The Spy Who Logged Me

The drive to Zomba took 5 hours in a packed ‘which is which tours’ minibus. It’s around 250km on a good surfaced road,but takes so long because of the amount of stops so all the passengers can do their weekly shop from the roadside vendors. Stop for bananas, stop for onions, stop for cabbages, eggs, nuts etc etc. No need to ask the price, everything is 100 kwacha. 


Zomba was the capital of Malawi until 1975 and there’s a few British colonial style buildings dotted around town. The botanical gardens is a nice place to walk around for a few hours to see plenty of vervet monkeys and baboons. My fondest memory of Zomba town will be drinking with Philip, the head of the police in a local bar before been accused of being a spy by a drunken and aggressive Malawian CIA agent just for taking a photo of the TV. As romantic as it sounds, two scruffy looking guys from Newcastle are hardly James Bond material. Just as well he didn’t ask to see in our bags as he would’ve found some expensive birdwatching binoculars and telescopes.


The Zomba plateau is an isolated syenite mountain that towers over the town to a total elevation of 2000 metres, and forms part of the Southern escarpment of the Southern Shire valley. Camping is available on the plateau at a trout farm which doesn’t seem to farm trouts anymore. There’s only one very expensive hotel up there to eat at, looks like it’s peanut butter and pork paloni sandwiches for the next few days. 

The Trout Farm


Zomba plateau has some nice hiking trails through the forests and some great views of the surrounding area. We were guided by Erin, a 69 year old former policeman, personally sacked by Hastings Banda for taking a nap during a police convoy. The guy hastily hobbles along with his walking stick and easily managed the 6 hour hike with no water, wearing is wool hat and sweater.  

William’s falls


There is some rich birdlife up on the plateau which includes mountain wagtail, Livingstone’s turaco and the main event being the yellow-throated apalis – a Malawian endemic only found in the south. 

White Starred Robin


Chingwe’s hole is a natural hole hidden by trees. Locals reckon it is at least 60 metres deep and full of bones from when ancient tribal chiefs threw their enemies into the pit to rot. Chingwe means ‘rope’ in Chichewa after the first European who abseiled down there. 


Zomba plateau is Malawi’s oldest forest reserve, that doesn’t stop loggers illegally cutting it down. Higher up on the plateau, the sound of chainsaws is blatant and the local carrying the logs away is just outright depressing. Five years ago Zomba was apparently a lot greener and denser than it is now. Police bribery and political corruption are letting this happen, if nothing is done soon then it won’t be too long before there’s nothing left. Seen as I’m a spy now maybe I should sneak into the Malawian parliament and leave a different kind of log on the desk of the bent fool who is supposed to be dealing with these matters. 


Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with the average national wage being less than a dollar a day. Erin asked if we had any spare clothes we didn’t need once we left Zomba, we gave him a whole new outfit. Bet he can’t wait to get back to his village wearing his brand new ‘John’s Stag Do Berlin 2017’ T-shirt. 

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The Long Way 

Lilongwe is the capital and largest city in Malawi. As far as sights go, there really isn’t a lot here. Everything in Lilongwe seems to be, well, a long way. “Where’s the bus station?” – “A long way”. “Where’s the supermarket?” – “a long way”. This makes getting around a real chore. The city is actually named after the Lilongwe river. 

A long walk just to get a loaf of breadAfrica is known for vendors selling anything they can get their hands on at traffic lights and busy junctions. In Lilongwe you can even buy puppies this way. Dogs seem to be quite popular in Lilongwe for security purposes. Where there’s dogs, there’s a need for the dog trainer. He let’s train your dogs to know what every things u want. 

Getting to the city centre is a hassle from the old town as it’s such a long way in the heat. I got a mini bus, but waited 40 minutes for it to fill up and leave, only to travel four miles and drop me off nowhere near where I wanted to be. 

