"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

2.08.2006

big city turn me loose and set me free


So it's almost time to go into the Congo, but I'm trying to wait on Mr. Florida (another grad student) to fly in there from Kinshasa so someone can come meet me at the border. As much fun as it would be to just show up, I really would prefer not to have to walk.

So, today I had a choice: stay in Kigali, the closest thing Rwanda has to a big city (no mall or supermarket, but there's a five-star hotel and most of the things you really need are available there), or travel three hours over the mountains and head to the lake.

Hello, I'm a Texas girl! Clearly the lake won out. Because my luggage is officially too much to get onto an African bus (it's expanding, I don't know why), I took a taxi over the mountains through northwestern Rwanda. It is such a lovely drive. You head up the hills from Kigali, then the road just runs along the ridgeline for quite awhile before running back down the mountains and through the valleys. About halfway here, you come around a corner and are suddenly in Ruhengeri, a town that sits under five volcanoes. It's really dramatic and quite beautiful; I will get some pictures when Steve the Lawyer and I go gorilla tracking there in a month or two.

After that, we drove for another hour and passed a UNHCR refugee camp. It's a sad place, tents covered with green tarps and sickly children sitting in the mud. Then it was on to Gisenyi, which is this pretty little town on the DRC border and on the shores of Lake Kivu. My hotel is on the lake and has a pretty little beach, though whether you want to swim is questionable given the levels of methane gas in the water. When the Nyiragongo volcano in Congo erupted four years ago, it drove all these gases into the lake, making it deadly to swim in some places. That said, plenty of people were out today, so it probably is okay here.

It's so strange to be in a place that's so beautiful and to know that just three miles away it's a totally different story. You can see the hills of the DRC and the serenity is interupted once an hour or so when the relief flights take off and land at the Goma airport. So that's how it is. I am trying not to be bored and hoping for a smooth border crossing on Friday. Please say a prayer for that.

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