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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Month: July 2014 (page 1 of 3)

All that glitters is green

The road to Kigali started before sunrise , packing the scooter and getting prepared for a long day on the seat , the staff at the Gaprena had made a special effort to get breakfast started  earlier , so I was on the road before seven looking for a fuel station that sold unleaded , to no avail so Victoria for the first time in her life had to sample super , in wine terms that is going from a fantastic complex and voluptuous  Bordeaux to the simple thin acidic red we all tried at university .  I don’t know who was more distraught Victoria or myself , she took it so well , no warning lights just the road warrioress she is , me on the other hand stopping at every fuel station to try and find unleaded to dilute this inferior mix running through her veins .During my hunt for the lead free my GPS defected to somewhere in the old USSR and with English  Emily gone , life was proving interesting getting out of town and finding the right road to Kigali . Road signs are on the endangered list up in Africa , so I decided to pull over and try and reset the device to factory settings , as it transpired the factory must have been in the old USSR , finally after much frustration and button pressing English returned and I could once again restore Emily back to her former glory and we took on the road

So the ride for the border started , roads that inspired speed and satisfaction , others that remind me of slow Chinese torture  , these parts luckily were only very short stretches and the Chinese were repairing them . The landscape changing continually  , amazing forest  , bush with a little tropical greenery now and again . As the kilometres wound up, one could  feel the land starting to  change as Rwanda started showing herself way off  into the distance , her peaks teasing and the closer you get so  she starts infecting her neighbour with smatterings of green , you start to feel the richness change in the soil .

The border crossing was as easy as a drive through back home and within twenty minutes I was riding up into the mountains of Rwanda.

 

Arriving in Rwanda

Arriving in Rwanda

One can feel that you are in a different country within a few kilometres, the country is so green and lush , the soil looks so fertile and the mountains are all around you . As Victoria and I wound  around , up and down on these mountain  roads leading to Kigali which are  just so beautiful and majestic ,  I had to continually tell myself to watch the road not the vistas as to much looking on these roads could be lethal.

 

Valleys and Mountains

Valleys and Mountains

The road takes you through village after village , people out and about living rural Rwandan life , the country feels ordered and what is very noticeable and dramatically apparent as you ride through is that there is very little litter anywhere on the main roads or in  the little towns you pass through , It looks African but feels different , there seems to be a distinct pride in place and people.

 

Just great scootering country

Just great scootering country

It is only around 80 kilometres to Kigali but it does take a lot of concentration and time , the road is very twisty and also serves as the only route from the border to the city , so it can be a little truck intense .

 

Hunting in packs

Hunting in packs

The fourth truck in the pack was just behind me hooting to pass so he could  catch up with his crew , so Victoria and I pulled off the road for a while to let them get a head and we spent our time enjoying the classic alpine views. Later I would find the fatal four all pulled up on the side of the road with ambulances and police about and a car caught in the path of the leader. I hope nobody was hurt and a lesson learnt .

 

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After soaking it all in and giving the pack time to get way in front I spent the next couple of hours enjoying the countryside , the villages as well as stopping off at a few roadside markets along the way. The Rwandese are incredibly hospitable and welcoming , they would come up and introduce themselves to me , ask my name and  a number  of the children could speak English with a few commenting on Madiba  and  my South African flag . My initial hours after arrival in Rwanda really felt fantastic , I was looking forward to my time here.

 

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The road passing through a village on the way to Kigali

The road passing through a village on the way to Kigali

I stopped off at this really beautiful market to have a look around and take some pictures , I felt that it showed the order of the country as well as the richness and colour of this  land and her people .

 

Vic goes to market

Vic goes to market

 

Rich and plump

Rich and plump

 

The republic

The republic

 

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After our time at the market it was time to head for the capital , I really enjoyed the rest of the ride passing through these pristine little towns only filled with life and no litter , beautiful boulevards and vibrant colour , this really does feel different to the path I have travelled thus far .