Waiting…Dr Hastings Banda was the prime minster of Nyasaland until 1994 and led the country to independence in 1964. His mausoleum is situated in Lilongwe’s city centre. The security guard will tell you that foreigners need to take a guide, simply so that you pay him to walk you up the stairs so he can state the obvious. This is a lie and it’s fine to walk in on your own to the guard’s disappointment.  

Banda had some curious rules during his reign. Every business building was required to have a picture of him on display but not below a clock or poster. There was a strict dress code for every Malawian. Men were not allowed to have long hair, even foreigners who arrived in the country were subject to an involuntary haircut before having a visa issued.  


Malawi’s currency is the Malawian Kwacha, the current exchange rate is 956 to one pound. Before the Kwacha was introduced in 1971 they used the Malawian pound, each coin bore the face of Hastings Banda which led them to be know as ‘the Banda coin’. 

Banda now features on the 1000 Kwacha noteJungle Lovers is a novel by Paul Theroux about an insurance salesman who moves to Malawi. In the novel Theroux states that Banda famously quoted that ‘1 white man can do the work of 10 Malawians’ and that he had a striking resemblance to the man from Uncle Ben’s Rice. 

Time to move on from Lilongwe after a couple of days using the public bus.  Broken bus window in Malawi? No problem, we’ll just sew it back together. Looks like Malawi has a long way to come till they have window fitters. 

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Rock Me Amadeus

A nine hour overnight coach is probably the last thing you want when suffering from a serious case of stag do heeby jeebies. Flix bus is like a European National Express, it’s rather comfortable and it’s saving me a nights accommodation, every cloud.    


Vienna is the second most populous German-speaking country in the world after Berlin. Vienna old town has some of the most stunning and well planned architecture I’ve ever seen. Every corner you turn there’s a perfectly crafted sculpture or fountain, and nowadays, falafel shops. 


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart established himself and achieved fame in Vienna. Mozart passed away at the age of 35 with an unknown fever. One theory suggests that he suffered from a huge vitamin D deficiency. Vienna has cold dark winters and Mozart favoured sleeping through the day and writing at night. Prior to his death it’s reported that Mozart was so pale he looked like he’d just finished a month’s worth of night shifts at Nissan. The lack of sunlight to his skin combined with his condition made him prone to infections which ultimately killed him. 

Mozart statue at the Hofburg

Saint Stephen’s cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Vienna and a climb up the 350 steps to the top offers nice views of Vienna. The staircase is very narrow though so be prepared to give way and breath in for fat American tourists. 


The beautiful Vienna central cemetery is one of the largest in the world by the number of people laid to rest here. The 3 million interred includes a number of famous Austrians including Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss and a huge Saint Bernard dog known as Beethoven. 


Vienna now only has a few thousand Jews living there as they all moved abroad during and after the war. The Jewish section of the cemetery is now very overgrown and dilapidated because most of the families of the dead are long gone. Some of the grave stones read ‘year of birth – Auschwitz’. It’s a sad and eerie place. 


Would you believe that Beethoven isn’t the greatest musical genius buried in Vienna central cemetery? Well believe it, because this buried here is Austrian pop legend Falco. Falco had a worldwide hit in the 80’s with the song ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, written about none other than, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 


Before I left Vienna I decided to take a walking tour guided by a homeless person. These tours offer a unique insight into the world of homelessness in Vienna and what the city does to help those in need. I learned that to be unemployed in Austria the average person gets around €800 in benefits, I know where I’m going when I need to sign on to the dole, funny that bad back seems to be playing up again. 

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Berlin Stag Do’s and Don’ts

I’m starting my latest trip to Africa with a quick visit to a few new European cities. I came to Berlin originally for a stag party, so apart from drinking, bars, McDonald’s and hangovers, I barely scratched the surface of this famous city. But I did manage to squeeze in some of the well known sights. 

