Yesterday we had decidede with Amber that we would meet in the morning and head into downtown together. So after another wonderful breakfast of chipati, toast, and the best tea known to man (short of Chai tea) we did just that. We stepped outside the gate of the hostel and without saying a word there was already a Mototaxi waiting and with a wave of his hand two more materialized out of no where. I love these things. So we all hopped on our individual motos, buckled our well used helmets, put down our visors and started motoing towards downtown. This was the best view of Kigali so far. As soon as you get off the hostel street you are on top of a beautiful hill heading towards downtown by way of a long hill down and then back up again on the other side. It was stunning. Houses all along the right side and a perfect uninterrupted view of them. I decided right there that I wanted to come back to this point and take pictures at the end of the day if I had time and light as it wasn’t more than 15 minutes walk from the hostel or 1 minute on a moto.
The motos dropped us all off downtown at UTC, which is something like a strip mall and a good landmark for taxis. It is amazing how mondern it is here – especially after seeing other african cities – sky scrapers and building done all in glass! We headed up into the downtown area attempting to shoot towards Hotel Mille Colines or at least where that looked to be on our lonely planet book map. We walked a long ways and didn’t find it, but got to see downtown and its cleanliness, garbage cans, even ladies out on the street sweeping it clean as their job, a wonderful and refreshing view of africa and what it can be with a little work and a strong attempt to stamp out corruption. After watching some skyscraper construction and generally admiring the city we circled back and realized that the Hotel was essentially right beside UTC, we were just seeing the back of it before.
After passing the entrance, on the side, not the front, we finally came back and went in it. Looking like we were supposed to be there we walked into the hotel, found a staircase downwards, and low and behold it came out at the beautiful pool, gardens and cabana bar. We grabbed ourselves a seat at the bar on the edge of the garden and sat down for some well earned drinks after all of our walking around. They were also well paid for drinks as they were probably 5 times what you would pay anywhere else. I still managed to get 500 ml of beer, Skol, for $3 or so, Lindsay had starbucks priced coffee and Amber had the smallest fresh pineapple juice ever and paid nearly double what I did for a beer. It was all worth it as the place was beautiful and the service perfect, Rwanda knows how to treat you well, and the “Hotel Rwanda” for sure knows how to entertain the wealthy Rwanda folks. The hotel itself has cleary gotten a facelift after its fame from the movie “Hotel Rwanda” which wasn’t even filmed here, but it is of course the actual location of the events from the movie and genocide. It was different sitting there and imagining all that took place here between drinking water from the pool, to smoozing the army folk to keep them apeased, and all the other events. The bathrooms here were also the nicest we experienced in all of our time in East Africa, in fact nicer than most all bathrooms back home. I have a picture of the urinals I’ll stick up later.
We then began walking the other direction in downtown and made our way to the very large traffic circle or roundabout. It is a challenge to cross the street and actually get into the middle which is a little garden area with a giant water fountain. So after braving traffic and dodging cars, stopping part way letting a moto or two scoot over your foot, or at least close, we finally made it across the very busy street to the fountain. Took some photos and enjoyed watching the crazy amount of constant traffic. Then we realized we were on an island and needed to cross the street again. We both have come to dread trying to cross a big road. It is not easy and for sure feels like you are taking your life into your hands everytime you try and figure out how to get to the other side. I have never felt so much like that preverbial chicken. So we crossed the road, to get to the other side, and continued on down a street heading out of downtown down a hill, go figure, with a great view. Turns out we were in the forexbureau district, literally 100 or so exchanges, and I did a little browsing to see if I could get a good price for the Tanzanian I had left. It wasn’t a really good deal and Amber and I decided we would exchange some with her Ugandan since we were going there next and could use the money.