 

Small towns  , set back from the road allows for boulevard life

Small towns , set back from the road allows for boulevard life

Coming into Kigali was my first big city entry on the trip and I arrived late Friday afternoon peak hour traffic , it took confusion to a new level , I am going to have to up my game for my city riding the further north I go . What is really worrying is that Kigali is really small in comparison to other African cities and much more organised , with traffic circles , traffic lights that even show drivers how many seconds before they are going to turn red or green and wide tree lined boulevards . As time passed I got more and more lost and got Victoria stuck in a severe traffic  jam causing her temperature to climb into the red , we found a parking lot and pulled over to re group and let her motor cool. I got hold of some South African guys that Riaan had put me in contact with that are working in Kigali. They were just around the corner from our resting place , so off we went , found them and one of the guys Brent was kind enough to show me a couple of accommodation options ,  within an hour I found myself in the tranquil gardens  of Discover Rwanda backpackers pitching my tent , chatting to a Dutch couple Jan and Margriet who knew all about the soloscooterist from a site called overland sphere so we had a good chuckle as to how small Africa can be. After a long shower I met up with a couple of people in the common area and settled down for an evening of  Africa travel stories .

A little tired after a long day and over 450 kilometres it was off to bed for tomorrow is Umuganda   .

Until we meet again

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Coming to America & Umuganda

Morning breaks ,  Kigali awakes , I sit coffee in hand enjoying the tranquillity before the city comes to life.

 

Sunrise and Rwandan coffee

Sunrise and Rwandan coffee

Sunrise over Kigali

Sunrise over Kigali

My camp site had an amazing view over a part of the city , so I rose to the morning light , had some coffee and watched the daylight bring the city to life . I had arrived on the eve of Umuganda which is a day when everything is closed and all Rwandans meet and clean in and around their area  and it lasts from 08h00 until 11h00 on the last Saturday of the month. I had met Safari the previous evening who had been living in Kigali for the last 10 months , returning to the country of his birth from his life in Belgium , Safari is his Rwandese name so given to him by the locals. We decided that we would go down into local village to join them for Umuganda.  Armed with bags , brooms and one machete we headed down the hill to join in on the big clean . On our arrival there was much chatter around the mzungu with bag and machete in hand . Out of a group of around 50 people it was myself , Safari and about 4 locals cleaning house so to speak while the entire village stood around amused by our efforts . Safari explained that this area is so poor that it basically lives on the fringe and the wealthy Kigali rises up from the valley to look down on their lives from above , so forgotten and destitute Umuganda does not feature as a priority in their lives . We worked for around and hour and after a while  it started to feel a little uncomfortable so we decided to go and clean  the streets closer to the main road.

street cleaning

street cleaning

After our efforts it was shower time and now that all was open it was time to explore the city , and wow what a city it is , it felt like arriving in America after the places I had travelled through. Kigali is referred to as ” Africa Lite ” , an African experience with out all that is African , so the westerners apparently get their training wheels here or so I was told by the locals. Kigali is a really beautiful city built on hills and in valleys , it is nothing like the picture your mind paints for you prior to your arrival . It is really advanced beyond expectation , beautiful tree lined streets designed for walking , manicured parks , great shops and restaurants filled  with really wonderful , helpful and proud people.

 

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Kigali skyline

Kigali skyline

I spent the next couple of days exploring the city , going out to the various genocide memorial sites including the churches and the actual memorial in town. I don’t want to try and put  into words what the experience is like , needless to say no words can describe what you see and feel from the core that makes you human . I salute all Rwandans for what they as a people and a country have achieved over the last 20 years , my respect and admiration for you will forever live in my heart . What a nation.

 

Live in peace Rwanda

Live in peace Rwanda

On they way back from one of the memorial sites I came across a school that was established  by our late great Madiba , so Victoria and I pulled off to pay our respects . After my time at the memorial it felt really heart warming to come across this sign , so far from home , yet just seeing the sign gave me a sense of comfort  and lifted my spirits momentarily .

 

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Along the road from Kigali leading out of town I felt Victoria give a shudder , I was a little confused and worried but when I looked up from the scooter I understood , not something a Vespa wants to see on the side of the road.

