(58) Into the land of a thousand more hills!
Thursday 16th May
Everyone was busy packing their things and we were sorry to be leaving the school. We had breakfast and checked we had everything. We thanked Bethan for having us and couldn’t believe where the 2 weeks had gone. We said goodbye to the family who had been cooking for us – they had always been happy and a pleasure to know.
Along the track from the school
We set off up the steep track to the main track where we rode the couple miles up the ridge to the town. We waved at the kids and were soon in the centre getting supplies for the onward journey. We stopped at an Internet cafe to update home on our intended route south and checked emails. With supplies in our food bag we set off on a dirt track that should save us about 40 miles as it was a more direct route to the border of Rwanda. The road was steep and tough and what were once cycling legs had now turned into jelly and they seemed to forget what they were meant to be doing.
Finding our legs again
The scenery was stunning and made up for the tough terrain but after 15 miles we stopped for lunch feeling pretty shattered. We were sat by the road on a bank which we thought was far enough away from the dust created by the trucks that past us. Every now and then the odd cloud would head in our direction coating us in a fine red layer. Tim noticed his back tyre had gone down and found the rim tape was wearing so with a second tape put on we set off.
We’d never know who would come around the corner
The road up and down the hills started to join a deep valley that followed a river. It looked stunning with the steep ground on each side and had scattered cows gripping to the steep pasture.
Riding along the valley
We reached the junction that would lead us to the main road and found it was Tarmac. We were all feeling happy to be on it but also shattered from a tiring day. We continued for about 10 miles mostly downhill to the highway, past granite scattered hills much like Dartmoor near our home in England but with banana trees instead of heather. We reached the junction at 5pm and had a milkshake at a garage. The town centre was in the wrong direction and being tired none of us wanted to ride the 1 km. We would rather chance our luck at finding vegetables on the roadside which when you’re tired seemed a bad idea. However, we rode on and with the road under construction we asked who was building it hoping to find a Chinese camp. We were told it was an Israeli company and their camp was in about 13 miles. Not feeling like we had the energy to get there, we rode on and after a mile or so we spotted an Israeli worker. We asked if we could stay at the camp to which he replied of course – just go to the gate in about 9 miles and he would inform someone that we’ll be arriving.
Getting close to the Israeli camp
We rode on with new energy and after about an hour we arrived in the dark at the gates. The guards opened the gates and we went in. Tim went off to find someone and as he did he heard Sharon and Hanae in a slightly heated discussion with the guards regarding why we were there. We didn’t ask the name of the worker who invited us which didn’t help our case and now there was a stand-off with 5 armed guards. They admitted that they shouldn’t have let us in without checking but we were ordered to wait outside the gates. After some negotiation we got them to call the boss who immediately said to let us in.
We were shown to where we could put our tent when the man who had invited us turned up. His name was Sharon (we wouldn’t have forgotten it if we’d asked!) and he invited us to eat and stay in one of the rooms. It was like a posh hotel. Food was already on the tables and our room was so huge we could have pitched our tent in the bathroom and still have room to use the toilet. We tucked into beef stew, pork chips, salad, chips, samosas, cheese and biscuits etc etc all washed down by fizzy lemon and topped up by snickers bars and mars bars. Hanae and Sharon giggled feeling guilty about polishing off a carton of mango juice only to turn around to see Tim with his head stuck in the fridge.
We headed out to where Sharon was sat and he showed us a good route to the Rwandan border that took in a good view of a series of volcanos that were in the film Blood Diamond. It would be an extra 40 miles or so but we had time and looking at the photos it would be worth it. We were so grateful to have met him and marvelled at the amazing hospitality we had been shown. We took at a few pictures and headed to our massive bedroom for a good night’s sleep.
Friday 17th May
We woke in our comfy bed and made our way to breakfast. We had an omelette and Weetabix followed by fresh fruit – heaven.
Our suite for the night
Sharon in breakfast heaven
We were happy and ready for the road. Sharon had already left for work so we said thank you to the cooks and re-joined the highway. There were parts that were still under construction and it wasn’t long before the road started to climb and it was tough going for a while. The wind started to pick up which made the going harder.
One of Africa’s big cats
We stopped to eat the fresh pineapple we had bought the previous day, before continuing to climb up and up. The map we had didn’t show the extent of the hills but the scenery was amazing.
