Rwanda, an overview of the trip.

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The proudly waving Rwandan flag

You need NEVER  look for parking at ORT International Airport again! This is where the recent trip to Rwanda started for my wife and me. A return trip for me and a first-time experience for her. The flight to Kigali leaves at 03h00 and we, therefore, had to be at the airport at midnight. Elite Car Park Services offer an off-site parking solution to the problem of long term parking at ORT. We were met at the International Departures terminal, keys were handed over and it was a smooth transition into the terminal building. The return flight lands at 02h30 and once again we were met, keys were handed back and we drove off with minimal fuss. Dealing with this company was a pleasure and despite the inconvenient departure and arrival times, we were met with smiles by the drivers. They have a variety of payment options AND the company offer a pensioners discount! Highly recommended!

 

To get to and from Rwanda, we used their national carrier, RwandAir. Aside from the fact that their flights leave Johannesburg at 03h00 and return at a similar time, the carrier and the crew could not have offered a better service. The check-in staff were a pleasure to deal with and were able to comply with our seating requirements, the onboard service was efficient and the food on the return leg (I was sleeping on the outbound leg, so I did not even get to see the meal) was very tasty. The aircraft that we flew on(Boeing 737-800) did not have the in-seat video screens, but rather the old-school drop-down type with only one movie available. But given the fact that it is less than a 4-hour flight and the departure times, it was not a problem for me…sleep was the better option on both legs of our journey. I have flown with this carrier on previous occasions and have always enjoyed my onboard experiences.

To get from Kigali International Airport to our guest house, the manager had organised this taxi service to collect us. We cleared passport control at around 07h00 and Faustin was outside waiting for us. His smiling face and cheerful manner got us through the horrendous (for an international visitor) early morning rush hour traffic. My wife was so impressed with his manner that she promptly retained his services to get her to and from her conference as well as on a shopping trip where the store was too far to walk to. Prompt service and good prices. Highly recommended.

This delightful guest house is a 20 minute from the  Kigali Convention Centre. The sign on the wall outside The Nest says “A stay you’ll love” and those words proved to be prophetic. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this establishment. Our room, with en suite shower room, had a small balcony which offered a view out over the city. The breakfasts, although limited in choice, were tasty and the smoothies were delicious. While my wife was at her conference, I stayed behind to work and I was impressed by the quality and speed of the Wi-Fi connection. The Nest only offers breakfast to their guests, however, there are several excellent restaurants within a few minutes walk in any direction. Highly recommended.

Interesting fact #213: Built at a cost of $300m,The Kigali Convention Center is the most expensive building in Africa. However, aside from being the most expensive, it is also the most eco-friendly. The LED lighting on the outside of the dome are cost-effective and the toilets use repurposed water.

No trip to Kigali would be complete without visiting these two memorials that pay tribute to the Genocide that took place in 1994. The first was the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It was this orchestrated countrywide killing spree that was the tipping point for Rwanda. In 90 days 1000000 people were murdered for no reason other than they were of the ‘wrong’ racial group. Of that figure, 250000 souls are buried at the site of the Memorial. It was a return visit for me, but the first experience for my wife who was moved to tears as I was (again) by the room that recognises the children who were murdered. Set aside at least 2 hours to fully experience the horror of this atrocious act and the repercussions that it has had on Rwanda and its people, post-1994. Our second stop was the recently opened (2017)Campaign against Genocide Museum that can be found in the Gasabo District and is adjacent to the Parliament Building. This is one of 8 museums in Kigali that allow visitors to find out more about the heritage of this amazing African country.

While in Kigali and to get to and from Lake Kivu, we utilized the services of Muyenzi Martin and his Love Rwanda tour company. We also used his company for our private day tour of Kigali which took us to a variety of destinations. His drivers were knowledgeable and interactive and the drive to and from Lake Kivu ( about 3.5 hours in either direction) was informative and Sam, our driver, helped us to understand the people and their culture. The drivers, given the traffic chaos in Kigali, were never late and all our interactions were most satisfactory. I also have Martin to thank for introducing me to what is often referred to as the National food of Rwanda, brochettes, which are basically goat meat kebabs. They are affordable, delicious and as goat meat is low in cholesterol, nutritious as well.  Highly recommend. (both the tour company and the brochettes)

This art centre was visited during part of a day tour of Kigali and our interaction with the young artists working there was so interesting that we would recommend that you make certain that Ivuka Arts is part of YOUR day tour while in Kigali. Here works are created out of a variety of different materials, from old car tires, plastic and glass bottles to cast off denim jeans. As per usual we found a piece that’spoke’ to us and that has already been hung on a wall in our lounge.

Lake Kivu is the holiday destination for both locals and tourists. The Lake Kivu Serena Hotel taps into this beach-culture-on-a-lake by providing a plethora of water sport options as well as food and accommodation that are superb. Our weekend visit here was a way for my wife to relax after the intense medical conference that she had attended in Kigali.

Listen to what the General Manager, Duncan Lewa, had to say about the hotel and its amenities:

 

The drive to and from Lake Kivu is along a scenic and very convoluted road, shared by bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians, trucks and cars…but they all seem to get to their destinations safely. The road has no potholes and is well maintained and clean. Because of the nature of the terrain, a straight road between Kigali and Lake Kivu was not possible. Had it been, I am certain that the 150km journey would take less than 2 hours instead of the 3,5 that is the current norm. That being said the road is scenic and the small villages that dot the side of the road are interesting to see, even if it only fleetingly as you drive by.

The most perfect ending to our stay in Rwanda. The Kigali Serena made certain of that! Again a return visit to this hotel for me, while it was the first time for my wife. She had enjoyed the Lake Kivu Serena but she LOVED this hotel and the staff members that she interacted with. Food, relaxation and Spa treatments were all crammed into a very short overnight stay. But we made the most of everything that the hotel had to offer. The staff and management did try and get us to extend our visit, but that was unfortunately not an option as we both had work commitments to return to.

I sat down to chat with Daniel Sambai, the General Manager of this hotel. This is what he shared with me:

 

My overall impression of this country remains the same as it did 5 years ago when I first visited. It should be seen as a template, not only in an African context but for countries worldwide. Certainly, there must be issues that I, as a tourist, am not aware of. However, the overall feeling that I got was that post -Genocide the country has rallied and become an example of how people can work together for the better good of all. Aside from the gorillas, that are a major tourist attraction, Rwanda has so much to offer and I do hope that another visit will take place sooner than later.

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