Little Switzerland part 3

Rwanda Travel Blog

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Volcano mountain view from the hotel...this is where the gorillas call home!

After spending two days in Kigali our journey continued north, higher up into the mountains, to the town of Ruhengeri.  Kigali sits at about 5,000 feet above sea level and Ruhengeri is another 1,000 feet beyond that.  The drive up the winding road was not about to lull anyone to sleep.  The only real traffic on this well-maintained highway was the occassional flat-bed commercial truck hauling produce, but as no one seems to drive on their side of the road, it was an "on the edge of your seat" moment as you rounded the sharp curves.  I was surprised to see so many pedestrians traveling the road, especially all the men pushing bycycles that were saddled with 3 or 4 50 pound bags of potatoes.

Not as clear on this day
  You know they had to be well conditioned to do this, particularly going uphill!

The scenery along the way transcended anything I could have imagined.  Pointed mountains, jutting upwards, scattered the landscape in every direction you looked.  But not a square inch of land, even on the steep slopes, was left untouched.  Except for where the banana trees flourished, the mountain sides were a patchwork of evenly measured plots that were cultivated with various crops by their respective owners.  These plots of ground, each individually owned by a different family, would reach the very tops of the mountains.  Someone in our group made the comment, "I wouldn't want to be the family that owned land at the very top!"  An astute observation, indeed.

Ruhengeri. The streets are wet in the dry season.

The further we got away from Kigali, the more we noticed the traditional way of life in Rwanda.  The western civilization didn't have near the influence out here as it did in the city.  Women wore their colorful wraps, had their babies secured in a front pouch, and would often be balancing some large and heavy object quite gracefully on their head.   As we would get deeper into the banana jungles outside of Ruhengeri in the coming days, this scene would become all the more prominent.  The one attire that was uniform throughout Rwanda was the school clothes that the children wore.  Girls in blue dresses; boys in tan shorts and shirt.  This is the official school uniform adopted by the Rwanda government, and is supplied to the children whether they are in public school or private school.

Looking rough on this bright sunny morning.

Getting into Ruhengeri, which is a 2-3 hour drive from Kigali, we started noticing a little more traffic and a little more of the western civilization sneaking back in.  Ruhengeri is no where close to the size of Kigali.  It has a population of about 35,000 people.  Just about everyone here travels on foot.  There are also a lot of bycycle and motorbike taxis for the travelers who can afford them (about 100 francs for a one-way lift).  The town has a distinct third-world flavor to it, but the crime rate is very low, and the people are a friendly sort.  This was going to be our home for the next three weeks, and as we arrived at our hotel, the spectacular view of the volcano mountains lie before us . . .

For the first couple of days, in fact, I couldn't keep my gaze off of these majestic mountains.

Passing by on our trip to Ruhengeri.
  I was very excited because I knew that I would be up on one of them to see the silverback gorillas at some point during my stay.  Our hotel, owned by the Catholic church, was more than just a lodging place.  The grounds had a seminary, a church, office buildings, gift shop, restaurant, and an internet cafe.  The latter of that list was what interested me the most, but soon found out that I had to use their computers and, once again, the speed was slooooooooow.  However, my internet experience shaped up quite nicely.  We later discovered that at night time and in the early morning we could pick up high speed wireless from the cafe on our own laptops.  I was totally flabbergasted to have this technology here in the mountains of northern Rwanda!  And to think that prior to arriving, I wasn't sure if we'd have running water.
This is my sponsored child, Muragijimana Louise.
  Turns out, though, the internet was a lot faster than the running water in our showers.

As this visit was more than just a sight-seeing tour, each day started off with a morning meeting followed by our trips into various villages as far away as 30 kilometers.  Traveling to these villages tucked away amongst the banana trees, and often high up on the slopes of mountains, was the real adventure.  Many times the roads we traversed were nothing more than volcano rock, and too rugged for anything other than some kind of a 4x4 SUV.  June through September are the dry months in Rwanda and we were smack dab in the middle of the dry season.  Naturally, the first three days we were in Ruhengeri it rained almost non-stop.  The locals said that was very rare.

Giving away bycycles.
  We were getting rather upset with the weather, but then when it finally stopped raining, it dried up quick and turned into a dust bowl.  It wasn't long before we were hoping for rain, again.  The dust would completely coat and penetrate your clothing after one day, which meant a lot of hand-washing clothes in the bathroom sink.  We did find out after a week of being there that that the hotel provided laundry services and I immediately took full advantage of that. 

In many of the villages we visited the locals had never seen outsiders.  We were an instant attraction and the children would follow us in droves.  Our skin color fascinated them, but one guy in our group turned out to be the main attraction because of the shiny braces on his teeth.

A small lake up in the mountains.
  His smile captivated the audience, pardon the clichéMy most memorable experience in these villages was at Nyanga where I spoke to a crowd of 6,000 people.  UNICEF had put up a white canvas, about 40' by 30', that I used as a projection screen for my PowerPoint slides and video.  This kind of technology had never been witnessed by these people.  They would come from as far away as 15 kilometers.  And at night time, when we showed them video (translated into their language), it was difficult to discern how many thousands were actually there.

On one occasion, I set up my video camera with a direct line into the projector, and filmed the audience so that they were "live" on the screen.  It was just amazing.  The children (probably a couple thousand of them) started screaming wildly in sheer excitement at seeing themselves in larger-than-life moving images!  The adults were cupping their ears because it became so loud.

Some of the audience in Nyanga where I spoke on health and various other issues.

It was in Nyanga, in fact, where I met Muragijimana Louise, the girl who I adopted as my sponsored child.  Muragijimana is an orphan, as her parents were killed in the gonocide.  Her dream is to become a nurse, and most children, especially orphans, will never get a chance for secondary education beyond what the government provides.  As my sponsored child, she will now have the opportunity to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse. 

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Volcano mountain view from the hot…
Volcano mountain view from the ho…
Not as clear on this day
Not as clear on this day
Ruhengeri.  The streets are wet in…
Ruhengeri. The streets are wet i…
Looking rough on this bright sunny…
Looking rough on this bright sunn…
Passing by on our trip to Ruhenger…
Passing by on our trip to Ruhenge…
This is my sponsored child, Muragi…
This is my sponsored child, Murag…
Giving away bycycles.
Giving away bycycles.
A small lake up in the mountains.
A small lake up in the mountains.
Some of the audience in Nyanga whe…
Some of the audience in Nyanga wh…
Taking my picture with the youth.
Taking my picture with the youth.