Old school €2 photo booths are dotted all over Berlin


The Berlin Wall was officially known as the Anti-Facist Protection Rampart. The wall physically and ideologically cut off West Berlin from East Germany from 1961 to 1989. Now the East-side gallery in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district is a 1300 metre well preserved part of the wall that now serves as an international freedom monument and art gallery. When you’ve literally hit the wall on a stag do, the gallery provides some nice easy sightseeing. 

Off the wall


Possibly the most iconic of Berlin’s landmarks is the Brandenburg gate. The gate was once the entrance to Berlin when the city had walls. It marked the beginning and end of the road to the city of Brandenburg an der Havel, the former capital of the German empire. Now the gate is surrounded by Japanese tourists doing Nazi salutes. Something I personally wouldn’t do. 

The 2711 concrete pillars of varying heights make up the ‘Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe’. Reminiscent of tombstones, the memorial which took six years to complete because of a lot of deliberation, pays homage to the millions of Jews that lost their lives during the holocaust. If you walk between the pillars, it gives you a sense of dizziness and confusion because of the uneven ground and their differing heights so walking around here after a heavy night on the German beer isn’t recommended. 


One sight I will not vouch for is Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the name given to the best known crossing point between both sides of Berlin so does have some quite historical significance. Now it’s just a cheap replica of the original checkpoint, is rife with pickpockets and scammers and there’s even a McDonald’s there. So not exactly authentic Berlin, unless you class authentic as getting your photo taken with a couple of Eastern Europeans dressed as US army soldiers.  


Currywurst, a Berliner speciality, fried pork sausage covered in ketchup with curry powder mixed in. You will find these everywhere in Berlin. As far as fast food goes this isn’t the greatest dish on Earth, but it ain’t the wurst either. 

This weekend happened to be the Berlin Marathon. One of the major races of the IAAF calendar and the course where the world record is held. Three athletes were going for a world record this year as well, but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. 


I was surprised to hear that the third place finisher was an unknown British athlete named Alex Milne, with a time of 2:06. I thought that the third placed runner looked more African than British, so I done a little digging around. Alex Milne’s previous best time was around 2:25, if he had of ran 2:06 he would’ve smashed the 60 year old British record. It turns out that the scoreboard had somehow got it wrong and an Ethiopian athlete actually finished third, while Alex Milne was back in England cutting the grass. Could it be possible that the Germans wanted to slyly get one up on the British? The only German runner Philipp Pflieger pulled up with with jelly legs so was subsequently over taken by Helmut dressed as a giant bratwurst. 

The extremely short life of the selfie stick

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Our Boat

The Casamance region of Senegal is cut off from the rest of the country by The Gambia. The overnight ferry from Dakar to get here couldn’t have been more comfortable by African standards. When arriving in Ziguinchor you sail through miles of green jungle and mangrove swamps, a big contrast to the dusty plains of the North, which gives you the sense you’re arriving in a whole new country. Not only is the landscape a fresh change, Casamance is culturally and politically very different to the North, in fact most people will actually say they’re going to Senegal when planning a trip to Dakar. 

The village of Abéne was the base during my stay here. A pretty hip little hangout right on The Gambia border which draws musicians and artistic people from all over West Africa. It is also the official headquarters of the Senegalese Manchester City fan club, whose corrugated iron shack is located in the bus station. 

The Abéne Ethiad

My home at the little baobab

‘Bantam Wora’ the sacred tree of Abéne is six huge fromager trees, which have fused together over time to create one massive beast. Also known as kapak or cotton trees, they’re always considered sacred in Casamance, but this one is extra special due to its size. Thought to be possessed by a genie that can bring good fortune if offered milk, kola nuts or biscuits, women with fertility problems or men wanting to win a local football match will come here to make an offering. Only time will tell if the packet of hobnobs I left there will be enough to help Newcastle United win any silverware in my lifetime. 

