Friday, February 8, 2013

That Time My Friend Megan Came to Visit Rwanda and Awesome Times Ensued

I was lucky enough to have my friend Megan came to visit for 10 days following the filming of a documentary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was so fun having one of my friends from home here, and I got to see more of Rwanda; I’d never even been to the northwest of the country, or to any of the Eastern Province before. Ladies and gentlemen, book your plane tickets to Rwanda now. 

The Highlights:
We went to Gisenyi, on Lake Kivu in northwest Rwanda. It’s kind of a resort area, thus the name “the Riviera of Rwanda.” We stayed at a place on Lake Kivu that had nice safari tents (Megan and I joked that we were “glamping”, or glam camping because it was so nice) and the views were incredible. 

I could get used to this...
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very cooperative, so we didn’t get to enjoy any of the beaches there. But we also didn’t get schisto from swimming in the lake…win?

We were planning on taking the boat from Gisenyi down to my region, in southwest Rwanda, but alas, as we were eating dinner Saturday night, we were informed that the boat was cancelled because of the President’s visit to the southwest. So instead, we spent about 13 hours on buses getting back to my site. On one of the buses, the woman in front of us started puking out the window…probably a lowlight of our trip.
View of Gisenyi, Rwanda, and Goma, DRC
We hiked to the Rwanda/DRC border. It’s a really beautiful hike, around 2-3 hours each way. The rapids of the Rusizi River form the border, and the steep cliffs all around are pretty striking.

We saw the hotsprings about an hour by bus away from my site. I can now confirm that they are indeed quite hot.

Megan helped me prepare soymilk with the women’s soymilk cooperative I’m starting in my village. And about a hundred people in my village asked if we’re twins.

Can't you see the family resemblance? 
We went hiking in Nyungwe Forest on the canopy walk. 

Yeah, I went hiking in a skirt. Don't judge me. 
Nyungwe Forest is huge, and it has a lot of species of primates, including chimpanzees! We didn’t get to see any chimps, and the actual canopy part was a bit short, but the views on our canopy hike were still pretty stunning. 

I like to think that I’m not afraid of heights, but once we were about 200 feet in the air on a little swaying suspension bridge, the rope burns on my hands gave me away.

We visited the Genocide Memorial. It’s a very solemn place, and the burial site of over 250,000 people. Even though the genocide was 18 years ago, it’s so important to remember. And it gives a lot of context for visitors to Rwanda. It was my second visit there (read more about my first visit here), but it was no less affecting this time around. 

My favorite part of the trip was visiting Akagera National Park for two days.

Megan learned to drive a stick shift. In the safari park. In a Land Cruiser. Like a boss.

You go, Megan! 
Akagera is sometimes overlooked as a safari “destination” since it doesn’t have lions, cheetahs, or rhinos, and it’s much smaller than well-known East African safaris such as Masai Mara or the Serengeti. But that also means it’s much cheaper than the Tanzanian or Kenyan safari parks, and it’s much less crowded. 

We didn’t hire a driver or a guide, and we spent the whole day driving as close as we dared to the animals around the park. 

We saw only one or two other cars the whole day, and we managed to see hippos, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, antelope, impala, water buffalo, wart hogs, zebras, baboons, and monkeys.

We camped in a breathtaking campsite looking over the lakes. It was a little scary knowing that we were INSIDE the safari park, with no fence in between us and elephants, leopards, hippos, and the other animals in the park. 

We went with about eight other people, and we had a great time around the campfire, including sing-a-long time and ukelele playing. 

We woke up around 5 am Sunday morning to get up and see the animals. There was a beautiful sunrise over the lakes.

Megan and I visited Rusumo Falls, which forms the border of Rwanda and Tanzania. 

I think the Rwandan tourist bureau should start calling it “the Victoria Falls of Rwanda.” Don’t you think?

We visited an Imigongo art cooperative. Imigongo art is geometrical patterns made from cow dung, and it was originally made for Rwandan kings.

Full disclosure: this is my friend Ian's sweet patio with imitation Imigongo art :)
And no visit to Rwanda is complete without a visit to Kimironko market in Kigali. Vendors sell everything from food to home goods to clothing, and after bartering for a few hours we picked up a few gifts for family and friends back home. 

So glad you got to come, Megan!

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