I am a firm believer that ignorance is bliss at times! This is what I knew at the beginning of the hike… I am going to walk from Kibuye to Gisenyi along Lake Kivu with my two flatmates QinQin and Jakob and Ran, the Kiva fellow.
This is what I didn’t know – how long is the hike (100km), how many days it’ll take (3), where will I sleep (base camps dotted along the way), will I be able to flush a toilet (every single time), am I able to actually do this (HELLS YES!).
The hike is rated as ‘easy to moderate’ – most of the time we were walking along a rough countyside road through little towns and villages . What made it harder were the constant ups and downs (Rwanda is known for its hills!) but that also meant breath taking views at each and every corner. We did go through a marshland for a portion of the trail and I doubt I’ll ever wash away the stench from my trainers…
Four mazungus are interesting enough in Kigali, but in the country side it’s a whole other ball game… The valleys carry sound very well, so the kids knew we were coming way before they even saw us. As we turned a corner of another mountain, we heard the familiar call ‘MAAAZUUUNGUUUUUU’ down from the valley, underneath the banana trees. And as clock work, all of the village kids would appear on the road – ‘Good morning!’ ‘How are you?’ ‘What is your name?’
‘AGA CHUPPA, AGA CHUPPA’ – the kids were after our empty water bottles as they use them to fetch water from the wells, so we ended up recycling all our bottles!
We found ourselves in a torrential rain situation within the first few hours of our hike, stranded in the middle of the road, completely soaked. As we weighed our options, a young barefoot woman ran up the valley and energetically encouraged us to follow her back down. We were saved!
We sat in Florence’s house with ten village kids and two baby goats, sharing our snacks as gratitude, waiting for the rain to pass. As the rain stopped and we were ready to hit the road again, Florence was keen to share some gifts with us. First, we got a two metre sugar cane branch! She helpfully cut it into manageable pieces for us and peeled it with her hardcore teeth, so the silly mazungus could actually eat it!
Second, she wanted us to have a whole banana branch… As we explained we are too weak to carry it, she pointed to a random kid and said ‘He will come with you and carry it for you!’ We got out of the poor boy trekking with us by promising Florence that we will make sure to come back some day!
We have been expecting you
As I mentioned, we didn’t really know where we were going to sleep throughout the trek. I had emailed the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) that we are doing this hike a few days before our departure, they said it was ok and that we will be ok. As we walked into Bumba town (which we were hoping was our Day 1 destination), a man in a leather jacket came up to us and said ‘I have been waiting for you!’.
So turns out a random email to RDB will get a random man to wait for you in the middle of the road, for god knows how long… Rwanda is the best!!!
‘Give me your sunscreen!’ and other fun times
Besides intense staring competitions with kids (I won!), the local milk bars and the crazy village ladies that scare you as they’re taking their clothes off so you can put some of your sun screen on their skin… there’s plenty of other things to experience along the trek.
We visited a beautiful tea plantation trying to figure out how the locals manage to make their way through the thick hedges. We had a comfort break at a coffee washing station and were overwhelmed by the pungent smell of the rotting coffee bean shells. We took a cheeky boat ride to shorten our Day 3 hike by four hours (we were not up for another 11+ hour hike!) and enjoyed resting our feet for a while.
The base camps
The trail is divided up into different day treks (Day 1 – 27km, Day 2- 41km, Day 3 – 34km with a cheeky boat ride) and we successfully reached our base camps each day – Bumba, Kinunu and Gisenyi. The camps are wonderful – beds, mosquito nets, flushing toilets, some even have cold showers! Dinner and breakfast is also served at each camp – a great spread of rice, chips, beans, meat stew and fish!
We had a long chat with Earnest, the Bumba camp manager, around a camp fire about the Rwandan education system and how he is building a library for his community. We shared Jeaunice’s pride at Camp Kinunu as his daughter was the only girl in the village who attended a prestigious boarding school near Kigali. And we dove into Lake Kivu when we finally reached Gisenyi – the cool water soothing our weary blistery feet and sore muscles…
I wanted to say a special thanks to QinQin and Jakob for being such great leaders and navigators – me and Ran definitely would not have made it without you guys!
Last but not least, if you do end up doing this hike yourself, here are some tips…
- Carry granola bars and nuts – these are great to share with kids on the road and act as good emergency presents when you’re invited to someone’s house
- Pack sunscreen, bug spray and a rain poncho – you will be hit by all elements! I swayed between soaking wet and burnt to a crisp for the most part…
- Stash some chocolate in your bag – instant pick me up when you’re miserably wet in a random milk bar with locals laughing at you
- Think running shoes and cheap white H&M socks are appropriate for a hike – my feet were wet, my shoes are broken and every pair of socks I wore was left behind…
- Plan ahead too much – things will work out… someone somewhere somehow will know where you should go… Just enjoy it!