October 2019 14 day Rwanda & Uganda
“Flying long distances is like having a baby,” I always say; not so great during the ordeal but as soon as it’s over the excitement of the new adventure (or precious new life) makes it all worthwhile and the memory fades fast until you are saying, “Well that wasn’t so bad.”
I like to think it’s magic.
And anyway there’s always the bonus of the lovely people you meet along the way. On the 8 hr. Atlanta to Amsterdam flight my bulk-head neighbor, Jan, was charming and chatty; off on a Rhine Cruise with her newly retired husband who was flying First Class because of his long legs while Jan would rather “save the cash honestly”. I then spent the 8 hour Amsterdam to Kigali flight next to a bubbly Ugandan lady with a fantastic earthy laugh. I must note here that both ladies were considerably envious of my #1 travel accessory; the inflatable footstool – I like to think of it as an epidural for long-haul flights.
All that being said I stepped off the plane and into Kigali to be greeted by that magical smell of recent rain and drifting wood-smoke – never fails to stir the memories of African days past.
I have never had such an efficient and pleasant visa/immigration experience anywhere in the world and definitely not in Africa. How lovely! Rwanda, if this is how you mean to go on, I’m sold!
As my guide, (and best friend for the next 2 weeks) Abdu and I drove into Kigali a full moon glowed above the twinkling hills of the city.
After a solid 8 hour sleep at Kigali Serena it’s time for a lunch meeting with The Far Horizons team then some site inspections. Driving through Kigali in the daylight I can see what I have heard about – it is immaculately clean and orderly. Traffic flows smoothly, the roads are in great condition, the buildings are modern and attractive. This is not like any city I have visited in Africa; none of the chaos or the crazy traffic (a few cheeky motorcyclists maybe), no litter, no grubby gutters.
It is testimony to the determination and commitment of the Rwandan people to rebuild the image and the dignity of their country. One Saturday a month is Umuganda, (meaning ‘coming together in common purpose’) a clean-up and beautify day. Businesses open late and vehicles are banned so that all the citizens (including the president) can spend a couple of hours in the morning cleaning the streets and manicuring the green spaces of the city. The results really show – we could all learn from this coming together – imagine the effects of a monthly World Umuganda Day!
Of the site visits my favorite was the small boutique hotel The Retreat, a very zen-feeling place with an almost Scandinavian vibe, lots of light woods and natural materials and conveniently positioned for dinner at the famous Heaven Restaurant.
On another note I also visited Hotel des Milles Collines formerly Hotel Rwanda …. yes as in the movie for those who have seen it. It was quite an odd feeling to see a gentleman swimming in the sparkling, azure-blue pool that in the movie was drained for water to use during the siege of the hotel. But that was over 25 years ago now and the hotel and Rwanda have moved on and seemingly rebirthed.
Kigali Serena Deluxe room & pool
The Retreat Hotel des Milles Collines
The following morning, before leaving Kigali I visited the Kigali Memorial and Museum. We were the first to arrive and so it was very still and silent as I laid a rose on one of the many mass graves there; the resting place for an estimated 250,000 of the million people killed in the Rwandan genocide. I spent a couple of hours inside the museum that details Rwandan history and the events leading up to and during the 100 days of violence in 1994.
The exhibit is hard-hitting and graphic and definitely a difficult experience emotionally but the overall aim, along with honoring the dead, is to teach Rwandans and visitors from all over the world the dangers of how easily ethnic/racial intolerance, propaganda and political manipulation can descend into madness and hatred. Now in Rwanda it is not allowed to reference someone’s ethnicity – they are taught in schools and churches that “we are all Rwandans and we must work together to build our beautiful country. We must love our neighbor.” Former enemies are truly living together peacefully and those who lost their sons, husbands, wives and children are forgiving the very people who took them away. It is both humbling and inspiring.
After the memorial visit we head out of Kigali towards the Virunga Mountains, home of the mountain gorillas
…… to be continued ......see next post