Little Switzerland part 3
Rwanda Travel Blog› entry 3 of 4 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.