On the road to Kigali

We last left you guys with us boarding the bus to Kigali, Rwanda. When we were originally planning our trip, this seemed like a great idea. The Lonely Planet had all the info, it was quite cheap (only about $20!!) and quite convenient. Much cheaper than flying! So we thought all was good.

We got the first hint that things weren’t all that rosy when we told Watoto where we were going next.

“So where will you be heading next?”
“Kigali”
“Ah – wonderful. What time will your plane be leaving”
“Uh well – we’re actually catching a bus”.

Our friendly driver visibly paled. A difficult thing to do when one is African. “A bus? Are you sure?”
“Uh – yes? “
“Oh – ok then”. Our driver looked rather worried, as though he wanted to say something but couldn’t quite work out the best way to say it.
“Is everything ok?” Catherine as usual was being empathetic and tried to help the poor man out.
“Well – the bus is not always very safe. They drive very fast, and many times there are accidents. Better for you to go by plane”

We had pretty much ruled out the plane option by this time. Apart from the fact that we loathed Air Kenya, we were also pretty sure that we would not be able to get a ticket at this late notice, and we had to be in Kigali in the next two days for a meeting with Compassion.

Asking around, we determined that there were safer (apparently!) companies with a better reputation for safety rather than speed. So we picked Regional, over Jaguar, which is the Lonely Planet recommended one. We also discovered that just last week, the government had forced the bus companies to install speed governors in all buses, so that they would be unable to exceed the speed limit of 80kmh. Peachy!

So finally they day came for our appointment with the bus. We were feeling pretty good about it all, even though the Watoto crew were obviously not too thrilled about it. Sitting at the bus station (think big dirt car park with a small tin shed, with lots of plastic chairs scattered around, and no floor, and you’ve got the bus station). The bus then proceeded to be 3 hours late!! So we sat and sat and sat. I finished the novel that I’d packed for the journey. I’d gone shopping twice to replenish food supplies. Hate waiting for buses.

But it finally came (yay!) We were a bit less than impressed with the ‘luxury’ bus. Even though it had ‘Air conditioned’ proudly painted on the front, the myriad open windows gave us a better hint of things to come. Scrambling on, we got ourselves some great seats (right behind the driver) and settled in for our 8 hour trip.

The next 8 hours are a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember Catherine gripping my hand tightly and insisting that I wear a seatbelt (a first for us in 3 months!). Our somewhat insane bus driver must have mistaken the bus for a 4 wheel drive, so rapidly did he attack the numerous bumps and ravines that pitted the road. I think he saw each of these obstacles as another challenge on which to test the poor creaking bus. Corners loomed at us at far-too-fast speeds as he attempted to get our bus to ride on just two wheels. And certainly he did not display any ability to stick to his side of the road. Any time he saw ANYBODY on the road, or next to the road, or hey, even on the next road, he would blare the horn at them, and hold it down.

And then we got to the mountainous curves. Certainly there was no need to stop, slow down, or even remotely attempt to watch out for oncoming traffic. Someone coming in the opposite direction and you’re on the wrong side? No problem – blare that horn and keep driving and laugh as the cowed driver swerves for cover!! I am sure that we faced certain death a hundred times that day, our angels working overtime to keep the bus upright and heading in the right direction (neither up nor down but horizontally)

Best bit was when we got stopped by the cops. As the driver got out, the copilot gave him some cash, the driver had a chat with the cops, I’m certain some cash exchanged hands, and we were allowed to proceed. However, he probably didn’t give them enough cash – one of the cops got onto the bus, showed us all the speed radar (which indicated 118 – it was a 80km zone), and proceeded to lecture us in Lugandan. No idea what he was saying, but the word ‘governor’ popped up once or twice. I suspected rather archly that there was no governor installed on the bus in spite of the government’s attempts to do so. Or it had been removed.

We finally crossed the border into Rwanda. It’s amazing what a difference you see in the landscape as you cross the border. There is definitely a reason why they call it the land of a 1000 hills. Very pretty. But you’re not really thinking about that when you’ve got a mad driver at the wheel.

We finally arrived in Kigali, 4 hours late. (given that this was an 8 hour bus ride that’s bad even for Africa!). The reason – apparently they are using computers to process the visas and everything takes twice as long. Go figure.

But the best bit about arriving in Kigali was that there was a complete power blackout!! So we arrived in the middle of an unknown city, it was pitch black, nobody spoke English, and we had no idea how to get to the hotel!!

We’ll continue this story in our next blog.

A final note: although we survived this trip, unfortunately 2 days later the next bus from Kampala to Kigali crashed and all 60 passengers were killed. Such a waste of life and so preventable. For those of you thinking of attempting the trip – we would highly recommend the planes – air kenya is excellent &#x1F60A

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