“It is not down in any map; true places never are.” – Herman Melville.
Luxury of all luxuries, I managed to sleep till 08H00 this morning, a real exception for me and a treat for Anne not to be disturbed at some unearthly hour. The breakfast at Kinigi consisted of good coffee, some fruit, a decent enough omelet and toast.
We had some time to kill and still wanted to see more of rural Rwanda which we will be leaving soon. There were only a few options. We did not fancy visiting the nearby Musanze Caves, which are apparently impressive. You have to do this with a guide, obtainable from the Volcanoes Park HQ at quite a cost. We also were not keen on the Golden Monkey Trek in the park. It costs in excess of US$100 per person. Speaking to the people at Kinigi they advocated a self-drive circumnavigating Lake Burera a short distance north-east of Musanze.
After receiving directions from them off we set at mid-morning after the mist had lifted somewhat. Detailed directions will be given for those wanting them, in the Geeks section. This was a most spectacular drive and the scenic beauty exceeded that around Lake Kivu, which is not easily achieved. I would support the idea of planning to make a free day available, so enjoyable was this outing. Most of us will spend only a short time in Rwanda and both Anne and I agree that an extra day doing this drive will be enjoyed by most and will be well worth the time spent. Do not be intimidated by the lack of detailed maps of the route, the roads are good and I am motivated to provide detailed directions, because of the value we feel will be added if you take this option. Unfortunately it was once again a misty and hazy day and it was difficult for photographs to do the scenic beauty and visual impact justice.
Having turned off the tarred road in Musanze (Ruhengeri) towards the Cyanika Border Post after about 10km, you take a dirt road east. This road will circumnavigate Lake Burera (we did it anti-clockwise) but initially it heads for the steel bridge spanning the spit between this lake and its slightly smaller sister lake towards the south, Lake Ruhondo. Initially in fact the view is of Lake Ruhondo as the excellent dirt road carves its way along the steep hillsides descending into the lake. Lake Burera is close by but initially any view is obscured by the hilltop peaks. After the metal bridge the road turns north-east and you are travelling in similar viewing conditions, first along the eastern shores of Burera and later the northern tip. These 2 rift valley lakes are small in the East African context but would be regarded as huge in Southern Africa. Just to reiterate that we regarded the views, ambience and scenery to be superior to those of the much-touted Lake Kivu area, plus this was in an entirely rural setting and genuinely qualifies as the route less travelled, although the road conditions were surprisingly good. Particularly appealing to the eye was the fact that one was viewing the lakeside from a significant height and the steeply sloping hills into the water, the numerous small inlets and the small islands dotting the water all added to the unique landscape. The fact that for long periods on the route one closely tracked the curving lake shore, often far below, added to the impact.
Although this is deeply rural Rwanda it remains relatively densely populated and the steeply sloping hills are under extensive cultivation. This produces a most attractive landscape with the terraced plantations of bananas, sugar cane, tea and eucalyptus trees. To my mind however there is one major detracting factor. All the indigenous forests were destroyed during colonial times and replaced with eucalyptus for timber. What a pity as this must adversely affect the presence of indigenous creatures and birds in particular. Unfortunately this applies to much of the country. For the first half of the drive we encountered not a single other vehicle and when it became a little busier, it was only a few taxi busses.
Later a soft drizzle began and the mist set in a little. We still had some way to go and I fervently hoped that heavier rain would not set in as I would not fancy driving these narrow, steeply ascending and descending dirt roads in the wet, with their stomach-turning drop offs and blind corners. This drive is not for those with a fear of heights. Once again our luck held out and conditions remained firm under the tyres. The second half of the route is blank space on T4A but by stopping along the route and asking, we found our way around the lake and back to the tar road between the border and Musanze. As you pass the northern tip of the lake you are only a few km from the Ugandan border and as the crow flies only 20km from Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi, which we will visit soon. If you are entering Rwanda from the north and have the time to spare, you can do this circumnavigation in the opposite direction to us, in other words clockwise. If anyone does this drive could I please ask you to contact me as I would love to know if you enjoyed it as much as we did. The drive took us 4hr and every minute was worth it! It could comfortably be done in 3hr if need be.
Once again conditions at Kinigi were too misty for a view of the nearby volcanic peaks of the Virunga Mountains but we still have 2 more days here and our luck is bound to change. Hence “Gorillas in the mist” I suppose. I have bought the book “In The Kingdom Of Gorillas” by Weber and Vedder and it gives an excellent insight into the early days of gorilla tourism, the ropey policies of Dian Fossey and the political upheavals in Rwanda leading to the genocide. The weather is quite chilly but fortunately they light a roaring log fire in the lounge and this is where we will be enjoying our pre-dinner drinks again. The staff here cannot do enough for the guests and it is sad to see tourist numbers down so much. Africa’s future, in my opinion is strongly linked to tourism, which in turn is linked to perceptions regarding the future stability of our continent. The last thing needed were the activities of Moslem extremist groups, Ebola and political instability in neighboring countries.
With our gorilla hike only 36hr away I am starting to stretch my stringy hamstrings and ease back on my smoking (neither true), but the thought that I do not want to slow down the rest of the group of 8 people is starting to worm its way into the mind. We shall see!