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Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home


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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles


The Road to Kigali

After an overnight stop at Geita, where I spent the night in the compound of a local hotel, I made good time to the border, arriving at Lusahunga by about nine, and then flying down the new tarmac road to the Rusumu falls border post. As you approach the border you still see the small remnants of the refugee camps - now mostly empty apparently.

Border formalities were pretty easy except for when the Tanzania customs official tried to extort $25 from me - without any success. On the Rwandan side everybody was extremely polite and efficient, and after picking up a local insurance policy (about $15) I was on my way, only on the wrong side of the road again.

It was strange to be speaking French again - but at least I could be sure of communicating with most people - in Tanzania I'd found that most people spoke only Swahili which made asking for directions a pretty trying affair. Driving along the mostly-good roads I found that the children were all waving - no outstretched hands - this was a genuine reaction to a stranger in a yellow car...

The landscape is dominated by agriculture - it seems that there is no slope too steep for cultivation, no square meter of earth left untilled. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and the industrious population are constantly at work either in the fields or engaged in hauling unfeasibly heavy loads up and down the steep hills suing wooden bikes or trolleys, or simply their heads - indeed driving is hard work as you weave around the thronging populace who are encroaching on the tarmac. Perhaps the altitude means that the cool climate favours a different pace of work, but to my mind the Rwandans are in a different league from the rest of Africa when it comes to hard work.

I arrived in Kigali, the capital, in the early afternoon, and after a meal at a Somalian restaurant I settled down for the night in the sprawling compound of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda, who kindly let me pitch my tent outside the church. Chatting to the people there I was surprised to find that most of them were Anglophones, though I guess it should be expected since it was an Anglican church. I also noticed that most of them were Tutsis - tall, with nilotic features - maybe there's a religious as well as a tribal divide as the majority of Rwandans are Catholics.

The following morning I walked into town, listening to the sound of the masses of birds circling above the tree lined avenues. hang on - those aren't birds - they're bats. It was abut 9 a.m. and the sun was well up, but here were tens of thousands of bats flying around, with still more hanging heavy on the trees. I asked a local about them - apparently they are a common site, leaving every month or so for a few weeks to hunt for food, so they believe, before retuning to their old haunts.

At about midday the heavens opened, so I took refuge for a couple of hours in an internet cafe while the streets turned to rivers. The rain passed as suddenly as it had started, and after picking up my $250 gorilla permit for Monday I returned to the Church for a good hot bath (why on earth did they put the toilet in a metal cage with a padlock - has somebody been stealing ball-cocks?) and to wring out my laundry (whoever had done it must have used an axe - everything was full of holes).

On Sunday I accepted the invitation to the morning service - the church was actually full, and I was left to reflect that here in Africa people fill churches with corrugated iron roofs while in Europe our masterpieces of architecture stand empty. Perhaps we should do a swap. After my token attempt a carol singing for the year, before heading up to Ruhengeri, where I settled in at the sister church of my previous hosts.

Monday morning and it must be gorilla trekking. There were only three of us for the day; Clive and Virginie from Kenya completed our party. They had just returned from climbing the volcano near Guam, and after hearing their tales, and seeing the video, I started thinking about a little route change...

The track was pretty short - the Susa troop were only about a kilometre from the edge of the park, and after a couple of hours of scrambling through the bush we suddenly found ourselves amongst our hairy brethren. It's an amazing experience to be able to get so close to such amazing beasts - The size of them was almost enough to frighten me, especially when one of the males mock-charged the guide next to me (and sent him flying when his foot caught him by accident). The are utterly poachable; inquisitive as they are fluffy - everybody should have one. I could spend the rest of this page talking about how much I enjoyed it, but I'll spare you the boredom and leave you to check out the photos.

After lunch and a shower I dropped in to see Katie Fawcett, who heads the Karisoke Research Centre which is part of the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund. As I stepped out of the camel I was greeted enthusiastically by a young chimp who shook my hand and then jumped up and hung around my neck like a well behaved infant.

Katie and I chatted monkeys for a couple of hours, pausing occasionally to watch the caretaker chasing the chimp past the window in a sort of Benny Hill style monkey pursuit. Katie told me about an orphaned infant that had be confiscated - the poaching still seems to be going on despite the relative stability of the areas of habitat - but generally I'd say that the future loos good for the mountain gorillas.

I was up with the sun the following morning having come to my decision - it was off to Goma...