Bantam Wora

The coastal walk from the nearby town of Kafountine back to Abéne takes around an hour. The people here seem genuine and friendly and I got talking to a few guys from different walks of life. First a Gambian fisherman, who crosses the border regularly to work as he makes more money in Senegal. Then there was Mr Kofi, a Togolese gentleman who sells fresh BBQ’ed fish to tourists from his wooden shack. Finally, there was a young man from Nigeria who has travelled to Abéne overland from his home, his ultimate goal – to illegally make it to Europe where he will lie about his age with the hope of becoming a professional footballer. He’s 28 but can easily pass for 22. During his journey he spent a month behind bars in Ziguinchor when he got caught sneaking into Senegal but was released to make room in the prison for more serious criminals. 

Casamance region is an awesome spot for bird watching. I spent four days sitting in a hammock struck down with a mysterious stomach infection, most likely caused by downing a litre of Dakar tap water after a heavy night on the drink. I decided to just let the birds come to me. 

The ferry back to Dakar wasn’t quite as luxurious as it didn’t have cabins, so I was forced to sleep on the floor. It was still well organised and ran on time, a rare feat for Africa. The boat is such a prominent feature throughout this traditional fishing nation, it is impossible to miss the colourful designs and Islamic messages painted on the sides of each vessel. It seems only fitting that the word Senegal comes from the two Wolof words ‘Senuu Gal’ meaning ‘Our Boat’. Somehow, when disembarking the ferry I ended up with someone else’s passport, I was the only white guy on board, so how I got mistaken for ‘Muhammad Sagna Diop” is anyone’s guess. 

Newly built fishing boats in Kafoutine


Back in Dakar, I realised that it is quite a decent city with many different suburbs. Yoff, which is only a few kilometres from the airport, has a lively clean beach with clear water. It’s also the only beach in the world where you will find men training and sunbathers been attacked by giant pelicans on the same stretch of sand. 

Working out on Yoff beach


The affordable and short (ish) flight from England made Senegal an excellent place for a short trip. The North and South are two very different regions and the food is good, although I wouldn’t recommend their spaghetti bolognese. I had a few language difficulties, but the Senegalese people are very welcoming and friendly, in fact they pride themselves on ‘Teranga’ which means ‘Hospitality’ in Wolof. As I’m about to tackle Africa for round five, I’m signing off from Senegal with my generic football top shot, this time I’m going for the full kit wanker. Au Revoir!

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Djoudj Dread

The most popular mode of transport in Senegal is the sept place (pronounced sept plas). A sept place is a very old Peugeot station wagon that is no longer legally road worthy in France, so has been shipped over to Senegal. Extra seats have been added into the large boot so they can carry seven passengers (sept place is French for seven seats) and providing you avoid these seats, journeys can be relatively comfortable. Most sept places, as you can imagine, are run down heaps of junk and pretty much every component of the interior is broken or missing, however they still work and they get us from A to B faster than any bus. 

Middle Seats

The island city of Saint Louis was once a deserted rock in the muggy waters of the river Senegal until it was handed over to the French by the son of the reigning king of the Waalo Kingdom. It served as the capital of French Senegal until 1902, which is noticeable in its typical French architecture. Named after King Louis XIV it’s not quite Marseille, but sort of how I’d imagine a city in the south of France, excluding the excessive amounts of rubbish and numerous chancers bumming cigarettes and beers. 

Senegal has a problem throughout the country with little boys begging around bus stations. These kids are not beggars but Quranic students called talibés who have been sent away by their families to receive a religious education from a marabout (Quranic teacher). The begging is not only a way for them to support themselves, but supposed to help the talibés acquire humanity throughout their spiritual journey with the idea that by suffering like this, they will be rewarded by Allah in paradise. Saint Louis has a lot of normal, friendly kids too though that don’t need possessions to stay entertained. 

Garbage Rafts

Game on the pavement

Is he giving me the V?

Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj is on an inland delta southeast of the Senegal river, Djoudj meaning tributary/delta in a local language. The bird sanctuary is a wetland of streams, ponds and backwaters which is visited by around 350 bird species. This oasis is a welcome sight and essential stopover for over 3 million birds annually making the transcontinental journey south from Europe, marking the end of their very long crossing over the Sahara, I certainly felt like a drink after my flight over the same desert after being sat near a screaming child for 9 hours. 

