Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Hotel in Rwanda

Angela writes:
 As we entered Rwanda we got a whole different vibe from the country compared to any of the East African countries we’ve visited so far.  After a thorough check of our luggage from the border patrol, we needed to go to Immigration and Customs.  Lately our experience at borders involves pulling over onto any garbage-filled dirt patch that would allow our bikes to balance on their side stands.  We were very impressed that in Rwanda they actually provided flat, paved parking spots, delineated with painted lines!   As we approached the window we noticed that it was the cleanest, most organized Immigration office that we have seen in Africa and that the office even had computers! All papers are stacked neatly and nothing was littering the floor! Prior to arriving at the border, we had applied for our Rwandan visas online and had received our permission response within hours.  At the window we presented our permission print out, paid our $60 each and had our visas and passports back within 15 minutes – good thing too as a bus load of people arrived just after us and had to line up for their passport processing.  I did observe however, how straight and lovely the lineup of people was to get into Rwanda without pushing or people standing more than 2 abreast.  It was a wonderfully organized sight. As was the money exchange counters set up at the Rwandan border.  Normally there are groups of loud-mouth touts waving fists full of money at us.  This border experience was just so pleasantly timely and civilized! 

Immediately after crossing the border Daryll and I had to start getting used to driving on the right side of the road again.  It was a bit of a trip but the habits came back very easily.  As we passed the lush, green, hilly tea fields beside us, we observed the signs that read  “Welcome and drink Rwanda tea!”  There were also numerous signs reminding readers that “Corruption is wrong.  Only you can stop it”.  As we passed through the villages along the way to the capital city of Kigali, many people young and old, gave us hearty waves and thumbs up.

Upon our arrival in Kigali Daryll’s trusty GPS lead us to the hotel we were looking for and he went in to give it a look.  As I was waiting with the bikes parked on the side of the street, a curious but polite mob of onlookers gathered around me pointing at the bikes and talking only to each other.  They seemed shy and I suspected that their English might not be great as nobody was talking to me directly.  I quietly asked a guy beside me if he spoke English and he said “a little”, confirmed they were speaking Swahili to each other, and then he also told me he also spoke French.  After that he and I communicated in broken French and English. A boy selling laminated maps came up to me and tried to interest me in a map of Rwanda. When I told him I already had a map and pointed to the map outlining our trip on the side of my pannier, he pulled out his detailed map of the world and the crowd urged me name and show them on the map exactly each country we had visited.  I explained that it was 25,000 km from Vancouver to the bottom of Argentina.  When one guy didn’t believe me that we had rode our bikes that far, I brought him over to the odometer to show him the 62,000 km on it.  Eventually Daryll returned with a thumbs-up for the hotel and we continued to engage the mob that now started blocking the street  as they parked their motorcycles beside us, in the middle of the road. This brought some angry honking from a Mercedes driver  and finally the attention of some army guys in the back of a truck. We realized it was now time to move it along.


Since South America most of our traveling nights have been spent sleeping in our tent.  Upon arriving in Kigali we did check out one campsite but it wasn’t very nice so we have opted for staying a couple of nights in hotel (sigh of relief). Our room cost $50 a night and let me tell you folks it’s just the basics but to me, it’s so much lovely luxury!  It has running water, hot water, a flushing toilet, electricity that works (so far), a mosquito net, a wastebasket, a chair and table, a mirror, a bright window that actually opens, toilet paper AND soap, a locking door, pillows, a soft, clean mattress and a complimentary buffet breakfast.  I will never take these luxuries for granted again!     

The Kigali Memorial Centre

The next day we decided to go and visit The Kigali Memorial Centre.  It had been built to commemorate genocide around the world and to explain the 100 days of genocide that had occurred in Rwanda in 1994 where 800,000 people were systematically massacred.  The exhibits explained the history and conflicts behind the slaughter, showed the atrocities performed on the victims and told heroic stories of civilians who risked their lives hiding the persecuted.  One statistic suggested that if the amount of money spent on evacuating diplomats from Rwanda during the genocide had been redirected into preventing the genocide, the mass killings would never have occurred. There were displays of crude weapons and hundreds of crushed human skulls. Our Lonely Planet told us that the amount of dead and decaying bodies in the streets of Kigali was so great that dogs had to be killed en masse as they had developed the taste for human flesh.  After we were finished the displays inside the Memorial Centre we were invited to walk the gardens outside the centre where more than 250,000 victims of the genocide had been laid to rest.


As we walked outside we noticed a group of about 100 or so local college students carrying huge baskets of flowers who had come to pay their respects.  In my head I calculated that their ages at the time of the genocide would have been about 4 or 5 years old. Not too young to have been effected or to have lost someone close to them.  We let the students go into the garden by themselves to give them some privacy and waited until they came out before we tourists decided to go in.  Some of the girls leaving the graves were crying so hard they had to be supported by people walking on either side them and one girl in particular haunts me with her crying because she couldn’t catch her breath.  The visual sorrow of these kids was just too much for me to bear and my tears turned on like a tap.  By the time our morning tour of the The Kigali Memorial Centre was over, Daryll and I were both physically and emotionally exhausted. That day we had planned on visiting 2 other genocide memorials in churches about 30 km outside the city (as seen in Long Way Down by Ewan and Charlie) but we were simply spent.  After returning to our hotel and having a good rest, we did decide to go for a walk around the city and went to see the hotel featured in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”.  The real name of the hotel in Kigali is called “Hotel des Mille Collines” located on top of one of the beautiful rolling hills of the city, surrounded by lovely gardens.  It was very peaceful to see.   

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