Out of Kigali, into Butare!
I spent four days here in Butare, a city in the south of Rwanda. Although Rwanda is a small country, there is still a noticeable difference in the landscape from north to south. The south is much flatter and drier than the north, although there are still gentle hills.
While in Butare, I discovered two driving schools right next to each other, along the main drag. I pounced on the opportunity, and got my daughter set up with a personal driving instructor named Janvier for three days. He is a school teacher and teaches economics at a secondary school, and provides driving lessons in his spare time. He talked a lot about Rwanda with my daughter, and she discovered that American English is harder for Rwandans to understand because they mostly watch the BBC. He also said that children in Rwanda think that people with lighter skin are like miracles, although I suppose we look really freaky.
Janvier was a very good and patient teacher, even when my daughter ran into a pothole not five minutes into her second lesson, which resulted in a flat tire.
Butare is just the beginning of my travels, though. I spent a weekend along Lake Kivu, which is in the northwest corner of Rwanda. I stayed at Discover Rwanda Gisenyi Beach Hostel, which was my first ever time at a hostel. It was very beautiful and not at all what I was expecting. I thought that is would be a dimly lit wooden cabin with wooden bunkbeds and no running water, reminiscent of the cabins in Valley Forge National Park. Fortunately, I was wrong. The hostel was a former colonial home, with attractive gardens and a pleasant atmosphere. The entire region is very scenic, with clear skies and abundant greenery. I took a lengthy stroll along the lake, and passed through a few towns along the lake. I also walked along the beach, which was quite refreshing, although swimming in the lake is not recommended.
I also spent a weekend by the Volcano National Park, and I hiked out to see the gorillas. I saw the Amahoro family of gorillas, and I was able to take pictures of them from only a few feet away. While we were hiking, a gorilla passed us by only a few feet, and my heart nearly stopped. Fortunately, gorillas are vegetarians. I also saw elephant footprints, although sadly no elephant. The hike was difficult but not impossible, although I would recommend getting a porter if you go. Not only are the porters extremely helpful, but they are former poachers who are now able to make an honest living. The park is up north, on the mountains, and it is much cooler up there.
While in the north, I noticed that the farming in Rwanda is done entirely by hand. The soil up on the mountains is very rich and dark, and every inch of land is used, even on the steep hills. There are several fields perched on precarious forty degree slopes, or maybe even steeper.
This past weekend was spent in the east of Rwanda, in a town called Kayonza. We stayed at another hostel, the Discover Rwanda Eco-Lodge, managed by Montfort Mugiraneza. This hostel was equally nice as the last one, and I would definitely recommend it. It is run by a nonprofit called Women for Women International, which has several classes in the hostel to educate and empower local women and girls.
While in Kayonza, I went into town to get a haircut. It was quite an adventure- the barber had never cut “flat hair” before. As my hair was being cut, people gathered in the barber shop to watch. A ten year old by named Claude helped me translate to the barber, and provided fashion advice. The barber’s initial price for the haircut was 300 rwandan francs, but his older sister promptly increased the price to 500 francs, although this still converts to less than one USD. Overall, I would recommend getting a haircut while in Rwanda. You can save 90% on your haircut price, although the barber may not know what he is doing.
While in the area, I went to the Akagera National Park, and went on a self-driven safari. It was really amazing, I say all types of animals, and got a lot of great pictures. The zebras are especially pretty.
Overall, I would recommend touristing in Rwanda. It is a very clean and nice country, and it is relatively easy to get around if you have a car. Biking in Rwanda would also be very fun, but be aware that there are a lot of hills. Rwanda is called “the country of a thousand hills” for a reason, after all. If you do come to Rwanda, I would recommend the Hostels, which are really quite nice and not so expensive. Also, the Hostels are owned by Aegis Trust, which is a nonprofit for genocide prevention around the world, and other crimes against humanity.