The park’s main entrance


We decided to pitch a tent within the park. I had visions of camping in a beautiful garden of Eden surrounded by waterfalls and the sound of African bird song, but the reality was completely different. The lodge “station biologique” looked like it could’ve been a decent place at one point, now it’s a sorry, dilapidated shadow of its former self which looks more like Luke Skywalker’s village on the planet Tatooine than a tourist lodge.

Tatooine


The list of bird species you can see in the Djoudj is as long as luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and includes ; Senegal Thick Knee, Zebra Wax-bill, Long-tailed Night Jar, African Jacana and Kitlitz Plover. These names are meaningless to a non-bird enthusiast but one thing that will certainly make your jaw drop is the pelican breeding colony. Thousands of pelicans nest on the island to minimise any predatory threat and each one weighs in at around 14KG, that’s a lot of bird. 

The Bird Man of the Djoudj

Squark!


The public holiday is over now and everyone seems to be going back to Dakar, making the sept place ride a long, cramped and sweaty one. We passed through the industrial town of Rufisque, which was once an important port until the rise of Dakar. Now it’s basically a dusty traffic jam which stinks of open sewers and is known for its production of cement, I think I’ll pass on a leg stretching stop. We were just starting to get into Dakar when I felt something wet and warm on my shoulder. I turned round and realised that the driver’s goat which was strapped to the roof of the sept place decided it couldn’t wait and had began pissing, which was trickling down the car, through the window and onto myself and the angry Senegalese woman I was quashed next to. For some reason she didn’t find it as funny as us, although she probably has never heard the phrase ‘only in Africa’. 

Taking the p***

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A Tale of Two Statues 

“Why Senegal?” That’s a standard question I get asked when I mention my latest holiday destination. No I didn’t just pull a name from a hat, no I didn’t flick through an atlas and get my girlfriend to tell me when to stop. My logic behind coming to this not so obscure West African nation is a lot simpler than that, I fancied some winter sun, it’s visa free, I managed to find a cheap flight from Newcastle and the Dalai Lama says “once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”, I’m not counting my visit to the refuse tip in Gateshead, so Senegal it was! 

Dakar is the capital and largest city in Senegal. Arriving late we jumped into an airport taxi, the driver tried to sell us tours, hash and woman, not bad considering we’d only been in the country half an hour. He then charged £15 to the neighbourhood of Ngor, about two kilometres away and still had the nerve to ask for a tip to buy a late night supper. Shortly after finding a hotel we then fell for a sob story by a man selling little plastic baobab tree statues. He claimed he’d travelled from The Gambia to Dakar to buy expensive medicine because he’d had a stroke and desperately needed money. Now all the scams are out of the way, let’s enjoy Dakar! 

Horse and cart is still a common mode of transport in Dakar


Ngor is a commune and one of the four original Lebou villages that made up the original city of Dakar. There is a very local eatery that served grilled chicken so finger lickin good that a local drunkard stumbled in and finished everyone’s leftovers. The hotel seems to double up as a place for expats to pick up local girls and there’s a monkey chained up outside. I would say Ngor definitely falls into the ‘shanty’ spectrum, but overall is a friendly neighbourhood. 

Ngor

On this weekend, Dakar’s streets were pretty quiet as a large percentage of the population have fled to the city of Touba for the annual Grand Magal Muslim festival. This was a good time to make the long walk to the African Renaissance Monument. Towering over Dakar, the colossal 52 metre tall statue, is the largest in Africa. This brain child of former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade was officially opened around the 50th anniversary of his country’s independence from France. Wade said the statue was to be a symbol of liberation, but with the total bill exceeding 30 million dollars the people of Senegal were furious that Wade was wasting public money, considering the economy collapsed leaving the education and healthcare in crisis. It costs 6000CFA (£8) to go to the top of the statue, 35% of which goes directly Wade after he claimed intellectual property rights. 

