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krisek Gisenyi - A travel report by Krys
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Gisenyi,  Rwanda - flag Rwanda -  Gisenyi
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krisek's travel reports

Rwanda, a hilly tiny evergreen state by huge lake.

  14 votes
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Rwanda’s qualities are landscape, Lake Kivu and people. Landscape is dominated by green rolling hills. Lake Kivu gives bathing, beaches and phenomenal reflection of the Congolese mountains on the other side. People are good-humoured, warm and welcoming.

Rwanda has perhaps the most tragic recent history than any other country of the world. The scale of the genocide and the way it was carried out was beyond belief. It surpassed the cruelty and the extent of the mass murder executed in Cambodia, the Balkans and Darfur. When the conflict between the Tutsi and the Hutu erupted in 1994, 800,000 people were killed in the period of three months, 370 people every hour. A third of the population fled the country. Although Rwanda has made a great recovery in a remarkably short period of time, it’s very hard for the country to convince an average traveller that it’s now safe to visit. Also, it’s a small country and it’s difficult to spot it on the map. There aren’t any obvious sights of Rwanda either.

My plan was to see three places - Gisenyi, Kibuye and Kigali. I knew that apart from Lake Kivu, there was little else on my route to be admired. Rwanda is an unsophisticated country, nicknamed the land of thousands hills. I have to say that it was true. The landscape was hilly and ludicrously green, due to vast tea plantations. The soil was fertile as the numerous volcanoes provided enough nutrition, and occasional devastation.

I thought I could easily cross the border with Uganda and get transport to Gisenyi, but I had to go via the capital anyway. The minibus company at Kigali was called Atraco Express. Unusually, payment for the ride was collected at a booking office and not in the vehicle. Everywhere else I went in Africa, I had to pay in the minibus and the money was usually collected by a guy hanging at the door. The three hours trip was a torture. The poor minibus, although not entirely on its last legs, was packed completely and I was cramped with three other passengers on a three people seat and with my backpack between my legs. Some of the views on the way were superb though, despite the hard equatorial rain. Unfortunately all the massive Virunga Volcanoes were covered in grey clouds, so the view was never complete.

Favourite spots:
Gisenyi - Lake Kivu
Gisenyi - Lake Kivu
When I got to Gisenyi, it became my favourite (out of the 3 spots I visited), and the lakefront street and the beaches were my favourite places. The beaches and palm tree planted avenues complete with grand villas made a great picture of a resort. I came to the lake in a search of a restaurant that would serve fish. One would expect this should be relatively easy in a resort town at the lake. Yet the Auberge de Gisenyi, where I was staying, didn’t serve fish. I was impressed with the buffet they were offering there, though.

I found a great hotel right at the lake and stepped in. It was the Kivu Sun Hotel with a bar and restaurant by the pool and a great sunset lake view. They had fish. I was so happy that I decided to break the rule and ordered dessert - Iced Mango Sufflé. It was perfect and I only wished that I could admire a sunset instead of African growl-less lightnings of distant thunders flashing frequently over the lake. It was spectacular and really dramatic, I must add.

What's really great:
Gisenyi - Mt Nyiragongo
Gisenyi - Mt Nyiragongo
Gisenyi was full of black volcanic rocks and solid lava blocks scattered around. In fact, one of the town's volcanoes was still smoking. It was Mt Nyiragongo, which erupted in 2002 destroying Goma on the Congolese side. It felt like walking on the side of a volcano. Loose pieces of lava were everywhere and it was actually tricky to walk on them.

The normality of the country, the calm and relaxed nature of the Rwandans took me by surprise. I was expecting a more disorganised and stressed society. It was super that the war was put behind, and people kept moving on. I asked a few Hutu and Tutsi what they thought of one another. Both agreed war was a tragedy, but claimed they’d forgiven the other tribe and hoped they’d been forgiven, too.

In the morning, I went to explore Gisenyi a little more. Obviously, I went down to the lake again to see how the resort looked like in the daylight. The lake and the beaches were great and relatively busy with the locals and the Congolese taking a dip.

Lake Kivu - Pascal
Lake Kivu - Pascal
Lake Kivu was the main sight of Gisenyi. My camera was loosely bumping against my belly and I found that this actually made local youth come forward and ask for their pictures to be taken. So I decided to show off my camera a little whenever it was reasonably safe to do so. This way I could increase my collection of people’s portraits.

Typically, a few local guys appeared. They wanted to talk with me as I moved from one beach to another. Their motives ranged from begging, looking for a sponsor, a pen-friend or just a person, with whom they could practice their English. One of them, Faustin, wanted to do the latter. As we were talking, a young guy kept trying to be noticed, jumping to the lake, trying some gymnastics. It was so obvious he wanted his picture taken. He stared at me and my camera a lot. After an hour, I asked him if he wanted a photo. It was very funny to see him so happy and so unsure which pose to choose. It turned out that he was quite shy, actually. His name was Pascal.

