Friday, May 05, 2017

First Day in Rwanda... How About Uganda?

Well as I pointed out yesterday Rwanda is an especially good country to stage road trips to neighboring countries because it is small which makes it easy to traverse but it also borders four other nations. Ripe to get Milito'd repeatedly, if you ask me.

The background and foreground of the view from my room contrasted quite a bit. Beauty and the beast.

The breakfast was surprisingly both free and opulent. I've taken to eating such giant breakfasts here that I don't bother messing with lunch.

 These were fun to try but I didn't really care for them. They were awfully similar to real tomatoes which I wouldn't just sit and eat by themselves either but with maybe more of a tartness.

I was happy to see that there was a section for African food but it was pretty weak. There were some plantains, plain white rice, and my favorite which was gatogo. That was a mix of a big starch, could have been potatoes, chunks of goat meat and what I read is a groundnut sauce. It was nice and saucy and went well with the rice.

They had bread pudding with chocolate chips in it which I murdered.

Well I consulted my expertly constructed Map O' East Africa to pick a place to start. Let's do Uganda!

I called up my new cab driver friend Kayitare from last night's ride from the airport and we hit the road. Kayitare initially introduced himself as Fred but I wasn't having any of that. Gotta keep it real in the mobile, know what I mean? Amusingly our first destination was back to the airport because that was the best place to find an ATM for me and some sort of international car insurance for the cab.

Kayitare asked very early on if he could buy me a coffee. I declined as coffee is not really my thing. He then asked if I drink alcohol and I replied yes. He found those two positions to be in conflict and wanted to know why. I just laughed because I've had heated versions of the same conversation with my friends on numerous occasions back home. I feel like I have a satisfying number of vices and I don't need to add any to my plate.

Traffic asserted itself very quickly. When we stopped at a light a bunch of motorcycles would zoom in front of us and all around us filling in all the gaps. I guess motorcycle taxis are pretty popular here but they seem kind of sketchy for my tastes.

My first impression of Rwanda was how nice and clean and organized everything was. Especially compared with my pretty rough experiences in Senegal/Gambia this country was really a breath of fresh African air. There was barely a piece of trash to be seen. Come to think of it I think it might be cleaner here than in St. Louis. And with fewer beggars. Uh oh, uncomfortable realization time.

When what I would describe as "the most African song in the world" hit the radio I couldn't resist taking some traffic video.

I wanted to be inconspicuous and fit in with the locals so I drove across the country in a bright blue van with "airport" written on the door.

In the US stop signs are octagons but here they're.... hexagons?! Argh, much culture shock.

I took about a thousand pictures of people carrying things: babies, bananas, bags of potatoes, bright yellow plastic jerrycans full of water and some more exotic things: chairs, mattresses, and doors. I found it fascinating how much carrying heavy things along side of the highway seemed to be part of daily life. Babies were always on the back, but most else was on top of the head. I want to say that women often were the ones carrying things on their heads while the men were pushing heavier things like sacks of potatoes around on bicycles. Rwanda is known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, which turns out is a really bummer when you don't have a car.

People were constantly either walking in the street or wobbling into it on accident on account of the giant heavy things they were transporting. I'd say we nearly hit about 72 people today. Consider how you would feel if in the US you almost hit a person while driving on the highway. By the 50th you barely notice.

I'm traveling by myself so when I think "I have an idea, I'll drive across the entire country just to spend an hour in a border town in Uganda" there's no one here to check my madness. So drive we do.

As we drove I noticed that Kayitare was making various hand signals at cars we passed. Turns out they have a tiny sign language where drivers share information about police presence so they know if they can drive fast or not. They'd flick their headlights at each other, then a thumbs up meant all clear but a thumbs down meant police. And he said revving an imaginary motorcycle meant motorcycle police but that never came up. One time we were warned about police only to find them dealing with an upside down car on the side of the road. Maybe the police have a point about driving slower....

Crossing the border was pretty uneventful. Stand in a couple lines, get a couple stamps. Boom I was in Uganda. Driver man invited some random dude into the car who guided us through the 8 different police and bureaucratic offices we passed through during the day. I had quite a ragtag entourage growing.

Even more embarrassing than having this poor guy drive me across the country for essentially no reason is all of the red tape. He's had to go to multiple offices now to "import" his car. I suspect we will endure the same torture when we leave in an hour. 

Rwanda was first a German colony which was then lost to Belgium during World War I. Uganda was a British colony. Long story short we switched to the left side of the road.

Uganda was largely similar to Rwanda but I did notice a certain Lincoln Log Cabin style to some of their buildings. Kayitare was impressed enough that he was taking pictures. Maybe this wasn't a silly trip after all. One thing he pointed out was the way three or four people would be sharing a motorcycle and not wearing helmets. Such things apparently don't fly in Rwanda.

My cab friend then had a genius idea. We're close to the Democratic Republic of Congo too, why don't we just drive over there and check it out? Why not indeed sir! Now I've read that DR Congo is the rape capital of the world, and I don't really want to go into the county. Cab man says that it's not all bad but that officials are corrupt. If we did enter we would have to pay every police or army dude that we passed just for the privilege of being there. No thanks.

DR Congo earned itself two screamy faces on my handy map, so I had not planned on visiting beforehand.

The border was pretty rough. I had a few dirty little beggar children following me around which I haven't seen in Rwanda or Uganda. I walked up the the immigration office then turned back. It's kind of weak but I am going to count that box as checked. Hurray?

Man I must really have been a sight to see. I'd say 75% of the people I passed on the road were looking at me. Made it awkward to take pictures but I got over it.

We crossed back into Rwanda. Somehow we weaseled our way back across the border in half the time as many of the guards recognized us and just let us through without the paperwork and incessant stamping of things. I'm learning that borders are much more casual around these parts.

It was an epic day of driving, at nine or ten hours. I think we might have stopped once for a bathroom break but we didn't eat or drink anything other than bottled water. We're like travel camels.

After my border hopping I went to meet my friend Matt at a coffee shop. I know Matt from back in the teaching in Japan days. The funny part was I didn't even know he was going to be here when I booked the trip, and a mutual friend told me he was here working in the Peace Corps. I was half surprised to see him still in the country after a certain someone got kicked out of a certain country's Peace Corps when I tried to visit them. Anyway. We laughed about jokes in Japan from years ago that I barely remembered. He used to have an apartment with a nice view so we would go there to watch fireworks back in the day. 

I'm going to estimate our ages in these pictures at circa 13 years old.

Anyway so now I was really cooking with fire. I had someone to hang with who actually knew what the heck was going on around here. He did his local thing and picked us a cool dinner spot. We grabbed some groceries and then went back to the hotel. I passed out embarrassingly early as I'm now compounding multiple jet lags on top of each other. 

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