East Africa 2011: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda & Rwanda travel blog

Drive to Ruhengeri Photos

Tent poles clanging and loud chatter and yelling woke me up before my alarm this morning and I quickly panicked. Did I not set the alarm for the correct time? Am I late for breakfast? What is going on?

Since Kristella was still in bed and not moving I looked at the time one more time and concentrated on it and what our wake up call was for that day and concluded that the noise must be the other group packing up to head out. They had a 6:00am departure and we had a 7:00am and I was promptly happy that I was in a nice bed and not in the tents where the noise would have been so much worse.

Today was another long drive to my last country of the trip. We would be crossing into Rwanda today and even entering a new time zone.

The day was broken up into about 2.5 hour blocks. The first stop was still in Uganda in a town where we could stock up on snacks and spend the rest of our Uganda money before crossing to Rwanda. There was also a nice café where we were able to get some WIFI and have a tea or coffee and snack. I spent the time trying to soak up as much of the atmosphere as I could knowing that it would be too soon before I was back home and the feeling of Africa would be fading away.

The big news once people had some internet access was that Canada had beaten Tonga in the Rugby World Cup! How was it possible!!

The drive to the border (our next stop) was gorgeous. We had to drive through two mountain passes, probably some of my favourite scenery. The roads curves up the side of the hills and you get these beautiful views down into the valley at all the homes and plantations up the sides of the mountains. Green everywhere – all shades you can imagine. Everything looks alive and fresh and mixed with the red soil, just gorgeous.

Even up the steep roads you’d still find people carrying their loads and walking along the side of the street. They are in the process of doing road construction as well so we’d pass crews at work. It was interesting because the workers all appeared to be locals but there would be a foreman or engineer at each site as well and they were generally Chinese, representation from the company actually contracted to do the work we were told.

Of course road construction means SLOW going and also a lot of other vehicles and equipment on the roads with us. As you can imagine the roads up the side of a mountain are limited, there is normally the side of a mountain on one side and a drop off on the other so there were several sections where our large truck was inching by a large construction truck with no room to spare.

There were a lot of scared looks on people’s faces, worried we’d flip and go tumbling down the side of the hill. Having had experience in large buses on roads in much worse condition than this in South America I just sat back enjoyed the ride and had confidence that Azam, having driven this in this very truck hundreds of times, wouldn’t kill us.

These mountain passes led us to the border crossing where we moved our watches back an hour. Kevin arranged to take all our passports into the office on the Ugandan side and they were all stamped with the exit stamp and brought them back to us for us to then walk across the border. There was a man that checked each of our passports for the stamp as we walked across.

For Rwanda you had to apply online for a letter of consent to visit the country. I had arranged that and had all the paperwork in place so gave it all in to the officer who took it all and my money and we all stepped aside and waited the normal half hour for them to bring them back out to us with our visa stamped inside.

We did have a few slow downs at this crossing though. A couple of the people didn’t have the correct paperwork and the officers spent extra time checking their systems but of course everything worked out fine. But just as we thought we were all clear and ready to head off we noticed Kevin walking back to the Ugandan side with Colin. In all the commotion, his passport didn’t end up getting a Ugandan exit stamp and they had to start the process over again.

Those of us that had our passports headed back to wait for the rest on the truck. While we were inside there was a crowd of kids around the truck asking for money and sweets but there was also an older woman on one side of the truck. She was making strange facial expressions and moving her hands and arms around and pointing at one of the girls on the truck. Of course, since we are always looking for some sort of amusement, we decided to tell the girl that the woman was putting a curse on her. Her reaction to this – sliding down in her seat and hiding from the woman and freaking out - was a good distraction from the waiting.

Kevin had given us a briefing on Rwanda the night before and had indicated that we needed to be discreet if we were to discuss it, in fact the impression I got from him was to not bring it up at all.

