Kigali to Bujumbura to Kigoma
16.01.2007 - 16.01.2007
15th – 16th January 2007
Only after the ‘Yahoo!’ bus/coaster had left the outskirts of Kigali, did I realise I had left behind my hiking boots (obviously David thought I had given them to him). The only time I had used them was while travelling between destinations, as they were too heavy and cumbersome to tie on to my pack, which already had too many things tied to it.
The bus journey was fascinating, 40 passengers in a 25-seater bus climbing over each other every time we stopped for an ablution or snack break. I felt partly responsible for the luggage we all had to pack around our bodies, but then noticed that I wasn’t the only passenger with a ton of belongings.
I negotiated with the Burundi border officials at Kayanza Haut, the small town separating Rwanda and Burundi. I explained to him that I would only spend approximately 30 hours in his beautiful country and couldn’t afford the $40 visa fee. He gave me a transit visa for $20 and wished me bienvenue au Burundi, merci votre visit et bon voyage (welcome to Burundi, thanks for visiting and happy travels). I asked him how many white people come through the border and he immediately replied with confidence “trois pour mois” (three per month).
The six hour bus ride was both uneventful (mechanically) and punctual. I did however doze off, slobber and hit my head against the window every so often, much to the delight of the other passengers.
It was raining when we arrived in Bujumbura, and luckily for me the bus had parked under the roof of a petrol station forecourt. I spent the next half hour fending off the touts who insisted on either carrying my luggage or finding me a taxi. They were amused and intrigued by my constant unsuccessful attempts to amalgamate all my bags into one package that I could heave onto my back. I knew my hotel was only 100m away, but everyone I asked refused to show me the way. They insisted that the Saga Complex was on the beach, a day’s walk away in the rain.
I had a one in four chance of going in the right direction, and ended up asking a baguette salesman 200m later and sopping wet. His eyes lit up and he insisted on escorting me there and carrying my drum. It was only 20m from the bus stop and in exactly the opposite direction I had traveled. I glared at the taxi drivers who all had smirks on their faces.
The Saga Residence Hotel, under the same ownership of the popular and expensive beach location, had rooms for $25. I wasn’t happy paying this, but there weren’t any other choices and I needed a good sleep. Smelly, cold and wet, I stripped naked and jumped into the shower. There was no hot water! I wrapped my towel around me and stormed out demanding an explanation. They told me that the cheap rooms didn’t have hot water but they would be happy to bring me a bucket.
After waiting patiently for what seemed like an eternity, I was irritated and shivering, and they told me the electricity was off, in all of Bujumbura, and they had no idea when it would come back on. None of the hotels had generators, so I was happy I had opted for the cheapest room. I braved the icy water and scrubbed my body good and proper. I was going to be sailing down a lake for three days, so I had to do some laundry. I went on a mission to find someone to wash my clothes, not knowing how they would dry in the wet and humid conditions. It was lunch time and everything was closed for two hours, everything except a small casino down a narrow alleyway. I had no Burundi Francs, so I went in, exchanged a $20 bill for a handful of slot machine coins and 10 minutes later walked out with BFr 8000 profit.
I found a local hidden eatery across the road and chose the Plat du Jour (special of the day). The food was delicious, typically French and the 2nd floor balcony had incredible views of the looming mountains to the North and East of Buj.
I was joined by some school teachers who put me up to speed with the current situation in Burundi. All was peaceful, the Rebel factions were ‘taking a sabbatical’, and it was perfectly safe to travel down Lake Tanganyika’s coast to get to Kigoma in Tanzania. It was a pity and a blessing in disguise that the ferry stopped running directly from Buj, as it was suspended the year before due to increased violence. This meant I would have to traverse the seldom visited and stunning north eastern coastline of one of the world’s longest and deepest fresh water lakes.
I hadn’t taken any slide photographs since Kenya, so I went out on a mission, armed with all my gear, taking pictures of everything, much to the protestations of the locals. They accused me of invading their privacy and not paying them for their ‘posing’. I shrugged them off, telling them I wasn’t interested in their poses, and was simply admiring the architecture and hectic streets of Buj. They weren’t listening and reminded me it was actually their city. I ignored them and never felt physically threatened. I quite enjoyed the profanities hurled at me, particularly as they were in French. Some were surprisingly polite, others were friendly, like the young hip boys who were eager to meet a Mzungu.
