Wow, Bujumbura was an amazing idea, and an even better trip! Who says US State Department travel advisories should be trusted? Actually, Burundi can be a very dangerous country, but we were very careful and made sure not to put ourselves into any unnecessary risks. Well, for the most part…
There are many adjectives that one could use to describe the bus ride to Bujumbura, but I believe the best one is TERRIFYING. Take the usual Africa roads (filled with all sorts of vehicles, bikes, pedestrians, animals, potholes, etc) and worse than usual driving and add that to narrow, winding mountain roads and you’ll get some sort of idea. I spent much of the ride staring out the front window of the bus as we careened towards a cliff then swerved away from it, usually into the path of an oncoming truck which we’d then swerve away from back towards the cliff, and so on. Eventually, however, the mountains ended (rather abruptly, actually) and we came into Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, situated on the shores of beautiful Lake Tanganyika. Really, the only real problem we had with the transit was the Burundian border guard who tried to force us to bribe him by almost denying us entry. Much arguing, some harsh words, the help of the other bus passengers and shear stubbornness got us through the border sans bribe. There was no way that we’d support corruption!
We found a pretty nice place to stay for only a little more than we had hoped and in the process met several extremely nice and helpful Burundians. I was a little nervous, due to our experience with a “nice and helpful” Ugandan, but fortunately, they were good people. One important thing in Bujumbura is to stay off the streets at night (take taxis if you do need to go out), so the first night was spend enjoying our hotel, street bread and Burundian Primus (tastes the same).
Interesting fact: automatic weapons and grenades are not allowed in Bujumbura. At least that’s what the sign said. One of the first things we saw upon entering the city was a giant banner in Kirundi (very similar to Kinyarwanda) with a No Grenades and No Automatic Weapons picture (silhouettes of both x’d out). Apparently this didn’t apply to army, police or security guards, because they were everywhere and were always touting weapons.
On the second day we took a trip south of town to the spot where Stanley uttered those famous words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume”. Actually, this was not the real spot. All evidence points to their meeting taking place in western Tanzania, but seeing as this is really all Burundi has in the way of touristy things, I’ll let it slide. The spot was marked by a large rock just off the highway, with names and dates carved into it. We took some pictures, talked to the soldier with the huge automatic weapon that appeared out of the bushes, then headed off to the beach, blowing past cops who tried to flag us down for more bribes.
Let me say, I always enjoy swimming, but there is something quite special about swimming in the Africa Great Lakes. Maybe it was the warm water, maybe it was the possible threat of schistosomiasis or biharzia, maybe it was the beer that I’d had, but jumping off the boat into the water felt amazing. If you are keeping track, that is the 3rd boat I’ve jumped off so far this year, the 2nd being into Lake Kivu and the 1st being onto the sandy beach of Lake Victoria. Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll be able to make it to Lakes Malawi, Turkana, Edward, Albert or any other African Great Lakes. Then again, I’ve never really been to Lake Superior either. Anyway, I’ll be swimming in the Indian Ocean at Zanzibar in November, so I shouldn’t complain.
The bus home combined the same terrible driving and windy roads with an intense smell of vomit. Strangely, the vomit smell permeated the bus before any of the passengers actually started vomiting, and it certainly didn’t get any better afterwards. With the help of some incredibly cheap oranges and strong will power, none of the four of us puked and we all made it safely back to Rwanda.
Like last time, I was glad to make it home. It could be said that Rwanda has less character than it’s neighbours, and there is some sort of forced orderliness and discipline here, which makes the country seem less “African”, but it really is much safer and cleaner, and despite all the complaining I’ve done in this blog, it’s a pretty darn good place to live!