new, perhaps typical of Chinese roadwork in Africa? It passes through splendid forests in the national park and winds its way around and up and down typical hilly Rwanda terrain. We saw some blue monkeys along the roadside but the turacos flying overhead and flitting in the tree tops were too far to identify from the vehicle. The new road must have made a major difference. After the park one enters a lovely area of cultivated terraces with banana, tea and tree plantations and the highly populated, hilly terrain is very striking. We were close to the border with stricken Burundi here but there was no sign of any problems, with only one signposted refugee camp.

We decided to visit the southern center on Lake Kivu, Rusizi (formerly Cyangugu), mainly because I was out of smokes. This town has no decent accommodation and has not much to see and soon we were backtracking to Buhinga, where the road from Nyungwe had joined, here we took the road north to Karongi (Kibuye) along the eastern bank of Lake Kivu and forming part of the so-called Congo-Nile Trail. It is named thus because the ridge of mountains here running from north to south is said to form the watershed between the mighty Congo and Nile Rivers. The Congo drains to the west and the Nile to the east. Others will probably want to take this route directly and not bother driving to Rusizi. Along the route there are plenty of genocide memorial sites signposted and it was in this area on the eastern banks of Lake Kivu that most deaths took place. We had seen enough having seen those in and around Kigali but it might be an idea to research a visit to some of these.

This road is being reconstructed and there are major engineering works by the Chinese and it will be a major asset for the country and tourism when completed. It follows the Congo-Nile trail hugging the hillsides and after about 10km it is mostly gouged out from the side of the hills along the lakeside. The views are jaw-dropping. In my reading and research for this trip I could only get an inkling of what to expect for this section of road along the south-east of the lakeshore. I was aware that work was being done but was oblivious to the size and extent of this undertaking, it is massive. Initially it was only the occasional short technical sections that were not completed, but then there were good diversions. After about 55km the scene changed. There was no longer any surfaced road but we were at least initially driving on a widened compacted road being prepared for tarmac. Closer to Karongi, probably for the last 20km, the road became a bit intrepid. Not that you would damage a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle. I don’t think a saloon car would make it through here. In typical Chinese fashion the road meanders through active construction sites with us travelling close to bulldozers, graders and rollers without any diversions, traffic control or signage. You had to pick your own way through the actively working mega-machines. This type of thing would never be seen in most countries, health and safety would have a fit. In mitigation, with the way that the road has had to be engineered and gouged out of the hillside, there is no place for a diversion. The amount of earth being shifted must be mind boggling. When complete this road with its magnificent views is really going to open up Lake Kivu for more tourism. Even now I would encourage self-drivers to take this route along the southern edge of the Lake, it is stunning and the road conditions will improve rapidly.

The destination of Karongi was reached by early afternoon and we headed for the recommended Presbyterian Hotel Center Bethanie. There is apparently little if any camping in Karongi and this was accurately suggested as an economical but pleasant enough place to stay right on the lakeshore. Initially we had a little difficulty as T4A insisted we drive up a one-way along the lakeshore. We eventually found a route through the town center. The wicked amongst you relax, although owned by the Presbyterian Church it has a fully functional bar and restaurant, prices are good and the fare not too bad. It is situated on a large terraced property right on the side of Lake Kivu, just out of town and has magnificent views over the water. A room with 2 single beds costs Rwanda Franc 30,000 (US$30) for 2 and includes breakfast. The rooms are a little basic but the linen is clean and they have free fast wi-fi. It suited us perfectly. There is hot water with a bath or hand-held shower. They told me that they used to have camping, but that the ablutions are being revamped and they will reopen sometime in the future. Boat trips can be arranged from the hotel to some nearby islands and may be worth looking into. There is not too much going on in Karongi and we will head for Rubavu (Gisenyi) tomorrow taking the northern section of the Congo-Nile Trail which is proper 4x4 country and apparently is in reasonable condition out of the rainy season. It will apparently only take about 4hr. Do I never learn about the perils of the road less travelled? We shall see what the morrow brings!