A Travellerspoint blog

January 2010

4 become 8

Hot springs, Dusty Roads, Good Friends, good times

sunny 33 °C

It was an exciting moment on the evening of our second day at Lake Bunyonyi when the others arrived. They looked slightly off colour as I had told them it would be a 10km downhill after their 9hr bus journey but it turned out to be a HUGE uphill. (who would have thought a lake would be uphill from the nearest town?!)

The guys (Ben, Ben, Ronel and Vicci) quickly got into the groove despite a few early mis-haps: 4 punctures and a side wall split in The Hud's 'racing tyres'. A high speed tumble by both Vicci and Proz and the inevitable cycle short tan line on everyone.

On our second day together the group split and Pol, Rob, Beth and Miriam took a detour to put Miriam on a bus back to Rwanda. Leaving the GPS with the others was a definite mistake though – and resulted in our easy 50km day changing into a rather more challenging 90km day as we headed South for quite a while before realising we should be going North!

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Us arriving at our destination... eventually!

We heard that the bus left from a specific point on the highstreet at 8am.... 3 ¾ hours later Miriam plus bike were packed onto her bus... we hope she did get to Rwanda... but if you are reading this Miri – send us a message! We miss you.

The 7 remaining cyclists reconvened at a slightly odd Hot Springs. We wish we had a photo of the 300 Naked African bodies sitting in the steaming puddle but the 600 African eyes watching us prevented us from taking a snapshot.

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The mzungus decided to have their wash in the river by the Campsite, much to the amusement of the local population who crowded onto the Bridge 15m away.

Despite the campsite manager's extreme kindness (Samson) we got little sleep overnight and moved on at first light.

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Samson and Ben P with fresh produce plucked for dinner.

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Over the next few days we covered many miles of hilly dirt track

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Passed Uganda's national bird, the crested crane, multiple times

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and sailed past acre upon acre of vibrant green tea plantations interspersed with incredible native forest bustling with exotic birds and monkeys.

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As we cruised down into the Savanna plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park the unforgiving sun beating on our backs reminded us that we had descended over 1000m during the past 3 days and were now approaching the equator. We pushed on to 'Fig Tree camp' motivated by thoughts of a cold beer and shower but on our arrival we found that 'Fig Tree camp' was in fact a park office. It did look out over the impressive chimp filled forests of Kyambura Gorge:

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There were no cold (or warm) beers and even after some pitiful pleading no chance that we could camp there. It was another 25km to the nearest accommodation. Dusk was rapidly approaching so it was a rather nervous dash we made across the Queen Elizabeth Park keeping a keen lookout for Elephants, Lion and Buffalo.

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To our relief we only saw the latter 2, at a distance, (but that shape in the grass could have been an impala!)

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Posted by robandpol 08:48 Archived in Uganda Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

On the road again!!!

Leaving Shyira

By the beginning of January the rainy season and therefore our time on Shyira hill was drawing to an end. It was sad to be saying goodbye to all the people who had been such an important part of our lives over the last few months but with all endings come new beginnings and we were excited by the prospect of what lay ahead for us.

Shyira Hill

Shyira Hill

As we bombed down Shyira hill to the valley below for the last time heading Northwards towards Uganda our team of two had doubled. One of our new recruits is Miriam, a friend from Shyira who, despite lacking a tent, sleeping bag, camping mat, oh, and also a bike, decided she would join us for a while. The second recruit is Pol's sister Beth. Beth's addition to the team has been long anticipated and we are so happy to have her with us. It was especially good to have a few days to show her around Shyira and take her on a few of our favourite bike rides there.

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The new recruits: Beth and Miri

The Virunga mountains, the six volcanoes which had formed the dramatic backdrop and the outer limits to our time in Shyira, at times proudly defined, at others invisible, obscured by a shroud of mist, now became the gateway to our journey North. The four of us pedalled forth trying, with relatively little success, to spare our tyres by dodging the chunks of lava embedded in the bumpy road.

After ginger chai (tea) and chunks of pineapple on the road north of Ruhengeri we pedalled on a little further before peeling off the tar eastwards. The gravel track traversed an empty market square and we took a footpath out the bottom corner which led us between maize plantations interspersed with banana palms and Rwandan homes. Bouncing and bumping down, a crowd of children grew around us. We were headed for the shore of Lake Bulera where we planned to pitch our camp. Waving, shouting, laughing and mocking the children came, our self-appointed guides. At one point a young boy helped me get back on track when I zoomed on down a hill missing an unexpected right angle turn. At the time I was not impressed to have my momentum stolen as he caught hold of the back of my bike and clung on with all his might digging his heels in the ground.

The path to Lake Bureya

The path to Lake Bureya

The lake is beautiful, shimmering in the afternoon sun. We sat by the shore watching a handful of local fishermen. The children stood expectantly, watching us intently. About a mile away an island rises out of the lake like the top of a mountain pushing out of the clouds. An idea forms. On such a small island there can't be very many children living. We set about making negotiations and before long we had 4 bikes and a surprising number of bags loaded onto one of the bigger boats we could find, helmed by a stern, incredibly strong old woman.

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We set off for the island at a good pace relieved by the boat's buoyancy even under the weight of the extra load. It was well built and very sturdy. We were also relieved to leave behind the many pairs of eyes which followed our boat all the way to the island in the distance.