 

What happened here I wonder?

What happened here I wonder?

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Later that afternoon Safari and I went on a walking tour in and around parts of Kigali , he wanted to show me first hand the massive discrepancies that occurred  just on my door step , so we started in one of the poorest neighbourhoods and made our way to the country club and ambassadorial homes. Wow what a privilege and experience it was  , I was so touched by the children covered in just rags and dust , yet just running around the streets with them chasing me put smiles on faces all around ,  we played and fooled around until the sun threatened to retreat behind the hill , it was time for us to go and smiles were replaced with children hanging on my every limb to slow our departure . A rare beautiful insight , people with so little yet so full of life . From here we left for up town and then home.

 

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Running the streets

Running the streets

 

Suburbia

Suburbia

 

Kigali chic

Kigali chic

The rest of the evening was spent reflecting on a day that does not often happen to a person , what I saw , emotionally experienced and felt over the course of the day had to find a place in me where it could just be , respected and remembered.

 

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The hills and the valleys

On a lighter note , I have endeavoured to find a sticker for each countries flag I have travelled through and to date the only one I was unable to find was Malawi but was really struggling to find one for Rwanda. I had met JC a local who told me of a place across town where young kids on the street plied their trade and hand produced the flag using different colour reflective tape. He would take me the next morning ,  as firstly I would not find the place and he felt going alone would not be a great idea , communication could be very difficult . So the next morning Victoria and I followed him through morning traffic to arrive on a street with nothing but people , he put out the word and in a flash the artists arrived to hand produce the flag.

 

The measuring

The measuring

 

The crafting

The crafting

 

The final product

The final product

 

Victoria being a little gangsta while getting her Rwandan flag made

Victoria being a little gangsta while getting her Rwandan flag made

Was I impressed a work of art crafted from reflective tape , using the street as your market and the boot of a car as your work bench . Victoria proudly boasted yet another flag . Off we set to prepare for my next days departure up to Lake Kivu on the Rwandan , Congolese border. On the way home riding past a couple of government buildings flying the flag , I realised my work of art had the sun on the wrong side of the flag , it should be on the right hand top corner not the left , I almost fell off Victoria I was laughing so hard , I spent the rest of the day with a huge smile on my face while I toured Kigali.

Tomorrow we ride for the Lake and to explore the countryside , tea plantations and the mountains.

Until we meet again.

 

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Lake Kivu

After a fantastic time in Kigali , I decided to head west and take the road up to a town called Gisenyi so that I could spend some time exploring the lake and the surrounding mountains . It is only about a 160 kilometres from the city but takes around three hours  , the road passes through valleys and mountains for the most part of the ride. It has to be one of the most scenic rides I have ever done it was absolutely amazing. Victoria and I leaning into these wonderful corners that throw you right , then left , then up and over the top just to be sent down into the valley before it all starts again , scootering at its best . One buzzes past villages , tea plantations , banana trees , the land so rich with life.

 

Magnificent countryside all around , as you ride

Magnificent countryside all around , as you ride

 

A brick manufacturing area

A brick manufacturing area

 

The area is very agriculturally rich with everything you can think of being planted or harvested , on one of the hillsides I spotted this clay brick open air factory for lack of a better description , it was incredible to watch from a distance as to how the bricks started life on the mud flats to end their journey constructing homes after spending sometime basking in the sun on the hillside. The beautiful homes and villages nestled into the mountains and hills sporting their Tuscan style roof tiles , clay brick walls all surrounded by this rich soil and dense greenery.

 

Land at work

Land at work

 

The ride west really is dreamlike you find yourself cocooned in this beautiful lush land that lulls one into a state of harmony with nature and rural life , I found myself slowing down and stopping more just to admire this place and way of life. I stopped off for breakfast at a roadside restaurant and as usual was made to feel right at home with the chef and owner coming out to introduce themselves , telling me about the area , the gorilla naming ceremony that was happening up the road  , the restaurant and so I sat a guest , touched by the people of Rwanda enjoying my thermos and eggs.

 

Vic on the way to Lake Kivu , coffee and spectators .

