The roads of Rwanda… I take it all back!

Just like the little girl with the curl, it has to be said that when they are good, they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid.

Clearly the Philippa rule about the heritage of colonialism needs an addendum – where the Chinese have been, the roads are sorted!  (See previous comments about the legacy of French vs British colonisation)

Monday started in Nyungwe Forest Lodge with a much more civilised pick up time of 8am, ready for our next long drive.

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At this point I’m feeling that I was probably a little ambitious about how much we could fit into 6 days in Rwanda (though we subsequently discover we are not alone in this!)

We set off to follow the Congo Nile trail, along Lake Kivu, up the western border of Rwanda. Billed as a 10 day hike, 5 day (mountain) bike ride or 2 day drive (but only for very patient 4WD drivers, the brochure says), it turns out that the actual road is one of the Republic of Rwanda’s major works in progress!

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It takes us 4 hours to do 93km, most through the most astonishingly massive roadworks and earth moving I have ever seen. There are patches not yet attacked – basically a badly rutted bumpy trail, and patches where the final product is tantalisingly showcased – a real road, perfect in every way. When this route is finished, the container trucks to Burundi will no longer need to go through Nyungwe Forest.

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I ask our driver how long this project has been going… thinking about how long it took to almost build a motorway from Auckland to Hamilton, a similar distance. And of course, beating in mind that this is not a simple road; this route winds around, up and down at least 50 or more of this thousand hills or which Rwanda is famous. Two years, he says. I am stunned, expecting maybe 5 or more given the scale we have seen.

No, he says, when the government tenders the project, the consider the resources that the company has available to finish the job quickly. China Roads won the tender, and has certainly brought their resources to bear, while also making full use of local labour. Amazing.

I think about the rebuild of Christchurch and how much more might have been achieved by now with a similar philosophy.

 

We get to the end of the trail – a town, a lunch stop at a truly African ‘restaurant’. I feign vegetarianism, choosing rice with curried banana, coleslaw and avocado, with a side of fries. That pot of boiled chicken just didn’t do it for me. But it  is was certainly good to have some respite from the “African massage” that is the bone jangling bumpiness of the ride so far.

The view from our authentic African lunch spot

The view from our authentic African lunch spot

Back on tarmac after lunch, we still have 5 hours to go!

We arrive at Gorilla Mountain View Lodge – in retrospect, probably not the best choice, only on account of its altitude – late afternoon, with one more (downhill) speeding ticket under our belt.  On closer examination, it’s not the the speedometer doesn’t have a needle, it’s just that the mileage counter has been disabled, and this clearly means the speedometer doesn’t work.  If you’re doing zero miles, you must be going at zero miles an hour!

Emmanuel says he’s going back down to the town to sleep – not enough air for sleeping up here.  But in every other way, this lodge is perfect.  None of the affluent luxury of Nyungwe, this lodge is straight out of old Africa, think Cathedral Peak, complete with a dinner gong, red polished concrete floors, and a giant room with its own fireplace.  The temperature at night falls below 20C, so we must need a fire in the bedroom (no thanks!) despite the not one but two heavy duvets, plus blanket on the bed.

Tomorrow – gorillas! The excitement is mounting…  We share a bottle of South African Merlot, and head off to bed.

i download photos from my camera – no internet.  I have dozens of bad, out of focus snaps of things that caught my eye out of the window of the Landcruiser as we zoomed by.  This is Africa, poor, but happy, vibrant and alive.

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Bureaucracy gone mad – airport faces all round

Getting into Rwanda is no mean feat. It’s hard enough to actually get here from anywhere meaningful, but then you have to deal with the paperwork.

Apply for your Visa online, we’re told – it’s easy! And sure enough a few days after filling in the online forms, two visas arrived by email, which were duly printed out and filed in the travel folder. Hmmmm … No mention of the fact that that piece of paper is just a confirmation that they WILL issue you a visa, on payment of course, of the visa fee (now that wasn’t mentioned anywhere). At least they accepted our VISA card!

And then the forms!

So on the plane, they announce that the Republic of Rwanda apologises for any inconvenience caused by the additional form we need to fill in on arrival as part of their Ebola control programme… No forms handed out on the plane. So arrive, fill in the Ebola forms, have our temperature taken, waved through to passport control, where we present our emailed visas, and our passports.

Must say, I did wonder what they would do if someone arrived with a temperature, despite having been nowhere near West Africa!

No forms, says the man. No, we left the form with the Ebola control people we say. No, another form, says he.

Go back go the forms desk – sure enough, an arrivals form, akin to a mini census! Fill them in, persuade the Ebola man he’s already got our Ebola forms, back at passport control… No visa, he says, need to pay!