We were in tourist country and getting close to where the gorillas live in the forest so with it many local people started to ask for money. We finally reached the top of the last climb before the town of Kabala and started to descend the hill side which was covered in very steep fields. It was surprising to see how anyone could farm it.
Crops grown on steep ground
We reached the town and stopped for yoghurt. Tim was feeling really drained and we weren’t sure whether to continue but with a long day tomorrow which included a big climb we needed to do some more miles.
The road gently wound down through the valley and with people everywhere we decided to ask if we could stay at a church. After a while we spotted one next to a school but with a few local people all asking for money and no sign of the pastor we road on. The road started to climb and Tim caught a guy up who was a teacher also riding a bike on his way home. Tim asked if the school was a good place to stay but he said the church would be safer. He said he would show us so we climbed the 5 miles to the top and descended the short distance to the turn off to the church. As we did so a car stopped next to Sharon and the driver was the Pastor. He invited us to stay so after 2 miles of downhill we arrived at a large church where we were greeted by Sophia the Pastor’s niece. She was lovely and rushed around getting a room ready for us. We sat and enjoyed the view of the valleys and hills with the volcano in the distance. It made perfect back-drop to a serene garden. Before we cooked dinner, Pastor Charles said he was popping into the village to buy some beer and would we like some. Tim hopped enthusiastically into his car and soon returned with a couple of beers each.
Saturday 18th May
We woke around 8am and had toast and jam for breakfast enjoying the stunning view from the garden.
We said goodbye and thanks to Pastor Charles and headed to look at the church with Sophia. We were instantly mobbed by hundreds of kids and took it in turns to go inside. There was a service happening and the singing and dancing was awesome.
The church and the crowd we drew
We left heading back the few miles to the main road. The road undulated and then descended into the valley. The scenery was awesome and we were so pleased we had ridden the extra miles to do this detour.
Sawing wood in the forest
We stopped for a coke before the main climb and just as we were leaving a cycle tourist came around the corner! We hadn’t seen any for so long it was a nice surprise. He was French and touring Africa for a year having already been in West Africa for 3 months.
We continued a climb when an English cyclist called John pulled alongside us. We couldn’t believe it! He lived in Kampala and worked in road construction. He was out for a ride to Kisoro where we were heading. It was great to chat and he mentioned in conversation that he’s hosted Alistair Humphries when he lived in Addis (Alistair is an English cyclist who cycled around the world for 4 years and was a great inspiration for this trip). As we headed up the mountain we passed our 11,000 miles mark and agreed to celebrate over lunch at a good view point of the volcanoes and of-course with a cup of tea. John was able to name each of the volcanoes we had ridden to see and we had our first view just past the summit; they were awesome – the highest is 4,500 metres.
Our first view of one of the volcanoes
We could see some mountains in the Congo as we were heading towards the border and were rewarded by more stunning views. We had lunch at the side of the road before finishing the descent and headed into the town.
Picturesque lunch stop
Heading down into town – Tim, John and Hanae are the tiny dots in the foreground!
We had a drink with John before saying goodbye; he was getting a lift back to Kampala. We popped to a supermarket to buy things for dinner then followed signs which said Guest house and camping. It was £2.50 each and was lovely and clean – something we would take for granted at home. We decided to save our food to cook the following evening and ordered from the menu. When it arrived it was just 2 small pieces of beef in a watery sauce. We got the price down as we were still hungry afterwards and had to eat into our precious supply of chocolate biscuits to fill us up. We managed to Skype home and went to bed excited about going to Rwanda the following day.
Sunday 19th May
We woke at the camp site and packed our things. We headed out of Kisoro getting petrol on the way with the remainder of our Ugandan coins. There was a fierce headwind which slowed our progress along the 6 miles to the border but it gave Tim the chance to sing the Ugandan school theme tune to the last of the kids.
Riding towards Rwanda
We stopped for a coke just before checking in at the police station at immigration. We were sad to say goodbye to Uganda – it had been tough riding but the people had been lovely not only on the road but also whilst being at the school. The school had also given us chance to be part of local life. Although we were very different, we enjoyed what was around us and tried to give back a tiny amount of the generosity others had given us.
It took around 30 minutes to be stamped out of Uganda and only about 10 minutes to be stamped into Rwanda as British citizens don’t need a visa. We had 3 months, way too long to cycle across this small country.
