Monday, 4 November 2013

Welcome to Rwanda

It's amazing when you cross a border and immediately everything is different.  For some reason you expect a gradual change from one place to another, but there is a huge change from Uganda into Rwanda.

Luckily it was still not quite dark because the first major difference is that you drive on the wrong side of the road, which was not as dramatic as I had feared.  It just seemed to happen somewhere between the two sets of customs houses, and we basically didn't notice.

It was pretty important for me to stay vigilant though, as not only are we on the wrong side of the road for our RH drive car, but the road is absolutely hoaching with people.  There are literally thousands of pedestrians on both sides of the road, forcing the cars out towards the central line and into head on collision territory.  The reason all the people are on the road and not in the verges, is that the verges are densely forested - completely different again from just over the border in Uganada.

The fourth big difference is that the roads, in the main, are well maintained, and covered in nice smooth tarmac.

Our luck on this very long day eventually gave out, as we arrived in the town of Musanze/Ruhengeri.  Rwanda had an irritating habit of changing the names of many of its towns just to piss off map makers, sign writers and self guiding tourists.

We had only a very rough idea of where we were going in the town, and for it to suddenly get very dark with the arrival of a very large thunderstorm coupled with a power cut made our search for our guest house rather tricky.  We had booked to stay at the Amahoro tours guest house which at the time we left for Africa did not have a tab on google maps (it does now).

So we did what seemed like a good idea - we drove around the teeming streets in the pissing rain and dark and generally drove into massive pot holes, off the sides of unseen cliffs until eventually sanity regained itself and told us to stop fooling around and ask for directions.  We parked in a puddle and I jumped out and asked the nice lady at the Urumuli hotel if she knew where the Amahoro guest house was.  Amazingly she said yes it was behind the big warehouse immediately across the street.

So we drove across the street and down the dark alley which she had pointed out.  The alley got narrower and narrower and darker and darker until we just couldn't go any further.  Is this it I asked Karen - don't ask me came the reply.  Ok so what now???

I got out the car and could dimly see an open doorway in one of the walls facing us - so I wandered in to find myself inside the very dark interior of someone's house.  Hello, I called out and a smiling face of a teenage girl appeared.  She didn't seem at all upset with the Muzungu dripping all over her floor so I asked if this was the Amahoro - oh no she replied that is down that even smaller darker alleyway.

When we looked down this alley, we agreed that we could not possibly drive down it - but only after wedging the jeep between a wall and a deep chasm on the other side of the street.  So we elected to walk the remainder of the journey abandoning the vehicle in the process.

We wandered through a garden gate, up some steps to a darkened door and knocked loudly.  The door was opened by a lovely lady who said "are you Struan?" We had found the right place.  Well sort of  - this was the Amahoro offices which we then proceeded to drip all over until one of the office workers handed us some hankies to try and dry ourselves off.

The lady, Anne, said she would show us the right way to the guest house, and was only a little surprised to see our abandoned/crashed jeep when we all walked back down the alley.  "did you really try to drive down here?" was her only question.  As if we were completely off our trolleys.

The guest  house turned out to be on the other side of town, but it's a small town, and we were soon welcomed in by another lovely smiling Rwandan.  The guest house is enclosed behind high walls and doesn't have a sign to let you know what it is, so even if we had driven past it we would never have found it.

That said it is very comfortable, with a nice bedroom with en-suite bathroom and a big lounge for guests to sit in.  Our hosts were cooking something that smelt great, but they apologised profusely saying that they only had enough for themselves.  Muhoozi however said he would show us a nice restaurant when we were ready.  So half an hour late we were enjoying a cold beer and tasty meal in La Paillotte, before finding our own way back to the guest house and banging loudly on the metal security gate with a stone to be let in.

What a day.

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