So off to the visa payment desk – US$30 each – she hand our visas over to the passport control man sitting beside her, who stamps them so that she can issue another form which she gives us, which we then give him, along with out passports….

At this point I have been travelling for 32 hours, I definitely have my airport face on! Several minutes for each of us while he takes our photo, reads our passports from cover to cover, stamps and dates the visa into each passport, stamps and dates our entry into the country….

Aaaaah, the joys of international travel! In my head I can hear Peter saying “welcome to Africa”, but thankfully not out loud!

BUT WAIT, there’s more….
Departure day: Emmanuel right on time with the pick up at the hotel, who want to charge us for meals and drinks, when all except alcohol was included in the voucher. Need to see our guide to sort it out. Much arguing ensues – I send Peter back in to remind them that we have a plane to catch…

Arrive at airport 90 minutes before departure. Walk up path to airport – man needs to see passports and tickets before he will allow us to even approach the entry doors. Full scan of everything before we can enter the building… Shoes off, laptops out and all.

We walk across the small room – another man at a desk. Passport check again. What is our final destination? How long have we been in a Rwanda… Maybe he was just passing the time of day.

At the checkin desk, all goes well – a final glimpse of that helpful, smiling Rwandan charm. 50kg plus of luggage makes us thankful for the generous Etihad baggage allowance.

Up the escalators – one not working. Passport control… But first, of course, the paperwork. A departure form that rivals the arrivals one, collecting again the same information as before. Consider, peruse, read each passport, stamp, stamp, stamp and we’re through.

We stop in the duty free shop… Cute bangles and beads. How much, we ask? You must ask the other man, the unhelpful woman at the till pronounces. Our flight leaves in one hour… Airport staff come to tell us we must go to boarding, which is within sight. We ignore them.

How much, we ask the man? Bangle US$10, one string beads US$30. Together the combined monthly wage for a secondary school teacher. I laugh. Peter pulls out a US$10 note for the bangle, he really likes it. It’s purple, Izzy’s favourite colour. Man examines the note carefully – not good, he says, pushing it back to us. (They don’t like US notes printed 10 or more years ago, or showing any wear and tear – this one is 2004 and in pretty good nick). Oh well, says Peter, you don’t want my money, this place is a rip off anyway. We walk away. “How much you want to pay” comes the question trailing behind us. If I’d wanted to barter, I’d have gone to the bazaar!

We arrive at the departure gate. Another security screening machine. Shoes, belts, watches…. No check of liquids, aerosols & gels, mind you! My bag gets pulled aside. You have batteries. Yes, I say, camera… Pull out my camera, extract battery. No, he says, other batteries. Starts fishing around the three compartments.

Ah, yes. I pull out a two pack of Energiser AAA batteries – still in the original packaging. He tosses them into the rubbish bin? What??? No batteries, he says. More in bag. Well yes there are – that pack he’s just tossed were the spares for Peter’s noise cancelling headphones. My spares are in my headphone case. I unzip it, but this time hold tightly onto the new battery pack.

Wait I say, I need these. 30 hour flights – I point to the headphones. No, he says, no spares. At this point we are causing major traffic jam, but I don’t care. Okay, I say, you have the old ones. I make Peter unpack his headphones as well, and we put one new battery into each set. I hand the man the used ones. He looks disappointed.

At this stage I notice that the bin is full of brand new batteries, all still in their packaging. Yet another way tourism is contributing to the Rwandan economy I think. Peter’s airport face is thunderous. It’s hot, were sweating. But blow me down – passports please – before we can enter the holding pen.

I’ve lost them, says Peter. I’m exhorting him to stay calm, we’re nearly there. As he hands them over, he bursts forth. “This is fucking ridiculous. I know this is Africa, and they need to employ people, but this is fucking ridiculous”.

No more ridiculous, I think, than allowing me to take as many batteries as I like, so long as each one is already installed in its device… But no spares. I’m sorry, but that makes no rational sense at all!! And don’t tell me it’s for my own good, all in the name of security. You allowed me to (inadvertently, on my part) carry a tube of 80% DEET onto the plane – enough to make everyone feel pretty poorly – and not even in my little plastic baggie!

As we sit in the holding pen awaiting a bus to the plane. I pray that Peter isn’t listening to the conversation going on behind us – an American tourist complimenting the final passport man on their fantastic airport security.

Peter points out a poster of my gorilla, lying head rested on his hands, just like in my photos.

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The caption says “Rwandan experiences go with you”. Yes, indeed they do – the good and the bad!

As we sink into our seats on the plane, Kenya Airways is playing one of those TV shows about pranks played on unsuspecting people in a supermarket car park. We can’t help but laugh.