Thursday, December 31, 2009

Back in Kigali

Well it seems like a million years since I was last able to access the internet for more than 3 seconds so of course there are a million things to tell.
My last post was while I was waiting for the bus to Musanze on Christmas Eve. Well that was definitely not meant to be. After waiting around all day I never ended up getting on the bus. I think my bus was going to be at 6 or 6:30 or something like that. I guess Christmas Eve is pretty much the same everywhere. Basically, even though I had a ticket, travel was going to be a nightmare. I got to the bus station and it was like a mob scene. People were pushing a shoving to get on buses and the station was loud and packed with people and chaos. Bus stations anywhere in the world don't tend to be the safest places. Packed bus stations in Africa are really not the safest places. I keep my stuff pretty well stashed in different places so I would be pretty hard to pick pocket but it still just doesn't feel very safe being in that tight of a space in a mob scene like that where you really can't quite tell what is going on. People kept telling me different buses were mine, which turned out not to be. Finally, I remembered my taxi driver had told me very specifically in his non-english that the guys in the blue shirts worked there so check in with them and they would help me out. Blue is a pretty common shirt color but somehow I finally figured out who the workers were. After asking the same guy about 4 times if this was my bus he finally somehow conveyed to me that he would keep an eye on me and let me know when my bus was there. He kept true to his word and came over and got me when my bus arrived. But once again everyone was pushing and shoving to get on the bus. These are not the normal buses you picture. They are like mini sizes of buses with seats that come down in the middle so everyone is completely crammed in and there is no extra space for bags so you sit crammed in between people with barely any leg room and your bag generally goes on your lap. I have a backpack (not popular with the locals on crowded buses, especially not on Christmas Eve). I am already claustrophobic so this mob scene was getting to be a bit too much. Then people actually started fighting over seats on the bus. I called Greg, the Rwandan guy who was arranging my gorilla permit and my accomodation in Musanze, and I told him what was going on and he promptly told me not to get on the bus. He said to wait until the next day and it would not be nearly as crazy. I immediately departed the mob scene and hopped in a taxi to the nearest hotel.
So my Christmas present to myself was a night at a fairly nice hotel - bathtub, hot water, television, even a wash cloth to wash off two weeks of travel grime. That evening three Rwandan people called me to make sure I was safe, the guy from my previous hotel, my taxi driver and Greg from Musanze. They all just wanted to make sure I was tucked away safe somewhere for the evening. This does not happen in the U.S. I thought it was pretty nice. So I took a hot bath, laid in bed and watched CNN, and could not have been happier.
I woke up Christmas Day and went down to the hotel restaurant for coffee. There was a dark haired girl sitting at the table next to me and she had a book about Rwanda that looked very interesting so I asked her about it. Her name is Michelle and she is from San Francisco. We both quickly mention that the other is the very first female solo traveler either one of us has met in Africa. We realize we are a bit of a novelty here. She is 37, has traveled a lot, and is generally just very cool and interesting. We talked a lot about fears we have being solo and being female and it seems we both have a lot of the same experiences traveling alone. My new bus ticket had me departing at around 2pm so I had some time to kill that day so we decide to walk to the bookstore where she got her book. We passed by a massive church that was full of parishoners singing so we stopped in for a minute just to listen. It was really very moving to see, in this town that held such horrors 15 years ago, hundreds of people singing and celebrating Christmas. We walked around for a while and took pictures of all the cute kids dressed in their Christmas finest. Michelle had met a guy that was volunteering here at a hospital and he happened to be in the city so we met him, Kelly, for lunch at my favorite cafe, the Bourbon. We had a very nice Christmas lunch and I was really glad just to have some cool people to share a little of my Christmas day with.
Turned out Michelle also had a gorilla permit but hers was not until the first of January so unfortunately we were kind of doing opposite travels. Finally it dawned on me she should call Greg, my permit guy just to see if it would be possible to change the day of the permit. He said she should just come out to Musanze and it was very possible to change the day.
I left Kigali in a massive rain storm. Going up through the mountains was pretty nerve racking. There was so much water coming down the mountain that we were driving through waterfalls and rock falls. All this with some major steep dropoffs to the side. I as so scared I called my Mom just so she would know where I was in case the bus got into an accident. I am really getting used to the crazy driving here but driving through water and rock fall was a bit too much for my nerves.
Two hours later made it alive to the town of Musanze. Greg was there promptly to pick me up and took me off the the guest house I was staying in. Tourism is down quite a bit here this year so I was the only one staying in this house. I was not super excited about this but was just too tired to bother finding anything else. Greg was kind enough to invite me down to the Silverback cafe for dinner so I did not have to be alone for Christmas dinner. I ended up having a very nice Christmas after all.
I was alone in the guest house that night and it was pouring down rain, along with thunder and lightening. I was so tired I just did not have the energy to be afraid anymore and I finally had a great nights sleep.
I stumbled out of my room the next morning to go track down some coffee and Delphi (she looks after the house) was waiting for me and said I was to go to the office for my morning coffee with Greg. We had talked about me doing a town tour the next day but I had thought I was just suppose to call him after I got up. In my delerium I just said ok and left with her, no camera, no water, no shower. I thought we were just going down to the office. Turns out this was the beginning of my day tour. I got to the office and they had this really nice traditional Rwandan breakfast all laid out for me with porridge, toast, tea, etc. This was all great but honestly I just wanted some coffee. My guide for the day, Hassan, was already there and ready to head out. Now it is finally hitting me this is the tour so I tell them I have to run back and get my camera and some water and after this we head out. I really had no idea what to expect but it really ended up being such a nice day.
OK, have to go. Will finish later.


  1. Keep them cards and letters coming. Hope I didn't mess up anything for you when I called the other day. I worry when I don't hear from you for a few days. (Glad your phone worked, too.)

    Sounds like you're having quite a number of experiences. I'd have headed home before this!.

    love You!!! Dad.

  2. Glad you're safe and sound! And it's refreshing to know people are taking care of each other...sometimes that feels rare.
    Hope you have a Happy New Year!

  3. Great to finally hear from you. Keep the adventure going. Love, Mom