With its jagged shoreline surrounded by stepped hills Lake Bunyoni provided the perfect getaway after the drama of the past day. We spent one night relaxing along its edge before moving to a backpacker lodge called Byoona Amagara on Itambira Island. By day we enjoyed the cool waters of the lake, the budding birdlife, and sweeping views of its misty waters. In the evening we sampled the delights of the Byoona Amagara kitchen and sat around socialising with the other backpackers by the light of paraffin lamps. Sadly in the morning we had to part ways with our new found friends, which included Eva and Linda who had a week before they flew out of Uganda from Entebbe. Returning to Delilah the car felt somewhat empty without them. It also heralded our departure from Uganda; a lovely country full of variety that has successfully emerged from a dark chapter in its history. Our next stop was another country with a dark history, Rwanda. We’d heard great things from passing overlanders about the country but really didn’t know what to expect.
Flying down partly potholed tarmac the trip to the border took no time at all. At the Ugandan customs there was another attempt to extort money from us. Fortunately the officials returned our stamped papers before demanding money. So shrugging my shoulders and pleading ignorance I slipped out of the office behind a large group of truck drivers. The Rwandan side of the border sported a series of swanky new buildings, well organised, housing smartly dressed officials who were very welcoming and efficient. Being an ex-Belgium colony we had to move back to the right hand side of the road before moving on. The road wound along the valley floor next to large tea plantations occasionally climbing up to passes seated between the hills. The skyscrapers of central Kigali soon appeared high on a series of hills before us. The capital of Rwandan was like a well organised first world city with traffic lights that people abided by, brilliant motorways, shopping malls, and CCTV on a scale similar to London or Singapore. Navigating our way around the rougher backroads of the city we finally found St Paul’s church. With our limited french we were able to secure a room for the night. Laying in bed the gentle lullaby of Christmas Carols resonated around the gardens.
The next morning Richard decided to sleep in whilst I ventured into the city centre to change some money and visit the genocide museum. To gain an appreciation of Rwanda today it was necessary to gain an insight into their history. Since Belgian colonialism the Tutsi and Hutu had faced a turbulent existence. When granted independence a Hutu government came to power abolishing the Tutsi monarchy, exiling thousands of Tutsi activists and making the remaining Tutsi second class citizens. Cycles of confrontation between the two tribes followed fermenting hatred and distrust. On April 6th 1994, this boiled over when president Habyarimana was shot down in the presidential plane and killed. Within hours interhamwe militia began storming the streets of Kigali massacring Tutsi and moderate Hutu, beginning one of the worst genocides in recent history. The violence spread across the country killing men, women and children in an ultimate show of barbarism. It took one hundred days for the RPF (Rwandan peoples front) to sweep the incumbent MRND from power and end the genocide; in which time it is estimated 800,000 to 1.1 million Rwandans lost their lives. It was a macabre morning witnessing the true depths of human depravity. The exhibition was fascinating but terribly depressing; an abyss of negativity I needed to escape.
The sunlight atop the city centre was a welcome relief allowing some time to reflect. Walking around the peaceful streets of present day Kigali it was impossible to imagine no less than twenty years ago this country was ostensibly dead. Testament to Rwanda’s incredible transformation. The present government have conducted a successful process of sweeping away tribalism, forging a national identity, and reconciling the huge injustice most of the population were involved with. Whilst walking around I got talking to Joseph, one of the many magazine touts plying their trade. Since joining the East African trade bloc all young Rwandans were being taught English rather than French at school. He was the same age as me and was only six years old when he witnessed his neighbours murder his parents. He told me that he had forgiven them but he still found it very difficult to wake up every day and wave good morning to them. This outlined to me that the tranquil order of Rwanda belied deep and powerful social undercurrents that could easily re-surface. I left Joseph at the gates to the Hotel des Milles Collines (The Hotel Rwanda) with these thoughts swilling around my head. Inside I joined Richard for lunch where we did a little more planning for our onward journey.
The following day Delilah had to go in for some repairs, most importantly to the fuel filter bracket. Other repairs would have to wait as the spare parts were not available. The work was finished some time in the afternoon too late to make any reasonable progress before nightfall. We had spent longer in Rwanda than we had intended and time was running out if we wanted to avoid being stranded for Christmas. We highlighted Lake Malawi as the best bet for Christmas. Rather than going via the Tanzanian coast we decided that the spirit of adventure dictate we stick to the road less travelled. On the morning of the 19th December we woke up early and set off for the border marked by a huge waterfall running along a vast plinth of rock. The Tanzanian border wasn’t as welcoming as Rwanda but it was just as efficient. By 1pm we had left the tarmac and were cruising down the B8 along the border with Burundi. Sadly this meant missing out on Tabora. The birth place of my grandfather and the historic centre of the East African slave trade. Not that the two were related.
