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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Date: July 2, 2014

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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