I have recently returned from Rwanda, where I made extensive use of the Bradt guidebook you co-authored. I found it to be indispensable, fully living up to the standards I have come to expect from the publisher. I should provide you with a few additions and corrections, however.
I would recommend that you exchange the new for the old place names in the next edition, putting the old in parentheses. The switchover seems to have taken root across the country now – I missed my changeover in Gitarama (as was) for being slack and failing to take account of this.
Concerning accommodation, I stayed at Discover Rwanda Hostel in Kacyiru while I was in Kigali. This is a former luxury townhouse which is now run by the Aegis Trust, so one is supporting a good cause by staying there. There are single rooms with double beds, four-berth and eight-berth rooms, ranging from $10 to $25 per night. Breakfast is included, from about 0730 to 1000, but I would advise getting there early, as food does have a tendency to run out! One can also book in for lunch and dinner, at about Rfr 2000. There are adequate self-catering facilities, too. It is located just downhill from the Boulevard de l’Umuganda, beyond the office block housing the Chocolate cafe (and, most usefully, a first-class pharmacy, and a good bookshop, which also sells a range of postcards, which were rare and in most places very expensive). A tendency to overbook has been noted from time to time, and the internet access (of the management) can be quite spotty, but the staff are very friendly and I enjoyed my time there a great deal. Many of my fellow guests were expats staying on a long-term basis. The details are as follows:
Contact: +250782265679 (from outside Rwanda)
0782265679 (from inside Rwanda)Emergency Contact: +250783415203 (from outside Rwanda)
0783415203 (from inside Rwanda)
Another good budget accommodation option in Gisakura is Chez Vedaste, a small place built as an extension to the home of one of the ORTPN staff. His son, Robert, tends to handle the booking. There’s no internet access, but his mobile number is 0788709478. The cost is Rfr15000 per night for an ensuite double room. There’s no signage outside, but the house is the last major structure on the road through Gisakura towards Rusinzi, just beyond the bend in the road, overlooking the valley. Breakfast costs Rfr2500, and is very good. Dinner costs a similar amount – and is very plentiful. Robert can also rustle up tea, coffee (proper Rwandan, not Nescafe) and beer as required. The only restaurant in the village is not recommended – the staff at the ORTPN office eat at home.
Apart from that, I stayed at various of the budget choices you mention, and very good they all were too. I should recommend the house special pizza at the Auberge St. Jean.
The RDB (ORTPN) office in Kigali is closed, all business takes place at the Remera office.
Work proceeds apace on the road through Nyungwe, but the lakeside road from Rusinzi north to Rubavu is in very poor repair and I was advised against taking it when I went (in the short rains) by a senior ORTPN staff member. Very few buses head that way in any case. Really, until the situation improves, the only practical option is to head back east and change at Gitarama or Kigali. In general, though, transport was perfectly straightforward, although the mototaxis couldn’t cope with me and my bergen – not for want of trying!
The nature walks at Nyungwe are priced pretty much as per the table in the book. It should be made clear that they are only available in the mornings – it generally rains too much in the afternoon and the ORTPN are far too professional to let visitors waste their money. Chimp walks also begin VERY early – getting there for 0600 is generally recommended. The staff at the Gisakura office were absolutely superb – diligent, helpful and enthusiastic even by Rwandan standards.
BUTARE (HUYE) & NYANZA
Over at Huye, the map is in error by showing the Hotel Barthos a hundred metres or so south of where it actually is, to the north of the entrance to the university. I found this a little confusing when orienting myself through the town. The building also holds a small ticket office for the local bus, which was useful.
The national museums now charge Rfr6000 for entry, to the ones in Nyanza (which are covered by a single ticket), Kigali and Huye. However, I took advantage of a 25% discount on the fourth entry. The Royal Palace Museum in Nyanza is an excellent place to see the Ankole cattle, and, by heading down the track south of the museum, and turning right, one can reach the tombs of the last reigning Mwami and his widow – dignified, but not ostentatious, as befits their status. The enclosure is absolutely spotless. When I went, I was struck by the friendliness of the villagers, the little children running up to embrace as I walked through.
Further north, at Musanze, the principal cave seems to be clear of human remains – I was shown towards it by a boda-boda driver and his friend. There is a sizeable colony of bats inside, perhaps 200m from the entrance, beyond a couple of heaps of rocks, so it is advisable not to go too far into it – my simple hand torch wasn’t powerful enough for such a large space. It was asserted to me that the cave has another entrance some 3km across town, but I know nothing more.
The path down to the cave mouth is quite tricky to see due to the thick vegetation. There are always plenty of local children around waiting to help, though. Beyond it, under the lava bridge, I did find bones which were unfortunately clearly human, from at least two bodies. I will see if I can get some advice on this – I would like to be able to set a process in motion that would end with their being given a dignified burial. The youths I was with seemed almost blase about it, but I expect that that was due to their having grown up with such discoveries being routine.
I had originally hoped to climb Karisimbi, but I hadn’t realised that two days’ notice were required – this should be stressed in the book. Your writer seems to have been lucky. It all worked out for the best – the short rains are not the ideal time for climbing due to the mud (the path up Karisoke was merely a stream bed). The biggest challenge in the Rwandan Virungas is in fact Muhurabura – one of the guides assured me that 60% of attempts are defeated by the steep initial slope, and one needs to camp out at the base so as to be able to make an adequately early start.
CREDIT CARDS & ATMs
I was able to use my Visa debit card without any trouble at all, both at ATMs and at Amahoro’s office. The Ecobank ATM at the airport was broken when I arrived, so I had to use the bureau de change. Otherwise I was able to use plastic everywhere where there was an ATM. Mastercard was different – I was able to use it at the main branch of the Bank of Kigali for a counter withdrawal, but nowhere else.
Visiting the main genocide memorials, I found that the opening times were cut short at weekends and on public holidays, the sites closing at 1200. However, the caretakers were accommodating where present. Bisesero still hasn’t had the bones moved into the nine houses, a situation which has persisted for a good few years, it seems. I don’t know why this is – there can’t be any identification processes to be completed at this stage. Nyanza is also incomplete – the two mass graves were being worked on when I visited, and their tenants were spread on the floor of the hall. The Garden of Memory has been established, and it looked as though it was also incomplete.
Bisesero remains something of a challenge to reach. Jean, the manager at the Auberge St. Jean at Karongi organised a mototaxi for me driven by a particularly skilled rider. It took at least an hour to climb the unprepared track into the mountains. On the way down, when caught in a heavy shower, he flagged down a truck to give me a lift, picking me up downhill once the most challenging stretch had been passed! The cost was Rfr12000 for the trip, not including the donation.
Nyarubuye is best reached, without one’s own transport, from Kirehe, on the Kigali-Rusomo bus route. From there I found plenty of mototaxis, and paid RFr2500 for the round trip. The road is again unimproved, and it is at least half an hour up the steep track in the dubious footsteps of Gacumbitsi and his gang of murderous lunatics. On the way down, we hardly needed to engage the engine!
One thing that needs to be made clear is the differing photography policies in force at each of the memorials. At Nyanza and Nyarubuye, unlimited photography is permitted. At Nyamata, photography within the church or ossuaries is only allowed with a permit from the head office in Kigali. At Ntarama, photography inside the buildings is forbidden. At Bisesero, photography is not allowed in the shed containing the bones. Murambi has the strictest policy, with photography only permitted in front of the main building, within an arc narrow enough to exclude the mass graves on either side. Beyond that, visitors must surrender their camera. Not exactly coherent, but I hope nobody is crass enough to argue!