The National flag of Rwanda and the customs flag
Hanae was also under the impression she didn’t need a visa until the border staff told her she did and would have to go back to Kampala to get one. We could see the shock in her face with her head spinning about what to do. We weren’t sure what to do next either so we did what any Brit would do and put the kettle on and made a cup of tea. We rang John to see if he had any ideas and he said he would check the website and ring back. With the tea bags in the cups and the kettle almost at the boil and steam coming out of Hanae’s ears, one of the border guards asked if we were ok. We said we needed the Internet as they had mentioned Hanae could apply for her visa online – although it could take up to 3 days to be approved. He told us to wait and within 5 minutes Sharon and Hanae were sat in the Immigration manager’s office making polite conversation and applying for her visa online.
Hanae didn’t have a phone or working email address so it took time to set one up before even applying. With the tea now made and the manager trying to call a few people at the immigration office in Kampala with no answer, it looked like Hanae may have to pay $40 to return to Uganda and wait. We sat drinking our tea trying to think of a solution when the manager came back and told Hanae she was very lucky as he had just been given permission to issue a visa at the border. She was so happy she almost ran at the man to give him a hug. We could finally start our ride south to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. It just shows the power of a cup of tea.
We immediately marvelled at how clean the streets and how neat and tidy properties were. We also started to get a lot of kids running after the bikes but with some experience with this we managed to shake them off. The scenery was instantly stunning. Following tree lined roads with the view of the volcanos now on our right and mountains on our left, it felt a different place altogether.
Our first view of Rwanda
We also noticed that there were a lot more new cars on the road and the kids all wore shoes. We rode on for about 20 miles to a town where we would turn off for Kigali and had a beer to celebrate. We giggled as we realised that the beer had the same name as our stove. We think Hanae celebrated more than us at not having to return to Kampala. It was our first time drinking Primus the local beer and we were conscious not to drink from our stove bottle!
We left the town and descended down to the river that came out of the large lake we were riding along and started the long climb to the top. The road was great with an easy gradient reminiscent of alpine passes and after about an hour and a half we were at the top. We managed to pick up eggs on the way which was a challenge as Sharon had to try and remember French and at the same time work out how much it cost in Rwandan Shillings. We also stopped at a small village to get bread and cake and with people surrounding us it felt a very different place to be in and not as free as Uganda.
Enjoying the stunning scenery
We started the descent at around 6.30pm and with only about 45 minutes left of light we needed to find somewhere to sleep. The descent was one of the best since Romania with stunning views and a steady gradient so it gave us time to enjoy it. We arrived in a town and tried the first church but it was closed when some guys pointed to one down the road. We made our way out of town and they lead us up a dirt track to a large brick building. Pastor Noël appeared and was more than happy to see us and agreed to us sleeping in the church. As it was almost dark we said our thanks, he prayed for us then left us to cook our tea with faces peering through the glass windows. It was nice to feel safe although we had the feeling we would get much more attention here.
Monday 20th May
We were woken by someone trying to open the church doors. It was 5.30 in the morning with the sun just lighting the sky. From inside the tent we could see faces peering through the windows but didn’t want them to know we were awake this early.
Waking in the morning
We got up at 6.30 with more and more attempts to enter. We had breakfast and as we started to clear up Pastor Noel arrived. They were due to have a short assembly for Year 6 and the nursery kids. We managed to pack the bikes before the doors opened and half the church was filled with youngsters all with curious eyes. It was a lovely service with a few lively songs and a collection that we think was put on for our benefit. We didn’t mind as we were happy to make a contribution to this welcoming village and were always so grateful for somewhere safe to sleep. We said our thanks and rode down the dirt track to the road to start a long climb. The scenery was stunning and after an hour or so of climbing we stopped for a cup of tea looking down over the valley.
Cabbages with a view
A stunning waterfall
We were joined on the road by a few guys on bikes carrying various items from sacks of onions to 3 or 4 25 gallon jerry cans full of water and nosey locals just wanting to see more of the strange muzungos on bikes.
Pushing heavy loads – steering this was quite an art
We stopped at what we thought was the top and had a coke then descended only to climb again before arriving in a small village. Sharon asked in French if there was anywhere to eat and we were pointed in the direction of a small cafe where we had chip omelettes and ginger tea at a cost of £1.10p each : )
The view from nearly the top!
