Friday, March 28, 2008


At the border between Uganda and Rwanda

On the road to Kigali

We pass what's left of a less-fortunate vehicle

Arrival at Chez Lando, Kigali

A tremendous Rwandan beer!

Josephine, our waitress at Sol e Vino in Kigali

March 27, 2008

Today is a simple day. We do three things:

1) After breakfast at the Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort, we go for a boat ride on the lake. This is Christina's first time in a boat. She survives.

2) We drive with Ismail to Kigali.

3) We check in to Chez Lando (our hotel) and go to an Italian restaurant for pizza.

The border teaches us how valuable Ismail is. Because he is from central Uganda (a Bugandan), he says he will get hassled at the border. He describes the process - a careful and slow vehicle inspection, with fines for anything like a cracked windshield, etc.

But he looks Tutsi (or what is taken to be the Tutsi stereotype). So - he hires a Rwandese woman to do all the talking for him. This involves paperwork for border clearance for the van, vehicle insurance and and entry permit for Ismail as a driver. All this costs 92,000 Rwanda Francs (about $190 USD). And the process is sped up considerably as a result.

While he does all of this, we have to fill out and hand in exit forms and change money on the Uganda side (using a money changer that Ismail trusts - there are many at the border, and some - apparently - have counterfeit bills).

Then we have to walk across the no-man's-land (about 200 metres) to the Rwanda side. Photography is prohibited. We fill out entry forms and get our passports stamped. The official is very polite, and entry is free (unlike Uganda, which charged each of us $50 USD to get in).

That's it. Then we wait for Ismail to finish the vehicle permit process. Then we drive to Kigali.

The drive is about 2.5 more hours. And it rains the whole way. The road is fairly new - in much better shape than the road from Kampala - but the country is very hilly. We wind down long switch-backs through the greenest, most verdant land I have ever seen. We are now driving on the right side of the road, which makes passing more difficult for Ismail, as the van is a right-hand drive). Occasional mud slides block our lane. We pass occasional boulders that have fallen from somewhere above. People on the road are working large plots of tea, or sugar cane. Boys gesture at us (there is much less traffic on this road, than on the Ugandan roads, where no one seemed interested in us). One does an elaborate end-zone dance. The rain continues.

The people on the road have a different look. The clothing - when Western in style, as it is on the many boys we pass - seems uniformly Khaki in colour, and very well worn. The traditional clothing shows different styles and colours. Or maybe I'm imagining that, because everyone is soaking wet from the heavy rain.

We arrive in Kigali during a downpour. The storefront signs and advertising billboards are a mixture of English and French and Kinyarwanda. We see a street fight between two young men - with cheering coming from a crowd hiding from the rain under storefront canopies. The violence is sudden and a shock. As we drive we see just how different Kigali is from Kampala. Lawns. Paved roads. A great many new buildings. Gardens. There has been much done in recent years.

Kigali is a city built on hills, and is quite beautiful - like a cross betweeen Kamloops and Santa Barbara. It is a stark contrast to the dust and wonderful chaos of Kampala. On this first drive, it looks decidedly wealthy. As Ismail has said, Rwanda is a "serious" place. Seat belt laws and fines. The motorcycle taxi drivers all wear helmets. It is also an expensive place, we discover, at the restaurant. We hear that Kigali is the safest and most expensive city in Africa.

We begin to see that Rwanda and Uganda, are in fact, different countries. This is, of course, contrary to the typical Western imagining that Africa is a monolithic place. 

It ain't.

We return to Chez Lando. Only two more days to go.

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