Wade’s giant piggy bank

Street art at the base of the monument

Only 3km from Dakar into the Atlantic Ocean lies Gorée island. Zero traffic on the island makes Gorée a harmonious heaven with a dark history. Seen as Dakar is statistically placed on the Cap-Vert peninsula, the westernmost point of the continent, slaves were brought to Gorée from all over West Africa to be held here while they awaited their fate – death on the island or at sea, or a lifetime of slavery in the Americas. 

Chilling on Gorée

Erm…


Most tours of the island are in French, so I didn’t bother paying over the top for an English speaking guide. The Maison des Esclaves (house of slaves) has some foisty and dank cells that are on par with some of the hotel Rooms we looked at, it is here where the men, woman and children were held before passing through the door of no return and shipped off to ‘The Land of the Free’. 

The door of no return

World War II Cannon


Blaise Diagne was a French political leader and former mayor of Dakar. Born on Gorée island, he was a pioneer of black electoral politics and advocate of equal rights, it seems only fitting that his son was the first black African to be selected for the France national football team. 

Blaise Diagne’s bust


There were a lot of pushy fake football top salesmen in Dakar who didn’t seem to take no for an answer. I eventually learned that all I had to say was “I don’t like football” and they left me alone. The Senegalese do love football, and they also love foosball. In most villages you will see a lot of  young men crowded around a tiny foosball table cheering like they’re at a real game. Let’s hope there’s not a pitch invasion. 

PSG v Madrid – foosball style

Unfortunately we couldn’t spend too long hanging around Dakar, a big city which seemed to have a lot more to offer. Just as we were about to head out of Ngor, all the local hawkers are now selling the same plastic baobab trees we were tricked into buying, and funnily enough everyone of them has had a stroke since yesterday afternoon. How convenient.  

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Never Say Never

I passed over the Rwanda – Uganda border on a wet and miserable morning. The whole experience was no less than a farce which went about as well as an Idi Amin appreciation festival in Kampala. I queued for about an hour to get my passport stamped by a border official who kindly stopped playing cards when he realised the queue was halfway into the rainforest. I then practically had my trousers ripped off while trying to negotiate a taxi and avoid the persistent money changers. When I made it into Uganda I almost immediately saw a flock of grey crowned cranes, Uganda’s national bird which appears on their flag. This brief moment ended up being the highlight of my time there, as after an unfortunate chain of events and less than 24 hours later, I found myself back in Kigali in Rwanda, a place I never thought I’d return to. 
For some reason I found it particularly difficult travelling this part of the world solo, the food, the language, the weather, the transport and the mentality of some people for some reason left me feeling drained, unless I’m just getting old, that’s something I’d never thought I’d say! With a few days to spare I thought I’d attend the opening match of the African Nations Championships held here in Rwanda. 

  
CHAN as it’s known, is a football tournament which only features players who ply their trade in their home nation’s national league, so you won’t find Yaya Toure banging them in for the Cote D’ivoire, but you will see central forward Koffi Boua who currently plays for Ivorian club team ASEC Mimosas. Yes you could taint the showcase by describing it as a tournament which only features second class players that aren’t good enough to play in Europe, but something like this lets the guys who never thought they would represent their country to fulfil their dreams. 

singing the national anthems

Rwanda, a nation still recovering from genocide probably never thought they would host a large international football tournament, but here they are. Paul Kagame the president of Rwanda was in attendance for the opening match vs The Ivory Coast, which I’d bought a ticket for, the problem was that the amount of tickets sold exceeded the capacity of the stadium, leaving myself and thousands of others stuck outside with tickets that might as well have been printed of bog roll. A great way to scam your fellow countrymen out of a few Francs! A bribe to the armed guard couldn’t even get me in, never thought I’d see the day. 

