Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Weekend in Gisenyi

Denise and I took a random bus last Saturday afternoon. I think it had become over 2 months of being in the same place that got us. The feeling of being in a cage, or perhaps even in a bubble, took us Saturday to the bus park in Nyabogogo for a weekend respite somewhere out of town. Anywhere out of town. That would cost $5, that is.

But since our friend Ariel was going to be in Gisenyi, we decided that, indeed - Gisenyi it was. The town on the big Lake Kivu that borders the DRC, that is. So I took my well-needed Dramomine, and we waited on the bus until it finally trucked up and down and along the hills of Rwanda towards the Congolese border. 

It was three-hour car ride one way, which ended up being very much worth it, if just to be in another place for a bit. As soon as we left the Kigali limits, the scenery turned brighter. Greener. The hills, instead of being pushed aside on the peripheral of the eyes, were now cushioning the windy roads we tugged along. Palm trees sprouted everywhere, and I noted the hills almost looked like it comprised of green stripes. Since Rwanda is mainly hills, I guess people divide up the hill as their place of farming with strips of bumps on the hilly surfaces. The hills were stunning, but I managed to have a drug-induced sleep for most of the swerving ride there.

I woke up in a MUCH quieter bus park than that in Kigali. We left the park to find a nearby hostel, and the first thing I noticed was, wow Kigali has a lot of infrastructure. The roads in Gisenyi were, for the most part, unpaved, and incredibly pocked with holes and rocks and crags. And it seems that in this little beach town, taxi cabs are fewer and further between. Imagine how hard I gripped onto the taxi-moto to find ourselves at the hostel! It was a rough ride, let's just say...

The hostel we picked was ran by the Presbyterian Church. Interestingly enough, they didn't remind me of the church I grew up in while being Presbyterian, but the hostel was nice and quiet and we had hot water and bed nets. And our own room, imagine that! For the whopping price of $9 each.

So we went off to find Ariel and her crew at a bar on the lakeside called Bikini Tam Tam. And the first thing I have to say is, damn that lake is huge! You can't see the other side at all, and there are waves. Oh, and the sand on the lake beach is black. I was pretty impressed at the beauty I could see, despite the fog and fading sun. Everything was green and pretty simple, not a lot of buildings, and not a lot of eye sores on the coast. We ate chewy brochettes, french fries, and little bitty fried fish named sambasa that apparently come from the lake itself. Quite tasty.

Ariel, my buddy here in Rwanda, brought her 3 housemates to Gisenyi with her. And one of them looked awfully familiar...IMAGINE! Ariel actually is housemates with a girl I went to middle school with in our small American town! It was incredible, and we were talking about people we know from our hometown quite a lot. I had wondered what happened to this lady, and now I know! She's in the same place that I am, with my friend! The world doesn't get much smaller than that, methinks...

We ate our light dinners, played on the small beach, and ran back to the hostel once the rain started pouring down early in the night. While we were there in Gisenyi, it was windy and rainy the entire time, but that didn't get us down. We still did all we could, given the weekend and the sights we could see.

Denise and I slept a while that night. Why not? We're on holiday!

We woke up and agreed to go to the expensive and awfully luxe hotel, Serena, for brunch, and hide from the rain for a while. I mean, it was so affordable to get to this town and stay, we felt paying about $20 for a buffet continental, top-notch brunch was worth it, and it was. Fresh fruit juices with champagne. Sausages with sauce. Freshly-cut fruits to nosh on. Challah bread! And grilled tomatoes. It was a very, very good decision, I must say. And for a while, I began to appreciate the upscale travel some people opt to do in foreign countries.

Denise and I made a great decision after loitering for some time at Serena. Why not hire a car to show us the city, since it's raining hard outside? And for $16, a very friendly man named Aman drove us around his town for two hours! You can't get that kind of service in Kigali, that's for sure. 

And we drove, through the rain and bumpy roads. And I noted that the roads were layered with black rocks and some rich, red soil. I realized, then, Ahha! Volcanic rock and soil! How could I forget?! This border is on a huge platonic rift, and is riddled with volcanoes! The clouds were super thick, we were unable to see the nearby beasts, but the cab driver did explain to us the 2002 explosion - apparently the lava came onto the town like a wave, and damaged a lot of houses. Well, no wonder they don't bother paving the roads here!

Aman also drove us to all of the borders...to the Congo. It's crazy just how close we could get to the border. I literally could spit, or have a decent conversation, with a person on the side of the Congo border, without having to raise my voice! There is a fence dividing the countries (and not that effectively, I must admit). At the first border we went to, I tried to take pictures, but the cops threatened to do damage and made me delete the photos. But Aman brought us to the bigger border (ironically called La petite barriere) And we drove right up to the gate into the Congo. It was incredible just to see the stark contrast between the two countries! Rwanda has paved roads, organized houses and clean streets, and overall pretty safe and quiet; the Congo looked nothing like this! The roads were tumultuous mud and dirt with ramshackle buildings and carts wheeling about in chaos. People were all over the place, and it was very dirty and crazy looking. Denise mentioned that it reminded her of Haiti a bit (I've yet to know that). Aman told us that it wasn't very secure over there, either - even Congolese folks live in Rwanda and go over to the DRC in the daytime to do work.

We thanked Aman for our great tour of the city, and hopped on an early bus back to Kigali - in time for some nice relaxation and a good Skype chat with The Man about my adventures.

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