Gutembera

3 Sep

About a year ago, after some time away from my region (I think it was for my IST) I was on my way home and saw all these new street signs at various places. It would be another couple of months before I found out they were marking Rwanda’s latest tourism effort, the Congo-Nile trail. The trail runs between Gisenyi on the Northern end of Lake Kivu and Kamembe, the city (town?) on the Southern end of Kivu.

Tourists can rent bikes and hire a car to bring things behind them or hire porters and walk the trail in 5 – 10 days. If you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer on break from teaching you can call on your fellow PCVs and bring a tent for those places where there are no volunteers. Living on the trail means that I’ve hosted a couple groups of PCVs who have done the trail.

My PCV neighbor to the South, who happens to be in my same group (RW5H3) and I live about a days’ trek from each other. So after months of talking about how we should make the trek between our houses we set a date, Saturday July 21st.

She arrived Friday late afternoon, spent the night and a little before 8 am we set out. On the way we ran into one of my coworkers (the same one who was worried about me surviving the heat in Bugarama) who, like most of the people I told expressed a lot of concern about our decision to ‘do sport’. Like with all the others I turned it into a game, asking him how many hours he thought we’d use for the walk.

We walked at a comfortable pace, stopping often to take pictures and greet people along the way. I was happy to be able to get some pictures of the rice paddies which are my favorite part of the moto ride to/from site. It was also nice to be able to snap pictures of the scenery a bit removed from my site since strangers aren’t big fans of unexplained cameras. Conversely, sometimes a mob of people wanting their pictures taken breaks out if I start taking pictures.

We were generous with the rest breaks and more than a couple times we were greeted by various moto drivers from my village, tracking our progress and trying to convince us to take a moto. It was fun to hear their exclamations on our progress or the fact that we were resting, yet again. Sometimes though, we took a break to distance ourselves from people we’d rather not share the road with.

Around 1:30 we arrived at a lovely place that is owned by the British lady who runs the regional hospital. She bought some land on a peninsula and built a retreat center. The most magical part of all is that the average Rwandan isn’t allowed since it’s primarily for hospital staff (there are a lot of doctors who come from all over the world). However, if you’re white and know the name of the woman who runs the hospital then you’ll have no problem. The magical thing about this place is that you can eat in public, expose your upper legs and generally do whatever you like without invoking the stares of everyone around you.

By this time my feet were already starting to hurt. We rested for 2 hours, eating the snacks we had brought along and chatting with some of the missionaries who had arrived early for their annual conference of missionaries working in central Africa.

A weird thing happened on the way in. We encountered a group of kids who did the usual asking for candy and money. Then one of them uncharacteristically tried to grab the bottle of water in the outside pocket of my backpack. So I let him know what was up in Kinyarwanda. The kids then became more aggressive and taunting so I did what my coworkers do when kids are flocking us as we go to sport, I picked up a stick and waved it at the a bit. Usually that does the trick, no actually hitting of children necessary. These kids did back off, but they still leered at us. It was really strange because I’ve never encountered kids who actually tried to reach for something (other than the pickpockets at bigger markets). The other PCV I was with thinks it was because of all the small white kids they saw coming and going from the retreat center. Abazungu adults are a common site for Rwandan kids but abazungu kids for some reason rock their world.

We left paradise around 3, feet still hurting and calves REAL tight. As we got closer to where I usually catch a taxi the sky turned dark and the wind picked up. For awhile we wondered if we’d have to call it a day early on account of the rain. After an hour or so we reach the taxi town and stopped for something more substantial to eat and some fanta to raise our blood sugar.

At this point it hurt to sit, to stand and to walk. But the brochettes (meat sticks) and fanta we had did us good. The original plan was to get to K’s site, shower and then go out to a local restaurant. However, she had the foresight to know that we probably wouldn’t be able to leave her house once we got there. With the threat of rain gone we set out once again for the last bit which had the steepest hills, of course.

We arrived a little before 7, about 30 minutes after the last of the sunlight. The good part was that we didn’t have to greet too many people K knows or answer too many questions. Indeed she was right, after we bathed we were not in any kind of shape to go back out. So we ate some of the bread we bought, had a cup of tea and started a movie, which I watched maybe 25 minutes of before I passed out.

The next morning we got up early and hobbled out to catch a taxi to Kamembe where we treated ourselves to the charming atmosphere and deliciousness that is breakfast at La Petite Colline. For $5 you get a thermos of African Tea or coffee, an omlette with 3 pieces of bread and a plate of fruit. It was a nice little energizer before our Camp GLOW meeting. Though because of the blisters on our feet we had to take motos from the bus station to the hotel.

A couple guys at the place we had brochettes estimated that it’s 27 kilometers from my site to K’s. Add another 3 km for the detour to paradise and we walked about 30 kilometers that day. In all it took us 11 hours though about 3 of that was used for resting. Meaning that we walked a total of 8 hours. Considering that my feet started hurting after the first four, and that every step of the last 2.5 or so was painful, I can’t imagine how people do that for 5 or more days at a time without the conveniences of their own homes and sleeping on the ground. I used to think I wanted to get into backpacking in the US, but after this experience I’m rethinking that. Unless you nice folks out there can share your secrets of getting your feet in shape. Needless to say I have no desire to tackle the Congo-Nile trail in its entirety.

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One Response to “Gutembera”

  1. larea.jamie@gmail.com September 19, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    I’d just like to point out, that you, and your friend are bad ass! ❤

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