After strolling around a corner we stumbled across what looked like a very local restaurant; the Corner View Restaurant. It was a self serve joint, buffet, serving local Rwanda food. We grabbed a table out on the patio and then I sent the girls in to figure out how the whole eating process worked. Apparently you start at one end and fill your plate up with as much as you want of rice, beans, pasta of some sort, a spinach like green, cooked plantain (completely tasteless and like cardboard), sauces, chips/fries, Ugali (cornmeal paste like cream of wheat porridge) and 1 piece of meat, no more than 1 or you get scolded and glared at by the lady standing there watching the meat platter. When I went in and got food I did not know about the meat rule and I took 3 or 4 pieces and nobody said a thing. Must have been because I’m such a burly man and needed to fill myself up with the good protein, or they figured they would just charge me for it later (as they did). So essentially local food means cramming as many carbs as possible into your stomach in a meal. The locals knew the trick and had their plates piled higher than I’ve ever seen a plate hold food before. IT was a good meal and nice being at a local joint we discovered all by ourselves. When the bill came I think the girls plates were the equivalent of $2 and mine was maybe $3.50 or so, awesome.
Post lunch was our attempt at finding the craft market, Caplaki, which according to the map was maybe a 1 km walk from where we were. That would have been fine and dandy if the map had the actual road names marked instead of stupid names that Kigali doesn’t actually use. Lonley planet I hope you’re listening to this! If the road has a sign on it that says K24, do not put it in your map as “Freedom street” or some other fancy Kenyarwandan name as that is pointless and just gets us lost and pissed off. Make the map say what we actually see everywhere. Kigali was the first place to actually have street signs and the stupid map doesn’t even use them correctly. After walking for a while in what was obviously not the right direction we stopped at a “hotel/guesthouse” to ask for directions. Like the rest of the Rwandans we met, the owner/manager was extremely helpful, he didn’t however know how to read a map of his city. This ended up being funny. We showed him the map in the book and guessed about where we were and showed him where we were trying to go. He moved his finger around the map for a while before finally saying we were not on the map and he would draw us one instead. So we took out some paper and he drew us a fairly detailed map of how to walk there from where we were. When we set off from the hotel I looked at the map and sure enough if you put it side by side with the book it was essentially the same map 🙂 Priceless. The owner handed us a business card, told us to tell other travellers about his place, and we were off to find the market.
We walked and walked for a very long time around,through, and near downtown Kigali. It was actually quite nice and we saw lots of local life happening around us. We passed many gorgeous hotels, back past the Mille Collines, then down the road towards our destination. After about an hour or so we stopped because we saw something in the trees next to the road. Once we were close we looked up to see an entire tree, well a bunch of trees, covered in Fruit Bats. They’re huge and even kind of cute.We took and bunch of pictures and even had a few cars of other white folk stop to see what we were looking at. While we were stopped a Rwandan walking along stopped to look at them with us and tell us about them and see how we were enjoying the city. What a great place Kigali is.
Continuing on in our walk it became apparent we were in a fairly afluent area as it was all compounds incasing very nice houses. It also became apparent as we were walking back up hill that we had missed a turn. By this point we were sore, tired, and cranky from the long walk that seemed to have gotten us no where. We asked for directions again, she didn’t know. We found some street signs that actually matched the map and figured out where we were as related to a few landmarks on the map. We backtracked a bit and then started down what turned out to be the right road, but we didn’t know that yet. Eventually we made it to a soccer field where some school kids were having a game. At this point Amber had decided she was done walking and wanted to head back to the hostel. Fair enough, we weren’t ready to give up just yet. Amber snapped her fingers (figuratively) and a moto taxi appeared and whisked her away. Lindsay and I talked to another moto driver who was finally someone who knew where the palces we were talking about were. Turns out the restaurant we wanted, Chez John, was back up the way we came a bit at a turn I had contemplated taking. It was barely 50 metres down that road. The craft market was the worst direction mistake as it was not 50 metres down the road from where Amber left us, behind a giant tree that was blocking our view of the gas station across from it we were looking for. Amber had to drive right past it on her way back, but she was too tired to notice it.