Not all was lost, with my ticket I managed to get in for the second game of the afternoon – Morocco vs Gabon.

  
The easiest way to navigate your way around Kigali is by catching a moto-taxi. There’s thousands of drivers all over the city, and unlike most other developing countries, it’s mandatory for the passenger to wear a crash helmet, which the driver supplies. Most one way trips don’t normally exceed £1 so it’s quite good value, the frustrating thing is that the driver will tell you he knows the way even if he really hasn’t got a clue, then spend a load of time driving around in circles, asking for directions or getting you to refer to your google maps. Once finally arriving at your destination they have the cheek to ask for more than the agreed price because they took the long road.

 

No helmut needed in the countryside

  
 

It was with great sadness that this African journey had come to a premature end. Rwanda is a beautiful country which does certainly feel more reserved and European than other parts of Africa, although I still feel when I talk to some of the people we are really world’s apart. An Irishman once told me “you never really appreciate a place properly until you’ve left” that old Irish proverb feels particularly true about mainland Tanzania and Rwanda. Looking back now at all its beauty, it taught me a thing or two about the people and the culture of a part of the world I was previously rather naive about, but taught me even more about myself. I’d quite happily never ride on the back of a moto taxi again but I must do it one last time to get to the airport, the driver typically got lost on the way and asked for double when we arrived, to which I obliged as this Mzungu may never come back to Africa again, but as another experience ends, I’ve learned that in this world, I’ll never say never again. 

  

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Gorillas That I Missed

Along the Congolese border with Rwanda is the spectacular Lake Kivu, one of a string of ‘inland seas’ that run through the Albertine Rift Floor. Though Kivu is a freshwater lake, it is one of three in the world that experience limnic eruptions, a rare type of natural disaster where dissolved CO2 and expanding amounts of methane, coupled with the nearby volcanic activity causes a massive explosion of CO2 from the water, ultimately asphyxiating everything around it.
  

 

Rwandans are removing gases from the lake to help power homes in the country, but at the same time it is not known when there will next be an explosion. A lake in Cameroon had a limnic eruption which resulted in 1800 deaths, Kivu is 2000 times larger so the effects would be catastrophic. Kivu is Rwanda’s prime domestic weekend getaway, imagine going on holiday to Skegness with the fear that the amusements might implode and let off some deadly toxins? 

  

I was going to get the boat from Kabuye to Gisenyi, two of the three Rwandan Kivu settlements, but by no surprise it was cancelled at the last minute so I was forced to drive the rough coastal route. Thankfully there was some beautiful rural scenery and some friendly locals. I found out that a lot of people in Africa don’t like being photographed because they believe that the snaps will be sold for profit and that the subject will receive nothing, I assured this couple that they will make 50% of all the proceeds I make from this photo, which is absolutely nothing.  

   

Gisenyi ‘Beach’

  

Rural Football Ground

 

Near Gisenyi the Pfunda tea estate produces exellent tea thanks to the fertile volcanic soils of the nearby Virunga foothills, it’s just a shame that every cafe I enter doesn’t seem to know how to make a decent brew. 

  

You can go for a wander around the tea estate but don’t expect it to be peaceful, as the adults graft away the hoards of children run wild and there was far too much Muzungu hysteria here for my liking. There were a lot of ‘give me money’ cries, where do they get the idea that all white people have a bottomless supply of money? My is guess is that one day a rich do gooder walked through this village with a bag full of Francs like the pied piper, and has subsequently ruined the market for everyone else. 

   
 

Musanze is the closest town the Volcanos national park, famous for its mountain gorilla tracking. Billed a once in a lifetime enchanting experience and something I would love to do, sadly comes with an extortionate price-tag of $700 per person for a half day excursion, locals pay $50. I’ve got the money, but my morals simply won’t allow me to pay this amount of money to spend an hour with a gorilla, especially when there’s a meathead’s gym at the top of my street that leaves little to the imagination. 

