Diane (long suffering wife) and I will be heading back to Rwanda again this winter for a mini tour of this fascinating country. We fly out on Saturday 21st January and return on Sunday 5th February. Initially, this trip was arranged so that I could take a small group of travellers to Central Africa to experience the wonders of Rwanda in a reasonable time-frame. However, to date, in spite of many people expressing a wish to travel, no-one has had the time, money or commitment to join us. Diane is a little worried that with just the two of us it will become a test of endurance for her.
Itinerary: Rwanda 2012:
This will be an anti-clockwise circuit of Western Rwanda. The idea is to pilot a 2 week trip that would include many of the most interesting aspects of the 2009 trip. My hope is that at a future date I would be able to take less confident cyclists on an adventure that is achievable within the normal time-frame of an annual holiday from work.
I will begin and end the trip at Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. In order not to put too much pressure on other participants, I have shortened the daily mileage to around 50 or 60 miles per day. While this will still be a tough challenge considering the hilly terrain, heat and poor road conditions, it is considerably less distance than the 100 mile plus I have done in the past. The overriding objective is to allow time to enjoy the country and the many interesting experiences likely to occur.
Once we leave the capital Kigali, the plan is to head west towards Kibuye before cycling south following the contours of Lake Kivu.
The route south through the mountains above Lake Kivu between Kibuye and Cyangugu is really tough with no tarmac, but the views are stunning. I nicknamed this route the Carlsberg Route. Because if Carlsberg did scenery then I am sure they would include this road.
There is a project under-way in the north-west of Rwanda funded by the ‘Great Ape Trust’. http://www.greatapetrust.org The once vast tropical forest of Gishwati has over the recent decades been decimated by human encroachment to less that 10% of its original size. A small family of chimpanzees are clinging to life in this tiny remnant of their homeland. An ambitious project is being undertaken to replant a corridor of forest to link Gishwati with the much larger forest and National Park, Nyungwe. If successful the apes will be able to move freely between the two, enabling them to interbreed with other established chimps. Our intention is to visit the area to see first-hand the work in progress.
Cyangugu is at the southern tip of Rwanda, right on the border with the DRC. From here I intend to head inland and return to Kigali, stopping off to visit the nature reserve of ‘Foret Naturelle de Nyungwe’ for some more animal encounters. This is one of the oldest rain-forests in Africa and home to many primates. Last year I spent a day in the forest, but found little wildlife due to the dense vegetation. The experience was of interest none the less. If you encounter a colony of ants, take my advise and don’t hang around trying to get a photo. They will eat you alive. It took me nearly 15 minutes to remove the last of the little blighter’s for only a couple of minutes tardiness.
The park head-quarters is at the end of very long hill climb out of Cyangugu. This is the end of the really hard work in the mountains of Western Rwanda. From the HQ the road is mainly downhill till one arrives in the second largest town in Rwanda, Butare.
Approximately half-way between the NP headquarters and Butare is the small town of Gikongoro. Last year I had a very pleasant stop-over at the Golden Monkey hotel. Very friendly and clean and I was lucky enough to arrive on the evening when they had some live music arranged. From Gikongoro, it is only a half-days easy ride to Butare.
From this university town to Kigali the roads are of good quality and only have gentle gradients to contend with. After the rigours of the dirt roads and mountains beside Lake Kivu, these little undulations are easily handled by cyclists with thighs like tree-trunks.
Our return to Kigali should allow sufficient time to spend some time shopping, relaxing and doing ‘normal’ tourist things before catching the flight home.
Once we are on the ground in Rwanda, Diane will be responsible for the updates so that readers can get the views of someone new to the concept of cycle-touring in a developing country.
Read all about Diane’s 2 week cycling ‘holiday’ on the following pages…