Gisenyi - Kivu Sun Hotel
Gisenyi - Kivu Sun Hotel
My hotel, Auberge de Gisenyi was located in the somewhat uglier upper part of the town. The hotel was basic but affordable. The majority of the rooms were arranged in a single storey building in the shape of a horseshoe. In the middle there was a simple garden with a few tables and chairs. The rooms were unpretentious but bathrooms definitely needed a better scrub. The locks in the rooms were so bad, that I had to use my own combination padlock, just in case. There were few other accommodation options in the town, but the Auberge had a reputation of one of the better options.

When I came down to the lake, I was surprised how attractive yet underdeveloped the waterfront was. But the Kivu Sun Hotel was grand. It was no doubt expensive, but it was located right at the lake and had facilities of a 5* hotel, complete with an outdoor swimming pool. Compared with the Auberge, I was so jealous that I wasn’t staying here. Anyway, my budget didn’t allow it. Tough!

In Gisenyi, I was bored at night because no-one else was staying in my hotel and the hotel’s bar was flooded with suspicious looking individuals, who drank excessively keeping conversations to the minimum. It was utterly strange. Normally, bars are loud with a lot of action. This one was totally packed but was remarkably quiet. I didn’t quite understand it. I went on looking around the town, but I could not find any other bars or clubs that were open. I hoped that the lakefront could provide for some action but that night was quiet.

Similarly, there was nowhere to go in Kibuye. Well if it was, then it must have been well hid, as I didn’t find any. Kigali, at the other was different - see below.

Gisenyi - Lakefront avenue
Gisenyi - Lakefront avenue
Hmm... about hanging out in Gisenyi. I was relatively happy with the beach and the lake. This was where locals relaxed, were approachable and eager to talk to visitors. The alley along the beach was planted with grand trees, some of which grew on the beach as well, so there was plenty of shade to hide from the sun, need be.

Gisenyi being a very small place, which had seen much busier years before the war, looked as if it was forgotten for a while. I was the only tourist around and perhaps this was why I felt like everyone wanted to hug me. Rwandans there were so friendly and warm that I almost wanted to change my plans for the rest of the holiday and spend more time with them. However, more action would also be great and I had already bought my ticket to Nairobi... But when I later went to even smaller and quieter Kibuye, I realised how much I missed my new pals from Gisenyi, some of whom wanted to accompany me at least to Kibuye.

Kigali - City Centre
Kigali - City Centre
In Kigali, I chose to stay at the Okapi Hotel, right in the centre. For me, there was absolutely nothing attractive in Kigali. This large town was dusty and apart from being a typical African city, it had little character. Although I was told that nightlife was legendary. I was therefore preparing myself and making plans to check it out.

I went to Nyira Rock, which was a pub and club. Inside, there was a stage and at about 9 p.m. something bizarre happened. It was actually hysterical. People came up on the stage and mimed to song recordings. It was like a drag show without the drag queens. Some of the performers didn’t even know the words (as they mostly chose songs with lyrics in English) so they mimed something else. I have to say however that some of them could dance very well, so I made sure I was not laughing too much. Also, the place was taken very seriously and it was absolutely packed. This 'show' must have been a rarity of evening entertainment. I made a few friends there, too.

Other recommendations:
Kibuye, the so called alternative to Gisenyi was not nice at all. Although it did have its own character and was weirdly located between and within small bays and peninsulas of the Lake Kivu. Nevertheless, such location made it hard to navigate. The issue was that there were no tunnels between the bays so one had to go around the hills and peninsulas to get either to other bays or to the town centre. The town centre was nothing more than a roundabout junction surrounded by drinks and soap stands, phone booths and a few unidentified venues perhaps housing hairdressers or welding shops. The architecture of Kibuye was extremely simple. The small cubic houses had small windows, single doors and small porches created by the extended flat roofs supported by a few square columns. All looked the same.

Kibuye’s Golden Rock Hotel was an eye-sore and architectural monstrosity, although it had decent rooms with hot showers and large terraces offering nice sunset and lake views. Staff were great!

Published on Saturday March 1th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:51 PM rating by alfonsovasco

you seem to have been in places where nobody else in globo has been.

Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 05:07 AM rating by magsalex

Great report. It inspires me more to try and make it to the less 'touristy' places on our planet!

Tue, Mar 04 2008 - 12:59 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

i am glad to read ur reports ,i dont find appropriate words to praise ,but can say that it is excellent

Sun, Mar 02 2008 - 03:33 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Another first class report, as usual in you. You should exploit your literary ability to write travel books.

Sun, Mar 02 2008 - 08:57 AM rating by louis

Another great report. I like your way of writing reports. Afrcia seems to be most difficult continent to travel, but your reports doesn't show thet to much, and it's very good because it is beautifull continent.

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