Me-go: Around-the-World

Butare via Lake Kivu


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Rwanda is a really small country. In fact, most sites can been seen as a daytrip from the capital. Still, I felt bad coming all the wat to Rwanda only for a few days. I wanted to go chimp tracking but the National Parks aren’t very accomidating to individual tourists. Another attraction is Lake Kivu, the large lake forming Rwanda’s Western border with The Democratic Republic of Congo.

Grace and I decided to head West for a day before stopping at The National Museum in Butare. Only I didn’t look at the map before setting out and realized on the way that Butare is a totally different direction than Kibuye, the town we were visiting on Lake Kivu. After two and a half hours we arrived in a tiny dusty square surrounded by shuttered shops and one twin-pump gas station. The boda-boda motorcycle taxis were typically difficult and it took us fifteen minutes to agree on a price to our hotel.

The hotel was run by a church but had really cute cabins with pretty flowerbeds in front and nice landscaping. The only unfortunate thing was the location, stradling a hill jutting out into the lake. The location provided great views over the wide, still lake but meant walking up and down stairs continuously.

Immediatly Grace ran into a former travel partner from Lamu, Kenya—a very pleasant Italian named Maximo—and we all spent the rest of the afternoon exchanging travel advice. An American on a internship in Kigali whom we met on the bus came by and decided to stay so we finally got a good deal on a room by sharing it between the three of us girls. With all the distractions I didn’t get as much writing as I’d like done. The lake was nice but nothing as spectacular as Lake Bunyonyi in Southern Kenya, where I’d just spent five days.

After our second night we were determinded to be productive and get up early yesterday morning. I woke up at 7:30 and we managed to hitch a ride to town with an USAID car coming from the hotel. We had been told that buses leave toward Kigali every hour. My ambitious plan was to drive toward Kigali, get off at the fork to Butare, get another bus to Butare and see the museum before heading back to Kigali atbefore dark. It was doable.

But then we hit a roadblock. When our USAID driver let us out at the dusty square he turned around and calmly noted that we would have some trouble because there were no buses running—it was a Gacaca day. Gacaca is a community run court that was created in each town or district to handle the enormous amount of genocide cases awaiting trial. Most of the country is on track to finish with the cases by the end of this year but Kibuye was one of the hardest hit areas and still has 3,000 cases pending. In Kibuye the whole village is shut down twice a week until Gacaca finishes for the day.

We sat on some dirty steps for a few minutes feeling sorry for ourselves before another summer Aid worker showed up. She suggested we grab some breakfast and I walked uphill another kilometer with all of my baggage strapped to me. By the time I got my “omlette special” a truck full of pink-uniformed prisoners had passed wo we hurried back to town. Despite our pre-paid numbered tickets, our seats on the first bus had been given away. Grace talked her way into a seat and I waited another 45 minutes on an empty bus until we were sitting with each other’s shoulders in one another’s armpits. By then it was after noon and my masterplan was shattered. Defeated, we headed back to Kigali.

The road from Kibuye winds around the beautiful mountains that makes it so beautiful but not everyone appreciates it. Like many places in the world, locals get very car sick on winding roads and this one was no exception. Within five minutes the woman next to me was dribbling vomit into her spare clothes. I figured it was a one-time ocurance but after she persisted I found an old paper bag for her. That quickly soaked through and I wasn’t sure whatto do. She was taking of her head scarf to use as a recepticle at this point and I decided to flaunt the law and took out a plastic bag.

Plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda, which I totally support. So much garbage in third world countries is plastic bags, it just makes sense. But in this case I felt that it was warranted. Still, the woman hid the bag in her lap during polic checks and put it in her friend’s briefcase just before we arrived in Kigali.

With extra time to spare in Kigali we stopped by the fancy supermarket for cheese rolls and diet coke and took boda-bodas out to a nice place for dinner. I had a salad and chicken with onions, tomatoes and lots of seasoning cooked in tin foil. I haven’t eated anything so flavorful in a long time. We had a bit of trouble flagging down bodas for the ride home and ended up standing under a streetlight holding grocery bags and laughing at ourselves. Finally one empty boda came by and took both of us (big no-no) to the center of town where I hopped on another boda for the rest of the ride.

The streets were empty and as my motorcycle glided around the huge roundabout on top of the hill in the center of town I looked out onto the lights of the surrounding hills and thought “what a life.”

This morning we got off to a late start while Grace went to the bank to get some more money. She had left her remaining $28 US Dollars with the hotel as a deposit on her hotel bill while we were in Kibuye. Back to the bus station again and we squeezed into the last remaining seats on a minibus heading South. It was incredibly slow and we didn’t bother to get lunch, just headed straight into the museum. In fact, we didn’t see the town of Butare at all because we jumped out on the North end of town once we spotted the museum.

The displays were really well done and I enjoyed the full size replica of a traditional straw house. A staff member thought the reason I was drawing the house was because the lighting was too low for photography. So far I haven’t seen anything like this in Africa, the closest being the tiny but interesting tribal museum in Jinka, Ethiopia.

After only a little over an hour we were back in a minibus waiting for it to fill for the ride back to Kigali. This ride was enven worse because the driver stopped at every settlement of houses and for every person standing beside the road, even if they weren’t flagging us down. The two hour trip took three and a half on the way back. I managed a few cute pictures of corn vendors—my only portraits in Rwanda so far.

When the man wedged beside me bought a corn on the cobb I asked to photograph it. He shook his head and when I asked again he hid it under his legs. I had never seen this before—usually a person will say no to photos of themselves but never to corn! I was confused but he seemed to understand me and finally handed me his corn then gestured to my camera. I gave him my camera and he took a photo of me with his corn. I think he was just playing with me.

Just before dark we passed through one of the many police checkpoints onthe road and everyone fell silent. The policeman, in his black button down shirt and beret, asked for form after form and then instruted the driver through a battery of tests. He checked the windshield whipers, horn, lights, brakes and so on. Rwanda is serious about it’s road rules.

Finally I managed to see enough of Rwanda to feel like I wasn’t skipping out but there’s something missing. It’s so quiet and orderly here that it feels devoid of the spirit that overflows from other African towns. I feel like I don’t know Rwanda like I should. I’m usually left with a strong impression of some sort when visiting a country—even after only one week. But here the genocide still looms over everything and taints the spirit of this once proud kingdom.

4 responses to “Butare via Lake Kivu”

  1. Lucas Avatar


  2. chup Avatar

    google “rtw blog” for a little surprise 🙂

  3. Megan Avatar

    Very cool. If only normal folks knew what RTW means!

  4. Claudia Cavazos Avatar
    Claudia Cavazos

    Can’t wait for my “RTW”!!!!!