August 16-18, 2017
Once we left the Volcano Sam and Alex, the Russian and I, along with our driver/border guide, Alex headed to the border. Driving through Goma was interesting as the UN seemed to be more active than before. Turns out Alex and I both love cemeteries and both struggled for pictures of this cool one. Sam, being only 20 did not share our fascination and love of cemetery history. (-:
Once we got to the border we said goodbye to Alex, the Russian and Alex, our border guide, helped Sam and I navigate the intricacies of leaving Congo. Congo has a tendency to live up to the reputation of a developing country that uses graft to grease the wheels but Alex made sure we didn’t have that problem. This is yet another great reason to work through a travel company like Inspired Journeys. It took us quite awhile to get through. The lines were much longer than when I arrived. Rwanda bans all plastic bags but I had no issues when I arrived with my baggies. I also had a large plastic compression bag for my clothes going to the volcano. I thought that bag would be fine. But during the border crossing back into Rwanda, the woman checking my luggage decided it needed to be confiscated which was too bad because they held my damp clothes. Yet she ignored my zip locks…I think she just liked the bag. I hope she made good use of it (-:
Once I got to Paradise Malahide, I said my goodbyes to Sam and my border guide, Alex.
My next chapter was beginning…and I was ready to relax a bit. I settled in at a lovely table on Lake Kivu which feels far more like an ocean. I ordered fish and was presented the whole fish. I have never gotten used to my food staring at me.
As I settled in to take in the very relaxed atmosphere, I noticed a young couple taking pictures of each other. I got up and offered to take one of both of them. The young woman appreciated my offer. We began to chat and I learned they were from Rwanda but now living in South Africa. This was a little anniversary since they had a very romantic dinner here on their 2nd date back in 2006!
I invited them to join me and we spent a lovely afternoon together.
It turns out that they both had incredible survival stories. Kevon was orphaned before the genocide and lived in a nice Belgium orphanage in Rwanda when the genocide happened. They had to move the orphanage to Brunei then Congo. But the government of Congo was overwhelmed by Rwandan refugees so the orphanage closed and all the children moved into the Congolese refugee camps. Kevon said it was quite dangerous so he and a few other kids decided it was safer to live on the streets. When he was 12, an American missionary sort of adopted him. She paid for his schooling and got him off the streets. She still stays in constant touch and he considers her his mother.
Amy was 7 during the genocide. She and her family went into hiding but one day she was sent out for water. She was in a market when a grenade was thrown and exploded. She still has shrapnel in her brain. The injury has caused her memory loss and she is terrified of gunfire… for good reason.
I would come to meet so many more people who were terribly affected by the genocide. The stories are beyond tragic. But we also chatted about lots of other things and they gave me wonderful insights into Rwanda, a country that has a far richer history than just Genocide.
After we enjoyed a decadent dessert, we parted ways because I was in desperate need for a nap since only a few hours earlier I had need descending a very steep volcano. When I woke up, my legs were locked up in some serious pain. As I walked from my room to dinner, I must have looked like I was in my 90’s because just walking was shear pain. As soon as I finished dinner, a wonderful troop of dancers came in to entertain us. At one point they grabbed each and every one eating and we had to join in. First of all, I am a great example of white people can’t dance and it took every ounce of strength to move in some sort of rhythm that barely resembled movement much less dance.
When I finally got to go to sleep, a bird with the most irritating chirp…one that sounded like a technological beep…and very loud and high pitched proceeded to “sing” all night. I usually enjoy a nice song from a bird, but this one is lucky I couldn’t really move because I would have taken it out!
I got barely 2 hours sleep before my full day kayaking trip. The lack of sleep was less concerning than the fact my legs were in a locked and upright position!!
Yep this was going to be fun.
Gratien, my kayaking guide from King Fisher Kayaking, was very understanding of my dilemma. After he gave me safety instructions, he gently helped me in and we were off. The day was beautiful and the kayak had these places I could park my feet. Very comfortable. We kayaked out to the small island that Kevon, the day before had told me he had imagined putting a little hotel of huts. It seems my resort already owned it and it was a private beach. We stopped there to check it out and then continued on. After a couple of hours I could feel my exhaustion come on. I asked if we could shorten the trip from 6-7 hours to 4. Gratien said sure. I would miss some of the Village visits and the massage but I was OK…We kayaked around a large peninsula and ended up getting out on a far end shorter one. By this time my legs did not want to bend and the rocks were covered in very slippery moss. Let’s just say, I was happy that I put my iPhone in a waterproof case!
Gratien brought out our boxed lunch of Avocado, tomato and onion sandwiches. And a big chocolate chip cookie. Delicious. Soon, we both noticed the large black clouds that had been in Congo were now moving toward us. This prompted us to quickly get in our kayaks and go straight across the lake which now really resembled an ocean with white caps. The wind was whipping up and of course we were kayaking into it!
Regardless, Gratien and I were having fun. He would let me get ahead and then come up on me and overtake. Yep I was pretty sure my arms would match my legs in the morning. I introduced him to my game of “so close yet so far”. We beat the storm but it was a feat. We said our goodbyes and I retired to my new bungalow. The hotel moved me to a quieter spot, where the birds and locals were not so active. I collapsed in my bed and enjoyed a much needed sleep.
After 2 days at Lake Kivu, I was picked up by Ishmael who would be my driver back to The Step Town Inn in Kigali. Ismael is from Uganda and he regaled me on lovely stories of his home country. We had a delightful drive back over and around the amazingly beautiful Rwandan Mountains. If you had blindfolded me and dropped me in these mountains, I could have imagined North Carolina or such…that is until I saw the women walking along the road carrying large packages on their heads!
Rwanda is an amazing country and the people are so very hard working and strong. Their lives are not easy but they live them with such grace. As individuals there is quite a bit of poverty but together in their communities there is amazing richness. Everyone walks or rides bikes regardless of the steepness of the mountains…I did not see one over weight Rwandan! Visiting countries like Rwanda make me realize how really spoiled and physically weak we are in the west or better yet in America…We, also, could learn a lot about how to deal with poverty…In Rwanda, most have vegetable gardens in their homes…and the communities work together…so if you have the lettuce and someone else the eggs, they share. Ishmael said Uganda works the same way. I guess countries who have never had stable governments have learned to create their own societies within for survival.
When we arrived back in Kigali, many of the roads were blocked and we were being redirected…It seems the President of Rwanda was being inaugurated today! All that meant for us was a much longer drive to the hotel. Once we finally arrived, I said my goodbyes to Ishmael and was greeted by John, the manager of Step Town, with a big smile and hug. He had all sorts of questions about my trip but first asked if I made it up the volcano. It felt like home. The generosity of spirit I have found here is so lovely and I will always think of Rwanda that way.
Off on my 2 day safari in Akagera National Park tomorrow…