We found a suitable speed of about 70 kph allowing us to fly over the light corrugations and through the sloped corners. Enroute we gave two army officers a lift to the nearest town feeling they could be useful friends should we have any trouble. They were delighted to hear Richard was also in the army. Slightly further on we encountered a Canadian family trundling down the road in their land cruiser. Steve, Carolin and their two daughters Gabriella and Madeline were also heading for Lake shore lodge in Kipili. We stopped for the night in Kisulu, a sparse transit town on the road to Kisomo. Here we learnt from the manager of the hostel it wasn’t safe to travel at night. Refugees in the surrounding area from the conflicts in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo included bandits who plied their trade at night. The next day we resumed our journey South along the B8 to Mpanda wary of this warning.
On the Eastern edge of Tanzania the road carved its way through expansive forest weaving through large rock piles covered in moss and trees. Most of East Africa had been in rainy season since we’d hit Addis so it wasn’t surprising to see thunderclouds on the horizon shortly after lunch. Heavy rain soon followed causing the road to erupt into a muddy torrent of thick red mud. Nonetheless Delilah had no trouble dealing with the conditions as she splashed through the mud covering herself in a glorious coat of African red. Half-way between Mpanda and Kisulu the road became particularly bad. Engaging high-diff we trucked on until we encountered a Toyota pick-up blocking our path. A group of locals were busy trying to free the pick-up from the mud. It was time to deploy the kinetic tow rope. We swung Delilah through the bog and hooked the two cars together. Effortlessly she dragged the pick-up to solid ground amid cheers from the locals. They thanked us with a flurry of handshakes.
One hundred metres up the road we found four large trucks stuck in deep muddy trenches either side of the road. We deployed the tow rope once again in an attempt to free them. Engine roaring, bouncing back and forth Delilah struggled to pull the stricken vehicle free from its boggy trench. Another truck had arrived at the scene and the locals wanted to use that instead. We had to balance precariously on the edge of the muddy one lane track to let them pass. Unfortunately Delilah slid into thick bog joining the four other trucks. It was a tense moment but I was joined by fifteen locals at the back of Delilah. The extra man power gave Delilah enough of a nudge to free her. It was a strange thing, we’d spent just one hour with these people but had formed a great sense of comraderie with them. Being seasoned veterans of African roads they assured us it was best to leave them, but not before handing out some food and water.
Twenty miles later the road dried out and conditions improved allowing us to make good progress. It looked like we were on the home stretch into Mpanda. However, at twenty miles disaster struck. An unfamiliar alarm from Delilah broke through afternoon air. In a panic we turned off the engine and quickly opened the bonnet fearing it was fire. An inspection of the engine and around the car revealed everything seemed to be okay. Climbing back into Delilah we tried to restart the engine. Nothing… No cough from the engine. No whir of the starter motor. We were stranded twenty miles from anywhere with the sun dropping lower in the sky. It was clearly an electric problem so we inspected the fuse box. Lifting the seats we realised our puddle splashing antics had flooded the battery, ECU (engine computer unit) and secondary fuse box. The result was the engine ignition fuse was shorting. Needing some advice I called up Phil from APB, interrupting his Sunday afternoon. He very graciously set about giving us advice and instructions from his workshop in Worcestershire. We dismantled the dashboard and climbed all over Delilah trying to find the source of our short with little success.
After two hours of pondering and speaking to Phil we heard the familiar rumble of a car engine from up the road. From around the bend appeared our friends in the Toyota pick-up. Julius, the driver was a mechanic and he immediately swept us to one side getting to work with phenomenal proficiency. Within forty minutes he had demonstrated how to hot-wire a land rover and he’d re-wired the starter motor. He trailed us into Mpanda as darkness was falling, dutifully leaving us at a hostel and assuring us he’d return to finish the repairs in the morning.
At the front desk we conducted our usual negotiations with typical voracity trying to assure ourselves of a good deal. At this particular establishment the argument revolved around two double rooms versus one double. We implicitly argued: “we’ll both share a room, it’s no problem!”. To be met by the rebuttal: “we cannot assign you both to one room as the risk is too great!”. This dragged on for some time until the true extent of their argument came forth: “We cannot risk both your health. If you both share a room you may contract homosexuality. A risk we cannot accept.” In Tanzania homosexuality is punishable by the state so we concluded it was a point best avoided; besides it was clear they were beyond reason. For dinner we settled into sandwiches of corned beef hash and HP sauce. Near 10pm Steve, Carolin, Gabriella and Madeline appeared at the door of the hostel saving us from our unsavoury meal. We spent the remainder of the evening swapping stories about the horrific road conditions before finally retiring to bed. My night was restless as I nervously awaited the outcome of Delilah’s electronic repairs.