 

Inside the Dian Fossey research centre

  

The closest I got

 

The lovely twin lakes Ruhondo and Burera are renowned birding sights so I finally got to put those bulky binoculars to use, I managed to spot a fire finch, yellow African wagtail and a flycatcher, not bad for a green twitcher. 

   

Flycatcher

   
Back to the photography subject, some locals pose and allow you to capture them for a small upfront fee. If you are prepared to cough up, then this is what you get…

  

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One Man Banda

Happy to see the back of Tanzania, the first thing I noticed about Rwanda when completing the final furlong to Kigali, is that the people don’t seem as competent with their English as they do over the border. I was trying to find out how many hours the journey took, but no one understood what I was trying to ask. It’s then I remembered the age old trick of drawing pictures to get your point across, this time it didn’t work but the passengers found it hilarious as the white buffoon sat at the front of the bus scribbling pictures to the standard of a two year old. 
  

We all realise what happened in Rwanda in 1994, but few of us know what it was actually about and how it all started. Obviously it’s a complex subject, so here’s the quick idiot’s guide to the Rwandan genocide. 

Rwanda is divided into two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and the minority Tutsi. Since the beginning of time the two ethnic groups had some minor rivalries but always managed to get along in relative peace and harmony.
  

When the Belgians colonised Rwanda, they favoured the Tutsi for their supposed European appearance. They handed out ID cards that stated which group the given person belonged to and give the Tutsi control over Rwanda.    

The grave of Fred Gisa Rwigyema, co-founder of the RPF

Between 1959 and 1972 the Hutus rebelled and overthrew the government and the minority Tutsi were treated poorly as a result. By 1990 a rebel group of Tutsis was formed and invaded Northern Rwanda. A civil war followed along with four years worth of Hutu propaganda claiming that the Tutsi were to turn the Hutu into slaves. The straw that broke the Hutu’s back came when on 6th April 1994 a plane carrying the Hutu president was shot down. The propaganda intensified stating that Rwanda should no longer be divided, it should be a one man band. 

  

Over the course of the next 100 days 800,000 Tutsis and pro-peace Hutus were were murdered in state-sponsored violence, largely carried out by two Hutu paramilitary organisations but also by civilians who had once been their friends and neighbours. Woman and children were not spared, whole family’s were wiped out. 

The Hôtel des Mille Collines was used as a safe house during the genocide, as seen in the movie Hotel Rwanda.

So many people say that if it wasn’t for the Europeans then both groups would still be living together peacefully. The Belgians may have caused a greater divide, but I’m controversially saying, did they place the pangas in Rwandan people’s hands and order them to slaughter their fellow countryman? Make of it what you will. 

The mass grave at the genocide memorial site

Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, is built in a hilly area and sprawls across four ridges and valleys. Kigali is a mixture of two Bantu words combined to make a word literally meaning ‘broad’ or ‘big’, so Kigali is just the big city. Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda to help the environment making Kigali quite clean by Afrcian standards. Here you’re more likely to see a smartly dressed businessman than a scruffy kid offering shoe shines on those knackered rubber flip flops. There are numerous colourful markets, where for once a Muzungu can walk around without the deafening cries of ‘come, look at my shop’. 

  

  

  
Kigali’s old quarter Nyamirambo is where the first buildings of the city were raised. Kigali’s coolest neighbourhood is said to be the cities equivalent to Soho in London, that’s funny as I don’t see anyone wearing a gimp suit or a dodgy Albanian pimp. 

  
The Green Mosque has been a symbol of Nyamirambo since Muslim traders came to a Rwanda in the 1930s. With its weird architecture, the Mosque was another safe house during the genocide. The district escaped some of the worst atrocities due to the Muslim community who opened their doors to protect the Tutsis. Their acts of righteousness resulted in a high conversion rate and since then Kigali’s Muslim population has doubled. So you see, the Muslims who are often discriminated against for various reasons ignored the propaganda and were refused to make a one man banda, in Rwanda. 

  

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