Rwanda Weekend Getaways: Gisenyi + Lake Kivu
After weeks of agonized discussions and emoting ("is this worth it? I don't know if it will work out... what if it's horrible forever? things are haaarrrddd...") we decided that Jed would return and attempt to get his work permit - and if he got it, I would then join him. That was back in August.
It's now late September and.... I'M IN KIGALI. So, things worked out and we got through the hardness and I'm pleased to say that my jet lag is dissipating and I find myself becoming more filled with creative energy again. I applied for my M2 - Dependent Spouse residence permit this morning and should have my passport back soon enough with a fresh page containing my permit :) (more on the process of getting this visa in another post).
To celebrate our reunion we took a weekend trip with some friends to Gisenyi, a border town at the North end of Lake Kivu next to the DRC (Democratic Republic Congo). Being car-less we decided to join our friends on the bus and took a bracing moto ride to Nyabugogo bus station on Saturday morning (i.e., superbusy x 1000) where we tracked down Virunga Express and awaited our entourage to arrive. I'm getting used to taking motos everywhere again, and really, why the heck wouldn't you? They are super fun and we all need an element of danger to maintain our appreciation of life.
The bus tickets were inexpensive - about $5 one way - and the buses new-looking and comfortable. On first glance there are two rows - groups of two seats on the left and single seats on the right, but we soon discovered there are secret seats that are disguised as armrests which essentially fold down and close off the aisle creating a uniform bank of 4 seats across. As you get seated (choosing a window on the right-hand side to take advantage of beautiful views), people outside crowd around to the windows and sell things that may be of use: drinks, snacks, earphones, sim cards, phrase books, etc.
The 3.5 hour bus trip flew by pretty fast with the smooth roads and gorgeous hilly vistas to look at. With one brief stop at Nyirangarama for roasted potatoes (eat these + brochette if you come here or I can't agree that you've had an authentic bus experience) we arrived in Gisenyi around 2:30 and made our way to a cafe our friends knew called Calafia, where we enjoyed Question coffee and utterly delicious salad + sandwich combos. Yes, much of my enjoyment of travelling is food-based.
While our friends opted to stay in Gisenyi for convenience, we had booked a room about 7km south at a wonderful resort called Paradis Malahide, on a nice bay with little bungalows directly on the lake.
We spent the evening sipping drinks and watching the sun set into the distant storm clouds. The clouds progressed into an evening lightning storm, which looked spectacular across the lake and didn't reach us until late at night.
I can't over-emphasize the perfection of the weather here: while it's the short rainy season right now, every day dawns bright and clear with storms gathering late in the afternoon if at all, and generally giving way to a clear night that's warm and fresh. I'm A-OK with rain if it has a schedule and doesn't prevent sunshine from participating in the day :) Also - the rain is turning the sun-baked hills to a lush, vibrant green. Scented jacaranda with lavender blooms are everywhere along the streets right now.
We enjoyed the legendary sambaza as an appetizer; a small silvery sardine-like fish that is a specialty of Lake Kivu, deep fried and salty. We also got a plate of typical Rwandan food (potatoes, cassava, rice & spiced beans with some small beefy chunks) and a whole grilled Tilapia - also of Lake Kivu. The food was quite good.
As we finished our meal a traditional Rwandan dance troupe came out and performed Intore to a live drummer and accompanying singers. The dancers were wild, wearing long-blond wigs. Unlike other traditional dances that have at times been forced upon me (organized bus tours in both Spain and Mexico come to mind...) these performers seemed genuinely proud and happy to dance and sing - not just for money, but to share their culture with us.
The next morning we enjoyed a small but satisfying first breakfast served in traditional wooden plates and bowls with wooden cutlery. The coffee was great - we had the option of "coffee" or "strong coffee" - but the best part was just enjoying the calm morning outdoors, listening to the sounds of morning in Rwanda on a Sunday morning. These included hours of gospel singing at the nearby church, roosters crowing, and exotic birds chirping harmoniously.
We took motos back to Gisenyi along an upper coastal road which has been compared to a miniature Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast in California, and it definitely bore striking similarities. In Gisenyi, we met our friends for a second breakfast of granola at Calafia then walked over to Lake Kivu Serena Hotel where we sat at the private beach relaxing and reading for a while, listening to a lively beach volleyball tournament happening nearby.
Jed and I wanted to be home before dark, as driving on the highways at night isn't ideal (while the roads are great, many places do not have streetlights and there are so many people walking along the sides; it's just a bit nerve-racking!) so we left on the bus early in the afternoon.
I would happily return to Lake Kivu for another weekend to repeat this one: it's simple, affordable and relaxing, and gets you out of the city for a perfect getaway. Hopefully all the methane stays well-buried under the lake for the duration of our time here and we can enjoy many more trips like this :)