I was so excited to finally be in Rwanda. I loved the plains and the Rift Valley but I was ready to be surrounded by mountains again. Rwanda is called the “Land of 10,000 Hills” and the beauty we saw driving in the mountain passes continued. We were headed to Ruhengeri which is near the Parc National des Volcans. Right away you saw the tall volcanos surrounded by mist at the tops and you were automatically thinking ahead to tomorrow and the Gorillas.

Another reason I was excited for Rwanda was that one its predominant languages is French and anytime I can hear or be surrounded by French I am excited, not that I can put together a sentence anymore, I am so out of practice.

We were staying at a Christian college or school of some sort on the outskirts of Ruhengeri. For those of us that weren’t upgrading, we were put in a dorm room that had 8 bunk beds. So many of the group wanted an upgrade here that the 5 of us girls that weren’t were quite happy to have the dorm room to ourselves. We each grabbed a top and bottom and started to spread out our gear and pack up for the trek the next day. In the end, Kory and Alby lost out on an upgrade and had to come in and join us but even with 7, there was plenty of room.

I was nervous to start pulling out my hiking clothes, especially my boots and socks that hadn’t been out of my pack since Kili. I hadn’t washed my hiking socks since the hotel in Dar wouldn’t accept them and I didn’t believe that if I hand washed them, they’d dry enough to pack them back up. But in the end, when I pulled everything out they weren’t that smelly at all.

It was raining and we were warned that the trek the next day had the possibility of being very muddy and wet so we should be prepared. Out came the thermal long sleeve top (to protect from the stinging nettle), gaiters, rain pants and jacket. The bladder had to be filled up and the left over energy jellies and bars were pulled out as well.

I also had to remind myself that after the two nights here, the next time I got back on that truck, when I got off at the next destination I’d be getting off for good and the next stop for me and my bags was the airport, so it was time to start gathering up all my belongings that were strewn all over the truck and try to fit everything back inside the big bag.

My thoughts and feelings were bouncing all over the place. I was thinking about home – being in my apartment and my own bed and giving Molly big cuddles. I was excited to see my family and friends. I was excited about the idea of different clothes and not living out of a suitcase and hot water whenever I wanted it. I was looking forward to certain foods – a glass of milk!

These thoughts would be nice but they would also make me sad. I’d start to look around and think that after spending all this time with these people I’d likely not see them again. I’d developed a very close bond with Ru and Claire since we had been together since joining up with all these crazies! They had become my surrogate family on the road and I was truly going to miss them, even though the last time I got on the truck Ru was drying is underwear over the seat back in front of me!

I was also sad to be leaving Africa. I had done such a long trip (for me anyway) because it is not the easiest or cheapest thing in the world to get here and I knew that my lists of places in the world that I still wanted to visit was long and my intention was not to return to places as much as explore new ones. This was my East Africa trip and when I booked it, the possibility was always there that if I didn’t see it or do it this time, I may never return.

Now that I had lived through my choices, I was able to point out areas and things that I wish I had included or been able to do. I loved the trip and what I was able to do and see but the downside of the overland truck and the camping was missing out on spending more time in towns and with the locals. I also know that where I did have that opportunity, at times my fear and the stories you hear about Africa and being alone and female, held me back. I was regretful that we weren’t exposed more to the language, on the tour the logistics are handled for you which is fantastic but that is generally when you have your language challenges.

At the end of the day, I just wasn’t ready to leave. I didn’t feel that I had soaked up everything that Africa had to offer, and I craved more. I wasn’t ready to go back to a place where I was known and there were expectations of me. I didn’t want to head back to my responsibilities and give up the freedom I had felt over the last six weeks. But I guess anyone would love to be on perpetual vacation…reality does have to step in.

We didn’t know it at the time but tonight was our final dinner with the truck (we had a surprise the following night which I will talk about in that entry). We ate under the cover on the pathways in the parking lot, trying to stay dry from the rain that was coming down. Then it was a good night sleep to get ready for the day we’d all been waiting for…it was Gorilla time.

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