I shopped at the local supermarket and got excited at their selection of European imports. I bought a huge fresh crispy baguette, some duck liver pâté, and Camembert, (I wasn’t ready to brave the pungent orange Munster cheese). When I came across two white girls being whisked away on the back of motorbike taxis, I felt cheated. I was hoping not to see any white people, as was the case in Rwanda, because the LP stated one of the Highlights of Burundi was “the novelty of being pretty much the only tourist in the country!”
Buj was almost as good as Kigali, but too close to the DRC for comfort and I wasn’t that keen on living in an unstable/volatile situation.
After having a picnic on my bed and watching the only TV channel in Burundi, I slept on my first real mattress in 10 days. Even though I only slept for five hours, I appreciated the comfort, especially after the previous 40 hours of uncomfortable bus travel!
Bujumbura to Kigoma
At the crack of dawn I got a private taxi to drop me at the minibus that would get me to the Tanzanian border at Nyanza Lac. The minibus took two hours to fill up while I shopped for souvenirs at the nearby market. I bought an ‘I love Burundi’ cap (which I lost a few minibuses later) and a length of hand-woven coconut-twine rope. It took nine different transports and 16 hours to reach Kigoma. Three sardine-packed minibuses, three private-hire taxis, two bicycle boda-bodas, and one very overloaded pickup truck.
I would have really enjoyed the extra sleep at the hotel and a proper breakfast, which would have been possible if I knew the taxi would be delayed that long. Anyway, this was Africa, and time is beyond your control. It was one of my best taxi trips so far, the people were fascinated with the creature hanging out the window and pointing imposing cameras.
I was equally fascinated by the markets, food vendors and lifestyle of these lakeside dwellers. There were aid initiatives around every corner and most of the roads were being resurfaced. Somehow there was a sense of tranquility in these parts, the drivers weren’t manic, the children didn’t beg and apart from one guy freaking out after I took a picture of him, everything went smoothly. The food was safe to eat and I couldn’t resist sampling the delicious snacks on the way. This time my luggage did occupy most of the storage space and often I had to carry the drum on my lap, playing it regularly.
This was a country I was warned to triple check the security situation. I think I was lucky at the time, but also couldn’t fathom how these innocent people could hack each other to pieces.
I was so happy that the ferry from Buj to Kigoma had ceased, otherwise I would have missed out this rare experience.
This was (hopefully) going to me my last entry into Tanzania, which by now I was harboring serious resentments against.
As a budget traveler I couldn’t experience the gems this country had to offer because they were reserved for the wealthy.
Such is life! I vowed to come back one day and fly into the exclusive game parks, sleep in luxury, eat like a king and not go near any public transport. Then I realized that wouldn’t really be an adventure. I entered Tanzania for the 3rd time, and talked my way out of paying for an extra visa ($50). I was surprised when they asked for my Yellow Fever inoculation certificate, as this was the first time anyone requested to see it. It turns out that you only need one when leaving Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC, and not when entering.
After clearing the border, or so I thought, I declined all the tout’s offers for “taxi, taxi”. All of them were on bicycles. I would’ve needed three bicycles to carry all my stuff, and another one for me to ride on. It seemed I had no other option (except walking) to cover the 2km journey through the no-man’s land that separated the two countries. I didn’t believe the kids when they told me it was “too far for walk”. I contemplated wearing my pack, slinging my other two bags over my shoulders and the last one around the child cyclist’s neck. I quickly realized it wasn’t feasible, so I forked out the cash and got two bikes. They refused to let me ride one of them, insisting that they could handle the weight. I played my Rwandan drum on the back of the bicycle while supervising my luggage being transported on the other. The locals appeared out of the bushes to witness this spectacle, not knowing whether to laugh or call their friends. Most of them stared vacantly, jaws wide open in disbelief. The pre-teen boys were force to dismount and push on the steep hills, resulting in us falling every time!
When I reached the small village across the border, there was a mad scramble for the last transport to Kigoma.
The 40km journey from Nyanza Lac to Kigoma took over four hours on the back of a crammed pickup truck. On the way we stopped umpteen times to collect and deliver cargo (human and food) and arrived in Kigoma in the dark. Jumping into yet another taxi was the last thing I wanted to do but the taxi rank was mayhem and several passengers yanked my gear, shoving it in the back of a giant minibus.
I handed in my washing (pretty much all of my clothes) to the manager at the dodgy hotel and begged him to wash it immediately, as it had to dry before the ferry left the following afternoon. After a freezing shower above a communal pit toilet, I passed out on the flea-ridden bed. It was a shit sleep in a stuffy, filthy room, but the price was right. The day had been an awesome journey with rewarding views, friendly people and exciting challenges. I was looking forward to the ferry on which I could hopefully get some time out.c