We were now only 10 miles from Kigali and at 2,200 metres. The road followed a ridge for a while before starting the great decent to the valley floor. As we got close to the bottom Kigali appeared on the steep hillside in front of us.
A cheeky vervet monkey on the descent into Kigale
The capital city of Kigale
Arriving in town
We were surprised at how quickly we had got here from leaving the school and were already a third of our way through Rwanda. We started the steep climb up into the city trying to spot a hotel. After looking at a couple at $40 then $30 then $20 we still wanted to look around as we would be staying for 3 nights and needed a cheaper price. We continued to climb the steep hill to some hotels mentioned on the GPS to find them too posh for smelly cycle tourists. We asked some guys on motorbike taxis who suggested a few places but were too far out of town. Tim commented that we often stayed at churches and one guy replied saying that there was accommodation at one of the local churches nearby. We paid him 30p to show us where it was and after 5 minutes we arrived at a large church with lovely grounds and nice rooms for £8. It was perfect and peaceful. We booked in for 3 nights, put the bikes in our room and went in search of steak and chips. We popped to a supermarket to buy ice cream to eat back in our room. What a great day – we sat eating chocolate ice cream after a good feed feeling very pleased with ourselves.
Tuesday 21st – Thursday 23rd May
Kigale with a population of 1 million people is a clean and well ordered city. Plastic carrier bags are actually illegal in Rwanda (Sharon hid her supply to retain her nickname of ‘the bag lady’) so for the first time in a long time they were not strewn along the roadside.
We visited the Rwandan Museum which mainly talked about the horrendous Genocide which occured in 1994. It was a well balanced account and towards the end it also had a display of other genocides that had happened around the world in the past century. It highlighted the power of the Governments, the media and certain individuals as the slow drip feeding of information to form sides against one another. Since the start of this trip we have seen mostly kindness and generosity and many people from different ethnic backgrounds living happily together on very little and not shootings, fighting and constant crime that seems to plague the world. We are aware that it happens but also that there are a thousand smiling faces to every sad one but no one reports on that – we guess it doesn’t make money or generate power.
We went to the supermarket to get some ice-cream and after a little too much wine we wanted to test Hanae’s observation skills. Tim wore one of Sharon’s sandal’s while Sharon wore one of Tim’s cycling shoes. It wasn’t until we both went through the security check at the supermarket that the guards noticed and fell about laughing along with Hanae who couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed before. We continued to buy beer and ice-cream and a few staff members noticed which alongside it came the sound of laughter. We hoped we made what would have been a normal day a bit more interesting!
We also did some route planning all the way to South Africa but of-course our route was never set in stone…
Friday 24th May
We woke late having had a bad night’s sleep due to the work men working through the night on a blocked sewage system. We were either woken by them moving bricks or the disgusting stench coming from the back of the building. We still had to decide if we wanted to cycle through Burundi or head east into Tanzania. We had read on the FCO website that travel in Burundi was not advised at this time due to security concerns. We would only get 72 hours in the country on a transit visa anyway at a cost of $40 each and we couldn’t find any information about the border crossing to Tanzania in the south of the country. Our map specified it as ‘a local traffic only’ crossing. We discussed it with Hanae and finally decided we would cycle into Tanzania then follow the road south parallel to the Burundi border so we would still end up at Lake Tanganyika which we wanted to visit. We concluded that we would be $80 better off and hopefully still in possession of our things.
With this decided we headed off using the GPS to guide us out of the city. It sprawled across the mountain side and we struggled up the hills after 3 days of rest. As we descended a small hill we passed a long line of UN marked trucks – we wondered where they were off to. We eventually left the city and enjoyed a flatter terrain. Sharon was struggling so we stopped for a coke and laughed as a young boy screamed when he saw us. This happened fairly regularly especially when we left the tourist areas and there were less muzungos to be spotted.
The scenery remained pretty but less dramatic than the north. On occasions the road was lined with beautiful red blossom which was a stunning contrast to so much greenery.
We stopped for lunch under a tree and soon a small crowd appeared but all kept their distance which was a change from the north. People seemed kinder and less asked for money. It had become the Rwanda we had been told about. We continued to climb after a fairly short lunch stop and as the valleys dropped away we continued along a ridge that wound its way through the hills. The going was good and Sharon was keeping up despite not feeling great and we soon reached the junction where we could head north for Uganda or south for Tanzania.