Vic on the way to Lake Kivu , coffee and spectators .

The towns and villages I passed through all vibrant and filled with street live , yet so clean , neat and beautifully maintained , in a very  simple proud way .

 

The main road riding up to Gisenyi through one of the towns.

The main road riding up to Gisenyi through one of the towns.

So the road took me into Gisenyi and onto the shores of Lake Kivu , I rode slowly through the town admiring its streets and ended up at the main beach , sitting in the shade observing holiday makers and locals alike enjoying this beautiful place.

 

Boulevard along the lake

Boulevard along the lake

 

A holiday home on Lake Kivu

A holiday home on Lake Kivu

 

The beach

The beach

So I followed the lakeshore road back out of town  for the short ride  to my destination Inzu lodge , perched on the hillside with magnificent views of the lake.

 

View from my tent of the lake.

View from my tent of the lake.

 

I spent the next couple of hours relaxing in the open air lounge , restaurant and bar area overlooking  the lake reading , with the shores of the  Congo on  the distant horizon.  As the sun started to set and the colours started to change the lake , came the beautiful sound of  the fishermen singing as they sailed their  boats out on to the lake  for the evenings ritual .

 

Open air area

Open air area

The singing continues all the way out into the bay and as the sun disappears the singing dies down and all that is left are the shining lanterns on their boats as they settle down for the night .

 

The fishermen sailing out for the night.

The fishermen sailing out for the night.

Up early to enjoy the sunrise , that I unfortunately missed , I spent the morning reading and then in the afternoon set off to go and hike in the mountains , to explore village life high up in the more remote areas around Lake Kivu. Wow what a great way to spend the lazy afternoon hours. I hiked up from the lodge my aim the top , got totally lost and had to go off- piste to find the top , which I eventually did using what I think only the goats used.

 

The path up or so I thought

The path up or so I thought

Taking a breather

Taking a breather

As I made my way to the top I was astonished  that people could actually farm at this gradient , I was finding it virtually impossible to even walk up right. The climb was well worth it as the views just picture perfect .

 

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I spent sometime at the top before making my way down the path that would take me through mountain villages all the way back into town and finally the lodge for some well deserved ice cold water and some refreshing tea , it had been a testing four hours . The lower down I got so more and more children came out to walk along and soon enough the pied piper was heading for home .

 

Heading for home

Heading for home

The evening was spent enjoying Isambaza a local fish dish in a delicious rich sauce. The fish are tiny about the size of a french fry , fried to crispy perfection . I spent the rest of the evening in the gracious company of a family from France who’s roots span both continents , divided by the events earlier in Rwanda’s history and now re united to enjoy a country and family  while cousins and generations born to both worlds meet for the first time . Just amazing .

Today it is back to Kigali , all roads lead to and from this hub, no matter where you are going or coming from Kigali the star holds the road to your next destination . I have not made any decisions around how long I will spend in the city before moving on to Uganda . Lets see what the day brings.

 

Until we meet again.

 

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Kigali Nights

On my return to the city , I have really been lucky , Riaan of VansAfrica put me in contact with Philip , who has  been so kind and gracious and put me up in his home. Philip a South African now living and working in Rwanda has been such a fantastic host that it has been very hard to get back on the road.

On my first night here we managed to pull an almost all nighter enjoying Kigali until the early hours  , we kicked off at a great restaurant called Zen , followed by Papyrus , then Sundowner with the last stop Le Must . Nothing nicer than been shown a city by a local , thanks a million Philip. The next day involved doing a little work on the scooter and then a good wash to put the gleam back into Victoria.

The great thing been in a home is it gives one a chance to spring clean and get the road grime off all your stuff ,  so it was wash and more wash from clothes to the helmet , all the bags the tent and anything else that caught my eye. I had also broken one of the tent pole joins , which I mentioned to Philip , I had done a kind of repair using a cable tie , He then offered to take it into town for me and when he returned the repair was fantastic , the join repaired by sliding a sleeve over the broken join , good as new.

