Land of a thousand hills

Land van duizend heuvelsThe land of a thousand hills’ is the slogan that invites tourists to visit Rwanda. Green hills, nature parks, Mountain Gorillas and white beaches on Lake Kivu, the brochures promise a great holiday destination. Yet, beautiful nature was not the first thing I was thinking of when we discussed to ride through Rwanda. The first thing that came to mind was the horrific genocide that took place in 1994.

In just three months time at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered systematically by Hutus. A unbelievably high number of people. The atrocities only become known to the general public long after the genocide, after the damage was done. While in Rwanda men, women and children were murdered brutally, the international media showed other stories, such as the Balkan war and the suicide of rock star Kurt Cobain. The UN troops that were present in Rwanda had no mandate to response to the violence, nor did it ever come to an international intervention. Clinton would later call this his biggest regret.

Land van duizend heuvelsSo our image of Rwanda was not really positive. By contrast, the stories of other travellers were very positive and told us about a beautiful, clean and quite modern country. The travellers who had visited the Central African country gave us the advice not to skip Rwanda. So off to Rwanda it is, to experience first hand what impression the country gives us twenty years after the genocide.


It is still dark when our alarm clock rings at Nshongi Camp. We want to leave early so we have enough time to drive back to the main road and finish all the paperwork at the border with Rwanda. You never know how much time it will take. After breakfast we pack up our tent under the supervision of the girls, after which they help us carry our bags up to the bikes.

Land van duizend heuvelsFrom Nshongi Camp we drive towards Kisoro. A beautiful route through small farming villages. The “road” is very bad and dotted with large black lava rocks that make us bounce on our bikes. A big difference with the beautiful smooth asphalt road we took a few days ago. In Kisoro we come back onto that main asphalt road. We do some shopping with our last Ugandan Shilling and buy one last Rolex, you never know what is for lunch in Rwanda. From Kisoro is not far to the border, we can already see the Rwandan volcanoes.

With groceries and a full stomach, we drive towards the border crossing at Cyahafi. It is a small border and thankfully not so busy. We first go to customs on the Ugandan side and ten minutes later have the outgoing stamps in our passports. In the office where we have our Carnets stamped we are the only ones. A man takes our yellow papers, browses through them and begins to fill out the papers. Then he asks whether we paid the road taxes when we entered the country. “Yes, we paid those taxes” we both lie at the same time, “we paid $20 per motorcycle.” He asks for the receipt. I start digging in my pockets for the non-existent receipt, but then explain that unfortunately I cannot find it. He says it is OK and puts the last stamps in our Carnets. We can leave the country, with our bikes. OK, it might be cheating, but that is $40 we can use to have some good meals.

Land van duizend heuvelsAfter three weeks we now leave Uganda. We drive a hundred meters before we stop again in front of the closed gate on the Rwandan side. A young customs official shows us where we can park the bikes while we get out passports stamped. We applied for the visas for Rwanda on-line a week earlier and received the visas by email a few days later. At the counter of the Rwandan customs I hold up my phone while the guy behind the counter scans the bar code in the email. The computer beeps, the visas are approved. The man takes our pictures with his web cam and takes an imprint of some fingers with a small scanner. Very modern and a great example for Egypt. At the next counter we get some stamps in our Carnets and then the job is done. Back at the young customs officer we show him our stamped passports. He nods and opens the barrier. We are in Rwanda, the eleventh country on our trip!

From the border we drive to Musanze and than onto Kinigi, the village from which the Volcanoes National Park can be visited. This is the park where Mountain Gorillas live and where Dian Fossey did her research. We drive on a quiet road through several villages towards the volcanoes. There are many people on the streets all of whom are dressed very neat, either in modern Western clothes or in colorful traditional clothes. What is striking is that the clothes fit, are in good condition and that almost everyone is wearing shoes. Land van duizend heuvelsNot an obvious thing in Africa. The houses along the side of the road also look beautiful. They are made of stone, with corrugated iron roofs and have bright colors. It is not that we are looking for differences with Uganda, but it is really striking.

What is most striking is what we do not see: plastic bags! In some African countries you would think that the plastic bag is the national flower, because in almost every tree or shrub there is a coloured plastic bag. Rwanda has however banned plastic bags. Groceries may only be given in a paper bag. Plastic bags cannot be imported either. At the larger border crossings, your baggage is examined and all plastic bags are seized. A progressive measure to keep the country clean and I wonder whether it will ever be introduced in Western countries.

And that is not the only reason the country is so clean. This also relates to “Umuganda Rusange” which roughly translates as “Day of volunteering.” Every last Saturday of the month each Rwandan citizen over 18 years is obliged to take part in Umuganda. Land van duizend heuvelsEven companies have to close that day. The work varies from village to village and can range from collecting trash and the establishment of a common park to building a house or a road. Despite the rather compelling character, it has a very positive effect on the solidarity and the state of the country.