Lindsay and I headed back up the hill to Chez John and sat down for some well earned drinks. I am getting a little tired of showing up at fairly nice places covered in sweat, dirt, and grime from walking around all day. The drinks were good and it looks like it would be a nice place for dinner. It’s set up in a large home essentially just on the street next to a bunch of other normal houses. Lindsay’s french finally came in handy as the waitress spoke it fluently. She gave us directions to the craft market and we headed there after paying up the tab. Detoured into a grocery store/corner store along the way to buy some water as we had learned our lesson of not caring water when walking so far. You never know when the next store will or won’t be to get more water. The craft market was sadly quite a dissapointment. It had all the same tourist knicknacks as in Tanzania, a few more Rwanda basket weaving items, but had none of the desire to haggle and sell. It was a tourist trap market and they knew that some American would come along and spend too much money on their things and so they wouldn’t sell to us for a fair price. So, we didn’t buy anything, although we tried to barter for a postcard and a scarf but the prices were crazy expensive, a postcard doesn’t even cost that much back home. I’m white, not a money tree farmer.
Lindsay and I decided that we hadn’t really been able to blog or talk to anyone on the internet in a very long time so after a suggestion from a guy at Chez John we took motos back up the way we had walked to UTC where there was an internet cafe attached to the Blues Cafe where we had dinner. I videoed us on our motos and fully realized just how far we had walked that afternoon trying to get to the lousy craft market, far. We got a fairly normal ‘western’ dinner at the Blues Cafe with myself burgering it up, usually a safe choice, and Lindsay having a very very tasty meat stuffed chapti. I think chapati might be our new favourite bread item. Spent an hour in the internet cafe, which had amazing connection speeds and then grabbed some motos back to the hostel after the sun had set. This is the first place where we felt relatively safe moving around at night so today the dark wasn’t an issue. Lindsay’s moto driver clearly had no idea where he was going so he was booking it to stay on the tail of my guy’s moto. He was so desperate for directions that at one point he ran a red light, turning across 5 lanes of traffic to catch up to the moto nearly getting smoked in the process (or at least as Lindsay tells it anyways, things look a little scarier on a moto sometimes). Lindsay’s moto taxi skills are getting better. Her death grip has moved from the driver’s waist to the handles on her seat, but here fingers are still white and ache from how hard she holds on. I on the other hand love them and go hands free taking pictures and video instead.
My favourite moment so far on the motos happened on the way back to the hostel. Lindsay’s guy and mine both pulled up to a light at about the same time. The drivers then weaved their way between a few cars to get to the front of traffic where apparently all the motos gather. There must have been 30 motos there waiting for the green light. In a decison of sheer genius Rwanda has all theire lights count down while they’re red until they will turn to green. I’m not sure why we don’t do this at home as it would help with road rage so nicely. So we’re sitting there surrounded by motos waiting for the light to change. 10, 9, 8, vroom vroom vroom, engines are revving, 7, 6, 5, 4, neee neeee neee nee (higher pitched revving) 3, 2, 1, Vrooooommmm, all the motos take off like one giant pack of racers. It was awesome. We even managed to make it back to the hostel with out getting lost and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
This was our last night in Kigali so when we got back we sat up and chatted outside with most of the other guests. Lots of drinks were had as we heard stories from the Swedish boys who had just done Uganda and gave us ideas of where to go there, so much so we changed our plans and went with what they did. Met an Australian, Jocie, who was very, well, Australian, loud, fun, and could drink until the cows came home – it seems all travelling Aussies are the same way, makes for good company. Then a new girl showed up who was unmistakibly Canadian. So much so that I knew she was a prarie girl after a few sentances and Lindsay knew Melissa was from Manitoba after her hand shake, which is apparently Manitoban. Spent a few hours exchanging stories and having drinks and then we finally crashed back into our now ant proof tent. Another good day in Kigali.
Toilets here are awesome, no problems in that department 🙂