An East Africa Road Trip

Tuesday night. After a long day at work I’ve taken some time in front of my laptop, with a glass of wine and some cheese from a recent trip to Cape Town, to reflect on the past weekend.

It was a three day long Easter break and I had planned to relax and do some work. After a long sleep in on Friday I woke up to find my housemate preparing for a trip to the Congolese border, with the hope of crossing over to DRC. Debating whether or not to join, I was finally too overwhelmed by the prospect of making it the to the mysterious DRC and about 20 minutes before it was time to leave, I packed my passport and my dollars and I was ready.

Now, you can’t really just cross over to DRC just like that. If you’re a resident in Rwanda you can apply for a visa at the Congolese embassy in Kigali (which one of us was, but being so spontaneous, there was no time to sort one out). If you’re, like me, on a tourist visa, then you have to get your Congolese visa in your home country. Either way, it’s 150 USD to visit this exotic country.

BUT. This is Africa and in Africa normal rules don’t really apply. So with that in mind, a Brit, a Kenyan, a Rwandan and a Swede drove down through the stunning Nyungwe Forest to Cyangugu, neatly located by lake Kivu, overlooking Bukavu in the DR of C.

With all this build up, surely we made it right? Actually no, the Brit and the Kenyan, with their awesome bullshitting skills, were sent off to test the terrain and were offered an “emergency visa” for 300 USD. When they didn’t accept this kind offer, they were escorted back to the Rwandan side. That night, we stayed in Cyangugu and had dinner and drinks by the lake with one of the most stunning views I’ve experienced in Rwanda so far. Waking up to it wasn’t half bad either, the fishermen in their small, wooden boats, singing away, the sun shining on Bukavu, the mountains of DRC and the small, lush islands in the lake. Apparently, if you get too far out on the lake, you will be shouted at and eventually shot (no news there, this happens on the Mekong too).

Slightly disappointed, we drove down to Burundi and Bujumbura instead. Only 40 USD and no hassle. Well, that’s not true. We got our exit stamps and Burundian entry stamps, just to be informed that there then was nowhere to buy car insurance at the border. No worries, said the immigration guys. Just head back into Rwanda and sort it out. So, we went back to the small town, tried to find the insurance company, found the shop closed as it was Easter Sunday, called someone, played some pool and had some beers at a bar while waiting. For some reason, it felt like the opportunity should have been seized to just disappear into no man’s land, but, we nicely returned to the border with our car insurance and none the wiser.

In Bujumbura we ended up having drinks by beautiful lake Tanganyika, which shared borders with DRC, Tanzania and Zambia and is populated with hippos and crocodiles. Had dinner overlooking the city lights, celebrated a birthday with some shots and finally went dancing until 4.30. I vaguely remember harassing the DJ for random song requests and dancing like there was no tomorrow in clubs I probably would have been scared to enter had I not been very, ehum, happy. There was bunch of guys there who were the most awesome dancers (I mean rolling around on the floor kind of good) and me, being Muzungo and all, not having any problems making one of these guys my dancing partner. There is no video footage and for that I’m glad.

There is no real point to this story I suppose. Except for the fact that these random, unplanned events often end up being your most treasured memories. I’m glad I decided to go, despite only being able to admire DRC from afar, and I thank my fellow partners in crime for an awesome weekend full of laughs.

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