When I arrived back on Thursday I planned to leave for Uganda on Saturday , but between the restaurants , great home accommodation and  fantastic company all seems to have frozen my departure , so here I still am enjoying Kigali . I have also used this time to do some route planning and research on the rest of the trip up to Egypt and Israel , so I am feeling much more confident as well as the excitement that comes with the prospect of new countries and cultures , so I  will more than likely leave for Uganda on Monday or Tuesday .

Rwanda has been such a gift , the people , the place just find a way into your heart and makes it very difficult to leave . Rwanda really offers so much from the great Kigali to those exceptional mountains and valleys filled with natural beauty , a place that should be on every travellers list .

Until we meet again

 

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Leaving hotel Rwanda

So Monday morning arrived and with the morning came the decision , do I stay or do I go ? So I thought I would pack the scooter and see how that went and then make a call . The crossing to Uganda was not far and my first stop being Lake Bunyonyi was only about a 125 kilometres away , so I could take my time saddling up Victoria , drinking  premium Rwandan  filter while I decided what Monday should bring . I was sorely tempted to stay ,  Philip had told me about a fantastic Italian restaurant that we had not yet tried  , so I was torn between the road , a tender and tasty veal dish washed down with a bottle of Chianti . The choices one has to make. When I saw Victoria all dressed up I knew it was time to go  and living in a luxury  home environment was making   me soft and turning Victoria back into a city girl. Lack of unleaded aside.

I popped into town to go and thank my gracious host , now friend  Philip , who had been so kind and generous with his time , his home and his kindness . Then it was off to the border and  on to the lake for my first night in Uganda. The road out of Kigali was a little busy but in no time whatsoever Solo , Vic and those special playlists Tim had mixed for me put rubber to asphalt and soon Rwanda was flying by.

 

A last look at the green of Rwanda before crossing the border.

A last look at the green of Rwanda before crossing the border.

The road was great all the way to the border with a few patches being repaired , and then the line that divides arrived , a very easy crossing once again , I was out of the country of valleys and mountains and riding across the little bridge to Uganda. This has to be my best crossing in my entire life , the border officials came out directed me to the office to have my carne  stamped , once that was done my temporary licence for Uganda was issued and then the staff directed me to immigration , where I was shown to a parking spot outside the office .  I filled in my arrival form and proceeded to take up my position in the queue . Documents ready I waited for my turn , only two people to go , when a couple of guys pushed in front of me and suddenly I was eight from the front , so I tapped the front guy on the shoulder to ask him and his friends to move back and get in the queue , the customs officer was so incensed  by this behaviour he made them all apologise to those that they had pushed   past and then told them to go and wait at the back until he called them. Does that ever happen? All stamped and legal I was back on the scooter , once again only about 30 minutes for both sides .

 

The Ugandan side just after the border

The Ugandan side just after the border

From the very first kilometre we hit  dust , mud and slow road works , All the cleaning  , all the washing  and  all that work was un done within the first 15 minutes of arriving in Uganda , The trucks , cars and construction vehicles just covered Victoria and I in dust , when that subsided it was replaced by mud caused by the trucks spraying water on the road to limit the dust , and so we rode all the way from the border to the lake off road. Victoria looking a little like she did in Namibia.

 

Looks a little different to Kigali , Kabale does.

Looks a little different to Kigali , Kabale does.

Kabale my first town in Uganda and busy it was , a return to my Africa and the sights and sounds we had become accustomed to throughout our journey. Africa was back.

 

The road to Lake Bunyonyi

The road to Lake Bunyonyi

 

My first glimpse of the lake.

My first glimpse of the lake.

The road out of town up to the lake is really beautiful as you climb up into the mountains passing all manner of road side life and commerce and then down the mountain pass to the lake that lies below.

 

From my tent

From my tent

 

Overland Victoria back after a brief encounter with city life.

Overland Victoria back after a brief encounter with city life.

 

So we arrived safe , sound and dusted on the shores of the lake to clean up and explore , and to decide where to and what tomorrow will bring. So I thank Rwanda for such a wonderful experience and I thank Uganda for such a warm welcome.

Until we meet again

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