In the already surprising Rwanda we continue our drive to Kinigi, where we find a spot for our tent at Kinigi Guesthouse in the mid-afternoon. The sun is still shining, but in the distance we can see the first clouds that are gathering around the pointed top of the volcanoes. At the end of the afternoon the sun disappears behind the clouds and it starts to rain. In no time it comes pouring out of the air. So hard that we watch with fear how our little tent is trembling. If only the roof does not break! While a small lake forms in the reception area, the manager lights a big fire. It is not only wet outside, but now also pretty chilly. We curl up a little closer to the fire with a book and stay there until we want to go to bed and run through the rain back to our tent.

Land van duizend heuvelsThe next morning it stopped raining but it is still very foggy. From our tent I can only see a few meters into the valley. I cannot see a single volcano. No wonder that movie about Dian Fossey in Rwanda is called “Gorillas in the mist”! Even after breakfast the mist has not cleared and it does not seem likely that it will be better later. We do not want to go for a walk in the park now, so we decide to pack up our tent and drive to Kigali today.

From Kinigi we drive on one of the main roads to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. It is a scenic route. The slogan for Rwanda is well chosen, because we ride from one hill to another. At the top we have a beautiful view over the other 999 hills, there is almost no flat piece of land in sight. Just like the first day in Rwanda we marvel at the beautiful stone houses, clean streets and well dressed people. What is also striking is the number of cars we see on the road. In Uganda there are cars on the road as well, but those were mostly driven by Westerners. The locals cannot afford a car and travel with minibuses and motorcycle taxis. We see a lot of minibuses here as well, but also a great number of cars that are driven by Rwandan drivers.

Land van duizend heuvelsIn the mid-afternoon we arrive in Kigali, a city that stretches over several hills. We drive through the city towards a residential area on the outskirts of the town to the home of Pieter and Lobke (also known as TR Companion). This Belgian couple moved to Kigali because of Lobke her job and decided to open up her homes for tourists. Several travellers advised us to camp in their yard, and so we do. It is a nice spot, in the shade of a large tree overlooking the outskirts of the city.

The next day we drive to the city centre of Kigali to do some shopping at one of the larger supermarkets. We arrive in a modern business centre with high buildings and a huge shopping centre with a supermarket that is open 24/7! We stock up and even find Peter some new clothes. Everything goes into a large paper bag, not only vegetables but also his new shorts. We end up staying four days in the garden of Pieter and Lobke. We use their high-speed internet, watch a movie, go out to dinner twice at a lovely Chinese restaurant (of the $40 we did not pay) read a book and enjoy the sun. Then we pack our stuff again to find a spot on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Land van duizend heuvelsFrom Kigali we take the NR11 north towards Gisenyi. The route is great, with super good asphalt and the best curves that we have ridden so far throughout Africa. This road definitely deserves a spot on the list of best motorcycle routes of Africa! With a big smile on our face, we arrive in Gisenyi a bit sooner than expected. From the hills on the outskirts of the city, we have a beautiful view over the huge lake. The further we go down to the shore, the warmer it gets. We find a spot at La Bella camping in a garden full of tropical flowers with a private beach.

Once our tent is pitched, it is so warm that we first take a dip in the fresh water of Lake Kivu. It is great! We both feel as if we have arrived at a tropical island, it feels like a holiday. We switch to holiday mode: reading a book in the sun, eating banana fries with mayo, drinking cold beers and enjoying it greatly. In any case, this is not what we expected from Rwanda!

Click here to see the photos.

Distance travelled to Gisenyi: 17,499 km (10,873 miles)

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| Leonie | AFRICA, Uganda, Rwanda

5 Reacties (Comments) - Land of a thousand hills

  1. Olivier Quinten

    Hello Both
    Sorry I should have done this ages ago but I finally found you!
    And of course I had to read about your trip to Rwanda first 😉
    This whole blog has been an AMAZING read!!!
    Good luck for the rest and please keep on making us dream!

    Your tenant in Amsterdam!

  2. Anna

    Weer genoten van jullie prachtige verhalen en foto’s. Op de gewone computer met groot beeldscherm is het dubbel genieten.
    Heel veel plezier verder en ik kijk al weer uit naar het volgende verhaal. :-)

  3. Michiel

    Wauw, Rwanda! 8 jaar gewoond in vrede en 2 jaar in oorlog. Als ik dak Kivu meer zie, dan wil ik er heen!! Is het nog steeds zo helder? Wij gingen altijd naar Kibuye!
    Geniet lekker! Cheers, Michiel

  4. Mieke

    Gelukkig nemen jullie ook de tijd om lekker even vakantie te vieren, heerlijk hoor in zo’n mooie omgeving!

  5. Joke en Janleen

    Hallo, goed om te lezen dat jullie het zo naar je zin hebben. Geniet er van en we kijken nu al uit naar het volgende verslag. Gr Joke en Janleen vanuit een bewolkt maar droog nederland met 20 graden.