Right for Tanzania
We turned right even though left was tempting and rode for another 10 miles to the next town. It was on top of a hill although not a big climb it was enough for all of us to feel tired. We spotted a bakery and stopped for hot milk and doughnuts. Tim was going off them as they were often hard and dry than soft and gooey like he was used to. We descended a short way into town before spotting a nice church on our left with people singing inside.
We went over to the church and were instantly welcomed by a few members along with the director who said it was fine for us to stay. It was a perfect spot and Tim spotted a play park at the back with loads of kids playing on roundabouts and see-saws. Not wanting to miss his chance he was soon spinning around the roundabout then being lead to each item by the excited kids.
Spot the muzungo
We sat and cooked outside to the amusement of the people around us and listened to the ladies sing as we ate. They all appeared from the room and each gave us a big bear hug before saying goodbye. We were shown to a nice clean room where we could put up the inner tent to protect us from the mozzies. We said goodnight to the guys and headed to bed after a long hot and tiring day back in the saddle.
Saturday 25th May
Although we were in a room neither of us slept great. We should have as it was perfect but we were woken by singing at around 5am, followed by a few pots and pans being moved around.
Our room at the church
We finally decided to get up to find it all quiet again and annoyed we didn’t stay in bed for another half an hour. We poked our heads out of the door to see a few ladies with the coals lit ready for the kids to arrive. The director had told us the day before that they ran a project for the local children and provided porridge at breakfast time for them at the weekends. We moved our things outside and sat and had breakfast to a small young and growing audience. They were all lovely and we tried to get them to have a go at lighting the stove.
Our audience in the morning
Once finished and with a lot of children arriving we started to play football with them. The children here were much friendlier and a lot like the ones at the school in Uganda. Before we left we got them all together and played a game. It was great fun and as we were playing the Pastor arrived – he was clearly unsure of what was happening. Suddenly a big grin spread across his face when he realised what we were doing. The porridge was ready so we said thank you to the Pastor and the others and waved goodbye. We continued through the small town and along a colourful tree lined road to start a great decent. Hanae’s breaks weren’t working properly so Tim had a look.
On the road repairs
As we reached the bottom we rounded into another valley where there were acres of paddy fields. The people there waved to us as we passed from under their brightly coloured umbrellas.
Paddy fields in the valley
We started to climb once again and wanted to stop for a drink but for the first time for a long time everything was closed. It was Saturday and we were surprised that no shops were open. We continued to climb and spotting a small boy sticking his head in through a small hatch holding some salt, Tim went in for a closer look. It was a small shop and by the looks of it with 2 guys sat inside drinking coke it wasn’t meant to be open. We ordered a drink each and sat in the shade as the temperature had risen to 38 degrees. We all felt tired and rode on a mile out of the village to have lunch. It was a nice spot and we sat and watched people in smart outfits come back from church – we realised then that the shops were closed as the church goers were Seventh day Adventists who worship on a Saturday.
As we ate truck after truck whistled past, all white with UN splashed across on them. There were cargo, army trucks and amphibious vehicles. We had seen loads arrive in Kigali and wondered if things had got worse in Congo or if there had been an incident in Burundi. We felt pleased that we were heading in the opposite direction.
We continued to climb and after descending into what looked like a hilly valley we reached the last nice decent to the Tanzania border.
It took around 20 minutes to stamp out and make our way across the bridge. The bridge crossed over a waterfall which was spectacular and it was amazing to see so much water fall away in front of us. It gave us a good preview into how amazing Victoria Falls will be.
At the Rwanda/Tanzania border
A stunning waterfall at the border
We climbed the short steep hill to immigration and by this point the sky was already starting to loose some light. We hated being at border towns in the dark but this felt different. It was so steep it seemed hard for a town to be present in such a place. We rode up through the small village and started the steep climb out of the valley.
Looking for a place to stay
We tried one hotel but with no warm welcome we continued to climb. After 20 minutes we spotted a good place that had plenty of grass. We asked how much it was to camp there and were surprised to hear they would let us camp for free. We bought a couple of Tanzanian brewed beers and a chip omelette each and went to bed now in country number 18.
Thanks for reading!