We spent much time contemplating (once we arrived in Rwanda and heard that the roads were not as good as we had thought) about what route to take to the Southern part of the country. We understood from locals and google earth that some legs of the journey were not paved but we also thought, well how bad can it be? If we can move at say 40km per hour, well the trip should take maybe 6 hrs (It was only about 250km total). Some people had advised we back track to Kigali, but doing that we would have completely missed driving along Lake Kivu which was beautiful (I think you can guess we didn’t backtrack) and one of the Great African Lakes. Plus we wanted to see more of the country. The larger town near Musanze (where we were staying to see the gorillas) is called Ruhengeri. We decided to drive south to Gitarama (an unpaved section), then west to Kibuye (paved), south along the Lake to Kamembe (not paved) and then east the last 10 or 15km to the Nyungwe Park entrance (mostly paved). We thought we were being conservative- If we’d gone straight west to the lake then south, allowing us to drive the entire lake the whole journey would have been on dirt roads.
Well, the unpaved sections proved to be much slower than we had anticipated- I think at one point we had averaged 16km/hr, but this rose to I think 22 or 23 by the time we arrived in Kamembe…There are also almost no road signs unless you are on the paved roads used by tourists (and these are incredibly well marked). So as you might imagine we got lost. The first indication that this was going to be more difficult than anticipated is when the road crossed several small streams and ended at the base of a village on a hill (first photo below). I got out of the car to ask for directions (our only common language was French) and after we spoke with a few other drivers (I thought they were out doing some sort of road maintenance) we were following them to the junction that we had missed to get us on the opposite of the river. What we hadn’t realized was that by taking this junction we had gotten on the wrong fork of the river and were now headed south-east instead of south. Our plan then became to ask at each junction the direction to the major town, Gitarama. It was only just nearing noon so we figured, ok, not too bad. The entire drive was stunning. Lush landscapes unlike I have ever seen and one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. We met various people along the way- including four boys who wanted their photo taken (below) and saw various brick firing 'factories' set on hills sides among the banana trees (also a photo below). The bright green rice fields curved along the river and as we passed people stopped their work, waved, and smiled. All in all a great place to be driving slowly because there is so much to take in.
We made it to the Lake in the middle of the afternoon and had lunch at a little restaurant overlooking a power plant harvesting dissolved methane from the lake. This is where I get to tell you that Lake Kivu sits upon the rift valley, which is slowly being pulled apart, resulting in volcanic activity in the area. This rift means the lake is incredibly deep (almost half a kilometer at its deepest point), the 18th deepest in the world. Kivu is also one of three lakes that experience limnic eruptions (the others are Cameroonian Lakes Nyos and Monoun) and is also known as an exploding lake. Limnic eruption, aka lake overturn, is a rare type of natural disaster in which dissolved C02 is suddenly released from deep within the lake, resulting in the death of nearby human and livestock because of suffocation. In the case of Kivu it has both dissolved C02 and methane due to lake water interaction with a volcano. Lake Nyos and Monoun have both overturned. The estimated effects of an overturn for Kivu, which has approximately 500 million tonnes of C02, is expected to be catastrophic in comparison because of Kivu’s larger size and the 2 million people living in proximity. Experimental controlled gas release projects have been done on Monoun but these may not be affordable on Kivu because of its much larger size. As far as I am aware they are still trying to find a solution to controlling the C02 release from Kivu. There are, as I mentioned, methane harvesting projects which until 2012 were relatively small scale. KivuWatt, a Rwandan based company, is harvesting on a larger scale and selling the power to the Rwandan Government through a long term power purchase agreement (PPA). The project was estimated to increase Rwanda’s power generating capacity by 20 times, enough to sell to neighbouring African countries.
So, back to the driving story. It took us a couple of tries to get out of Kubuye and on the right road, which as we had hoped had some fantastic views of the lake. If there was ever a road that followed the contours of the earth through the path of least resistance, this was it. Up and down, in and around, and around and up again. It was a single lane road and on one side was a steep drop down to the lake, and on the other a steep hill, usually covered in banana trees. The lake, from our vantage point and with all the surrounding greenery, was well worth the driving time to reach it. During part of our drive along the lake the sun was setting as that was amazing. As it was getting on in the day we ran into a construction zone, which as you might imagine on a one lane road is difficult to pass by. Other points I worried about, but didn’t say anything, were times when we drove though very deep mud and when we passed broken down vehicles. I was wondering what we would do if we got stuck or the car broke down. We managed, after lengthy waits and careful and I'd say quite skillful driving on Don's part, to pass all the heavy machinery.
Now it is dark and we’ve been on the road for 11 or so hours. We finally pass the construction workers camp, run by the Chinese and with Chinese lanterns hung on either side of the front gates, and again need to ask at several junctions which way to the park entrance. Finally, we are on a paved road again. But wait, then Don slams on the breaks because there is a giant mountain of dirt in the middle of the road, so we then follow the makeshift go around dirt road off to the side. We are now definitely in the park vicinity, finally. It is 8pm. Next problem that arises is that we can’t find the ranger station where we are staying. Back and forth along the park road we go, including passing through the park gates, and finally turning around because the road goes and goes with no signs of any sort. We ask at the local town- we have no language in common. We finally give up and stay at the Nyungwe Loge, which is absolutely incredible and set on a tea plantation (more about that tomorrow). By 9 we are at dinner and pretty exhausted. Dad made the final call and I was grateful and relived that we didn’t have to drive any farther (the car was also stuck in all wheel drive and not driving very well anymore). We took the last room available which was one of their nicest and had a great dinner in a beautiful dining area, weighing up our options for the next morning. Go see the chimps (we would need to leave at 5 am and drive for 1.5hrs..?), hang out and recover a bit, or go on a hike in Nyungwe Park. I was fast asleep minutes after I was in bed, Don was up and down all night still considering whether to wake up at 5 to see the chimps.