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Adventures in Rwanda!

RWANDA | Sunday, 27 December 2009 | Views [601]

Hello, dear readers!  I’m posting this on Monday though I wrote it Sunday night.  So bear with me on the time difference…  Last I wrote I had just arrived in Kigali after a harrying travel day last Friday.  So much has happened since!

Saturday morning I got delicious coffee at the Hotel Milles Collines, but Greg and Nathalie were nowhere to be found.  Nearly two hours and two frantic phone calls to Greg’s Rwandan cell phone later I discover they are on “Africa Time”, which is a bit more fluid than even Central America Time, and certainly a world away from HBS Time.  (Side note: thank goodness for Skype!  It has enabled me to both talk with Glenn and my family back home, but also call Rwandan numbers and my bank in the US to figure out why $2000 in unauthorized charges just appeared on my credit card…)  We met up at noon and Nathalie decided first to do her own thing with her friend from grad school for the afternoon, then to “opt out” of going to Ruhengeri with us at all.  So Greg and I spent the afternoon in Kigali (first trying to go to the Genocide Museum, but failing since it was the day after Christmas – Boxing Day – which is a national holiday in Rwanda) ultimately spending time at Bourbon Coffee and getting lunch at Indian Khazana, per Glenn’s recommendations.

Then we hopped a bus to Ruhengeri, which was an interesting two hours if not for the gorgeous scenery, then certainly for the nuns in the row in front of us who fell asleep and then started snoring… See my pictures!  Once we got to Ruhengeri we had to figure out the last step: 20 minutes to the Kinigi Guesthouse, which is not on a bus route.  There were no regular taxis in sight so we ended up on taxi motos, which are motorcycle taxis that cost a lot less and are pretty common in Rwanda.  (We also took taxi motos around Kiglai, and both times it was super fun, even if it isn’t the absolute safest way to get around.)  We strapped on our backpacks really tight, donned the “guest” helmets, and sped away in the darkness toward Kinigi.  This ride was actually one of the highlights of the trip because a) riding on motorcycles is kind of fun, b) it was super spontaneous and worked out in the end, and c) I talked in French with my driver the entire way and he ended up complimenting me on my language skills when we arrived.  =)

It was pretty much straight to bed once we arrived since Sunday morning would be an early one.  This morning we awoke around 5:45 and headed first to breakfast in the guesthouse, where we met a few fellow travelers who were also headed to the park, and then on to the park itself by 7am (the official start time).  We bought permits for the Mount Bisoke hike, and since the start of the trail is a good hour away from the park headquarters, had a park ranger phone a driver in Ruhengeri to come be our car for the day (not cheap, but necessary).  Then at the last minute three Belgians joined the hike, and they had their own car, but we decided to keep Francis, our driver.  After all, Greg would need to get back to Ruhengeri after the hike and this was easier than finding another taxi moto. 

So we set out for the 8-hour hike and soon discovered that not only was this the rainy season in Rwanda, but that the trail up Mount Bisoke is pretty much straight up the side of the mountain.  There are no casual switchbacks zigzagging their way up; no, it’s steep and thanks to the rain, a trail of mud.  Literally: gobs and mounds and puddles of mud.  Slippery, sloshing, squishy, slurping, sticky mud.  Within just a few minutes I learned the true value of my new travel clothes when, despite the mud, my feet stayed warm and dry all day and my pants were waterproof and totally flexible (no jeans would have survived what I put my trekking pants through today).  Combined with a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece vest, a wool sweater, and a thin rain jacket, I had enough combinations to keep me going all day.  Yay amazing hiking boots and clothes from Athleta (a new online Gap company) and Ex Officio.  I might need to invest in these companies.  They got it going on…

Between our walking sticks and one particularly nice guide named Claymont, who caught me on more than one occasion, I made it up the mountain without too much fuss.  Yes, I was the slowest (what’s new?).  Yes, I had some discomfort from the steep incline and intermittent rain and ridiculous cold at the top (something around 50 degrees before you take into account that we were totally wet).  But after 4 hours of hiking we reached the crater lake at the top.  And then it was time to come down. 

Normally the descent is totally easy, and takes only a portion of the time spent going up.  But most descents I’ve done have not been the equivalent of mudslides.  Nor have I ever climbed anything nearly this tall (at the peak it is about 3800 meters and we probably climbed over 1000 meters in height from the base to the crater).  So it started pretty slowly.  And then it got worse.  The altitude nearly did me in, with crazy dizziness and the worst abdominal cramps/nausea I have ever experienced.  Seriously, ladies, imagine the worst PMS cramps you’ve had – the ones that left you in bed all day popping Aleeve every 4 hours.  Now add the lightheadedness that comes after not eating all day.  That’s what I felt like on the top of this freaking mountain.  And it wouldn’t get better until I got to the bottom.

So for the next four hours I gingerly made my descent, with Claymont and Greg assisting the entire way.  It was so slippery and so steep – my abs and shoulders and bum are all wretchedly sore from the involuntary tensing that occurs every time you skid.  I felt so sick, and Greg got some blackmail-worthy pictures of me looking like an idiot.  But we made it, and I’m pretty sure now that I can do just about anything.  This was physically the hardest thing that I have ever completed and I probably won’t be able to move in the morning, but I did it.  I survived.  What a wonderful feeling!

Greg left tonight to head back to Goma for his return flight to Kinshasa tomorrow.  I was going to take a bus back to Kigali tonight, but the Belgians from the hike offered me a ride with them tomorrow morning so I’m spending one more night here in Kinigi.  I’ve also decided to extend my stay in Rwanda through Tuesday morning so I can a) do laundry (check out my pics for just how gross we ended up getting today), b) see the Genocide Memorial, and c) book a bus to Kampala early enough to pick a good seat.  Plus Rwandan coffee is delicious, and I could use another cup from Bourbon Coffee.  Then Tuesday I’ll travel overland to Uganda (including passing the equator!), which should take about 10 hours via bus, and meet up with Paul (and HBS friend) in Kampala Tuesday night. 

This has already turned into an amazing trip, and I can’t wait to see what the next few days in Uganda are like!  It will be fun to hang out with Paul and later Melissa and Christina (also HBS friends) for New Year’s.  Then it’s back to Tanzania for Kilimanjaro.  While it may seem foolish to attempt something nearly 20,000 feet high when I struggled with 12,500 feet today, I think the 6-day approach plus altitude sickness medicine (and a team of 20+ HBS kids) will make it a bit more manageable.  Until next time!

Tags: hiking, kigali, mud, rwanda, travel friends, volcan national parc

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