Kampala, Uganda, to Kigali, Rwanda, Day 351

Patrick, genocide survivor, Kigali, Rwanda, Africa

Our visit to Uganda has been brief and we must continue on to Rwanda as Christi and I have very special tickets waiting for us in the capital, Kigali. One could quite reasonably ask what was the point of visiting Uganda in the first place? I have two answers. First, we do try to travel overland as much as possible, although there are occasions where a 2-hour flight is preferable to 2+ days in cramped public transport (Gambia to Mauritania springs readily to mind for example). Second, bus travel is cheaper than flying and as we come to the end of our Year of Wonder money slips through our fingers like grains of sand. Our time in Kampala was not without its reward, though, as we were able to plan a few activities upon our return as well as for life after Africa (technically our Year of Wonder ends in two weeks, but that date is a little hazy as the person renting our apartment in San Francisco is keen to stay longer. So while she pays our mortgage Christi and I can continue to play – but not in Africa. Western civilization beckons, my friends!).  I’m getting a little side-tracked, here; let’s get back to the action.

Our Kampala Coaches bus service to Kigali in Rwanda is a night departure. This is not ideal, but there are few options. We almost miss the 10 pm departure because even at that hour Arua Park is sheer bedlam. We arrive so late in fact that all storage in the hold is full and our bags don’t fit in the overhead compartment on the bus so we have to put them in the aisle. And since our seats are at the front of the bus our bags are a major inconvenience to the other passengers. We are, as we were for the ride from Nairobi to Kampala, the only caucasian travelers on the bus. This should have been our first warning. What follows over the next 10+ hours is the scariest, most harrowing, ride of my life. I am convinced we will crash and die in a furnace of twisted metal. Clearly the driver of this bus is mentally unstable. Couple this with the single lane road (not single in each direction, note, but simply one tarmac-covered lane with wide soft shoulders either side). The approach of our driver appears to be one of bullying other vehicles, cart, herds of animals etc out of the way, which is a successful if not entirely humane plan. However, there are bigger vehicles on the road than our bus. Both Uganda and Rwanda are land-locked countries and virtually everything is brought into these countries on huge juggernauts from the Kenyan port of Mombasa. And these truck drivers take no shit from anyone, let alone a lowly bus driver. Time and again we play the game of chicken and our bus ends up breaking hard, swerving onto the soft shoulder, and swaying nightmarishly from side to side before coming to a complete halt as the on-rushing, unforgiving  juggernauts plow on into the night.  The road winds up into mountains and there in the middle of nowhere in absolutely freezing, foggy conditions (and Christi and I were far from properly attired – although my body might be shaking for other reasons) the bus stops. After some quite considerable confusion we realize we have reached the border with Rwanda and we need to negotiate customs and immigration. No one seems to know what is going on and visibility is so poor it is difficult to even find the right shack. And not only are we the only Caucasians on the bus, we are the only Caucasians among several hundred people waiting to complete border formalities. Christi and I are never threatened, but we are the center of attention which adds an additional layer of uncomfortableness to a truly miserable ride. We shamelessly use our ‘prestige’ to force our way to the front of the line and complete the paperwork. The only good news is that Rwanda does not charge for visas.  

I wasn’t at all sure I would ever see another sunrise and I am frankly emotionally exhausted when we reach Kigali. I jump off the bus, give the driver a disgusted look, and vow never to step foot onto another Kampala Coaches bus as long as I live. We are greeted by Patrick, our driver-guide while we are in Rwanda, who is far too happy for my liking. He takes us to our hotel, the Chez Lando which has a striking resemblance to a retirement community. And at the moment that suits me just fine. Today is a scheduled rest day on our Rwandan program and I happily take to my bed for a few hours.

Later in the day Patrick takes us to Kigali airport. As I mentioned it would to be a cold day in hell before I stepped aboard another Kampala Coaches bus and the only practical alternative is to fly back to Kampala. This is definitely not in the budget, but my life and that of Christi’s justifies the outlay of $428. Mind you, RwandAir do not accept international credit cards (as of 2010, Rwanda was a cash economy) and I don’t have enough cash. Fortunately the RwandAir sales booth at Kigali airport is adjacent to the Bank of Rwanda who agree after a long and painful process to do a cash advance on my credit card. They give me the cash, which I take to the adjacent booth to purchase the tickets. While we wait for all the paperwork and approvals to go through we get to talking to Patrick. His story is, sadly, typical of many families in Rwanda, although his family fared very badly in the genocide of 1994. Patrick was 12 years old at the time. Sixteen of his family were murdered, including both parents. He was left to raise his younger brother and sister. He had to drop out of school and earn money however he could. This and help from NGOs has enabled his younger brother to attend college. Patrick is proud of his brother, but laments that he never had the same opportunity. This does put my dodgy bus ride into some perspective. Return to the retirement hotel and despite it all sleep soundly.

Blog post by Roderick Phillips, author of Weary Heart – a gut-wrenching tale of love and test tubes. 


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