From the saddle: (Not so) pretty in pink. On the road to Kigali I passed roughly 1000 men in their pink suits working by the side of the road. These men actually pulled the triggers and swung the machetes in the genocide that happened in Rwanda in 1994.
The genocide memorial in Kigali. In the gardens around the memorial lay the remains of more than 250,000 men, women and children. Downtown Kigali can be seen on the hill in the background.
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The big fellow in the middle is a silverback.
The Hotel Milles Collines. Hollywood calls it "Hotel Rwanda." Kigali, Rwanda.
April 8, 2007. I have decided to update Rwanda. I wasn't sure what I should write about my time there. I recently met an interesting man who is a judge in Tanzania, sifting through the ashes of what happened in 1994. We spoke for hours about Africa, Rwanda above all. He gave me a paper he wrote on the 13th anniversery of the genocide in Rwanda- he presented it at a ceremony remembering the slain. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans there was no recorded history of bloodshed between the Hutu and Tutsi. The Europeans were the ones who split the two tribes in an effort to divide and conquer, this was done around the world with good results for the European colonialists...
I entered Rwanda at a border crossing point in the northwest corner of Tanzania. As I crossed a bridge at the border I noticed a river was in flood, the water looked like hot chocolate as it roared downstream. I had had good luck with the weather up to this point, but I knew the monsoon season was upon me. Looking at the river, I knew it was raining hard somewhere north.
My hopes of reaching the city of Kigali on this day were ruined by the setting sun. There was no chance I would ride alone at night in this part of Africa. I asked some people about a place to stay and was led to the only hotel in town. The hotel was rugged by any standard. I was given a room with a bed and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling- any port in a storm! I went outside to a small shack to take an ice cold shower sans soap. There was no toilet paper or towel available either. I dried myself off with a dirty t-shirt (I now carry a small towel in my kit). After the shower I enjoyed a small dinner buffet in the hotel restaurant, it was good, and tasted even better thanks to my hunger. I also enjoyed my first ever Rwandan beer, nice and warm. After dinner I set out in search of soap and toilet paper. It was almost dark now and everyone stared at my white self strolling in the middle of the street with the locals. It suddenly dawned on me there was no electricty in town. Inside the shops people were lighting candles as the night closed in. I visited a shop or two, but neither had the goods. I finally found a general store and had to smile as the woman there slowly passed a candle in front of the merchandise; as we couldn't understand each other, this was all she could do. The streets were pitch black as I felt my way back to the hotel. I sat out on the candle-lit porch and enjoyed a quiet beer when suddenly a generator roared to life- and so did the music and some bright lights. Turns out the place was the local disco. The music was impossibly loud. A number of people danced and I spoke with many of them, even cutting a little rug myself. At around ten the generator was either switched off or ran out of fuel. The lights dimmed and the music ground to a halt. In just a few seconds we were sitting in silence amongst the candles. I gazed up to a star-filled African sky and wondered what the the trip north would be like.
Late that night I was awakened by a noise. I opened my eyes with no effect. It was absolutely black. I opened and closed my eyes several times and realized that this was what it was to be blind. I heard another noise, then some muffled voices. I was the only person in a building with some 10 rooms. The bike was outside so anyone would know where I was. I thought back to the many people I had spoken with that night, could some of them be looking for me or the bike with bad intentions? I quietly stood up and peered out the window but saw only black. I was nervous to say the least. Then I heard what sounded like 4 or 5 people run past my building. Then there was nothing, no light or sound. I crawled back in bed and hoped the sun would rise soon. I slept very little that night and wished I had locked the bike to a tree.
I awoke early enough to enjoy a spectacular sunrise. The mountains were lush and green, just beautiful. The ride to Kigali was through these mountains. Rwanda is called the ''Land of a Thousand Ridges.'' The name fits the bill. There were many villages along the way. It must have been market day as 100's of men and women walked along the roadside with a myriad of products balanced on their heads. As I neared Kigali I began passing 100's of men dressed in pink working by the side of the road. I was puzzled by their attire until I remembered reading that convicted "genocidaires" were sentenced to manual labor- and forced to wear pink!
The capital of Rwanda, Kigali, is a fun town built upon rolling hills. There are plenty of good restaurants and bars with terraces offering fantastic views over the city and surrounding hills. I took a coffee at Hotel Milles Collines, a place that became a place of refuge for some 5,000 Tutsis hiding from the machete wielding Hutus bent on killing every one of them. Don Cheadle stars in a movie called "Hotel Rwanda" that does an amazing job of describing what happened there. The movie was filmed in South Africa however, not Rwanda. I also visited the Genocide Museum just outside Kigali. It is a beautiful place with a gallery of disturbing, graphic pictures. It was hard for me to imagine that some 800,000 people met such a violent end in this tiny, beautiful country in 1994. I stayed at a hotel in Zambia owned by an English woman and a Dutch man. They were stuck in Rwanda for nearly 2 weeks as the killing swept through the country. They told me they watched 1000's of bodies float down the river near their hotel. The woman told me she spent most of the days crying because she felt they would killed as well. "Why would they let us go after everything we'd seen?" she said to me.
I spent a week in Rwanda before heading towards Parc de Volcans- to see the mountain gorillas. At a cost of $450usd, it is less expensive to visit a different group of gorillas in the Congo. For me, it wasn't worth the time and effort to go there, Parc de Volcans was on my route north. I hooked up with 3 other Americans who volunteered to visit the most remote group of gorillas, the Sisyou group. We hiked up a volcano for over 3 hours. The scenery was gorgeous. We walked through light rains, fog, clouds and sometimes even sunshine en route to the gorillas. I led the group of "tourists" and stayed close to our heavily armed guards. They all carried AK-47s. It's sad but true: there are still folks who would kill gorillas for a quick meal. When people are poor/hungry, they need to eat. The locals also make money from selling gorilla heads and hands, the hands are used for making ashtrays...