Kigali, the Virungas, DRC

During three blood-drenched months in 1994, an average of five Rwandans were murdered every single minute. One night in April 1994, a carefully prepared genocide was unleashed. One in every 5 citizens succumbed to the frenzy, picked up a machete and started slaughtering.

A week later, Kigali was covered with decaying bodies and the dogs started to eat them. The only solution was to kill the animals – kill them and continue with the massacre undisturbed… During my two weeks in Rwanda I have still not seen a single dog.

Two weeks was also not enough to learn how to tell the (apparently very clear) physical difference between the Tutsis and the Hutus. “It’s like telling apart an American from a Spaniard”, they told me. It’s all about the size of the nose and who likes milk more. It would be ridiculous, if it was not the basis for the murder of a million people.

People have told me that in today’s Rwanda everybody lives together in peace without any serious problems. It is hard to see how they achieved this in only 20 years or how strong the cohesion actually is. All that everybody repeats is that the current president (who was just begged to accept a third term) is responsible for all the magic. This book got me a bit closer to understanding – highly recommended.

After the buzz of Nairobi, Kigali was a welcome change. It’s a beautiful city spread along countless hills. It is peaceful and safe, yet it offers quite a few fun places to go to. Among them, the Inema art center takes the top prize. If you visit, stay at Yambi hotel.

Inema Art Center, Kigali

All you need is love
Kigali yuppies @ Shokola

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Beside its history, the gorillas were the other main reason for my visit to Rwanda. Hidden deep inside the Virunga forests in the north-west of the country, these giants look nothing like apes. They are truly much more like some secluded humans roaming around the jungle. What I will remember most is their complete indifference to our presence only steps away from them. They couldn’t care less about some little cousins coming to visit. 

There are 880 mountain gorillas left on the planet.

jungle human
not even a look at petty humans
momma & baby G
lakes of north-west Rwanda

The Virungas spread across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (see map). I visited the other side to climb the Nyiragongo vulcano – an active vulcano with the world’s largest lava lake at its summit. The experience of Earth splitting open before you to show its interior is incredible. I will remember for a long time the dark night sky coloured red by the lava and the silence broken only by the sound of fire, waves splashing against the rocks and explosions. The experience was unique also because I was alone on the edge of the vulcano – there were no other tourists on the day that I visited and the guards and porter slept some 50m lower. So I spent hours sitting by myself at the edge looking into the crater. What a night!

It is unfortunate that DRC is not more easily accessible. You not only need a visa, but also armed guards to accompany you from the border to the park and back. Goma – the city you cross on the way – is intense. Road blocks and check points, armed individuals walking left and right, UN peacekeepers and camps and constant talk about most recent rebel activities, all mixed with the pandemonium of the numerous businesses, children running around and the omnipresent motorbikes. Crazy!

The short trip to Rwanda and DRC was adventurous and fun, for sure. However, after 3 months spent in Africa, I am starting to seriously miss some old-school culture, museums, impressive architecture, classy coffee shops and the like. Hence, next stop: Iran.

Lava lake
View over Goma and Lake Kivu
Virunga vulcanoes
make the rain stop

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