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The island inhabitants were delighted to have us. They watched in awe as we unpacked our many bags and as we started to pitch our tents an old man exclaimed in kinyarwandan; “How!!! You are building a house!!”. Just as the tents were set up everyone ran away and the most fantastic storm arrived. We sheltered in the tents wondering if we would be blown off the island. The wind was so strong the sides of the tents were pushed down against us. After an hour the storm moved on as quickly as it had arrived and we were left in peace to cook our supper and enjoy the stunning views.

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The view from our camping spot on the island.

Boat on Lake Bureya

Boat on Lake Bureya

As we sat eating our food, elated by our incredible surroundings Miriam informed us she had never actually been camping before!!!!

The following morning we packed up promptly. Our old lady arrived in her boat and we left the island paradise behind.

Leaving the island paradise

Leaving the island paradise

The early start got us to the Rwanda – Uganda border at a good hour and we passed through without incident. The line of volcanoes marks the border and after a significant amount of climbing along an un-tarred road we set up camp at the foot of Sabinyo. 3,634 metres at it's ragged summit, Sabinyo marks the intersect of the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC (Congo).

View of volcanoes from the Ugandan side

View of volcanoes from the Ugandan side

“Beyond the horizon”; the volcanoes as seen from Uganda. These volcanoes are such a distinct landmark that they are known locally as “the compass”. The rainforest on their slopes is home to the mountain gorillas who hang out in the bamboo and lush vegetation.

Although still hilly, in southern Uganda the hills are a lot less tightly packed than in Rwanda. The country immediately seems wealthier with more substantial housing and the cows come in herds (with giant horns) as oppose to the individual cow owned by Rwandans.

Herd of Cows in Uganda with BIG horns

Herd of Cows in Uganda with BIG horns


From the volcanoes we skirted East to Lake Bunyonyi passing through some stunning primary rainforest. It was very similar to the rainforest in the national park in southern Rwanda and it was incredible to imagine how the land would have been throughout this area before it was optimised for cultivation.

Reaching the shores of the pristine Lake Bunyonyi was the first milestone after Rwanda since here we would again double in number when Ronel, Ben P, Vicci and Ben H joined us after their gruelling 9hr bus journey from Kampala, not to mention that incredible downhill from Kabale town to Lake Bunyonyi – that was in fact an Uphill!!

Kit Explosion on the shore of Lake Bunyonyi

Kit Explosion on the shore of Lake Bunyonyi

But they had not yet arrived and the four of us were content to watch the butterflies skit across the water, the otters bob idly and the kingfishers hover, poised for their assaults until they did.

Beth is with us!!!!

Beth is with us!!!!

Posted by robandpol 22:43 Comments (7)

Life on a hill far away

sunny 24 °C

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We hit Rwanda at the perfect time.
The rains are just starting when we arrived - so we can hide in our nice dry house, rather than in our leaky tent. Last night it rained so hard all night that I couldn't sleep, thinking that our house was going to slide down the hill. Then this morning the first patient I saw broke his arm as his house did fall down in the rain overnight!

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More importantly the country has just pulled itself out of one of the bloodiest civil wars in history and is making a huge effort to rebuild itself. There is such an incredible welcoming and positive vibe – even the genocidaires out and about working in padi fields and on building projects seem friendly! (genocidaires in pink, regular convicts in orange)
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In addition Rwanda is changing from being Francophone to Anglophone. The Country joined the English speaking East African Community recently and The Commonwealth last week. The government has made a decree that all educated people should learn English over the next 3yrs, so there is a huge need for English teachers and the students are incredibly enthusiastic and excited to be taught by someone who's mother tongue is English.

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Polly is a qualified 'English as a Foreign Language' teacher and has been loving teaching the teachers at the local 2ndry school, the hospital staff and some domestic staff. She is also home schooling the missionaries kids and trying to broaden the repertoire of the “English Choir” - which actually isn't very English and isn't very choir-like!!

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Rob has been working in the hospital. Which has been a very positive experience.

Rob: The first thing that hit me as I walked through the wards is that there are empty beds and very few patients with HIV and TB. The Hospital I worked at in South Africa served a population half the size of Shyira's yet was probably 4x as busy. In SA HIV, TB and drug Resistant TB are spiralling out of control. The HIV problem seems to have been tackled aggressively by the Government here and, unlike SA, no sex before marriage and monogamous relationships seem the norm rather than the exception, consequently the prevalence of HIV here is 15x less than SA. Despite having a far lower GDP Rwanda has a better selection of Antiretroviral Drugs and people are started on treatment far earlier than SA which is great at both prolonging life for the HIV patients and preventing transmission (once someone is on Antiretrovirals they are far less contagious).

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Of course another explanation of why Shyira is less busy is that it is perched upon a rather steep hill, there are no tarred roads for miles, no public transport to speak of and the ambulance service consists of a very bumpy, precarious ride in a wicker stretcher on the shoulders some of the local men up and down precipitous slopes, for a fee!

With the lack of HIV work here, the medicine has been rather more traditional 'Bush Dr' than it was in SA. With the patients presenting with surgical rather than medical problems. There are lots of conditions that are so easily preventable with better infrastucture and access to healthcare.

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What happens if you wait 2 months before going to the doctor with an infected finger..

Shyira also supports 11 heath centres, each of these have full time staff but also need regular visits from the doctor. My clinic is called Jomba – meaning mountain, and for good reason. The hike is uphill all the way and takes 1 ½ hours if you are fit (as all Rwandans are!). The path ascends 850 vertical meters! It is the highlight of my week. Every Friday, leaving the hospital in the early morning mist and then an hour later looking out over the blanket of cloud to the volcanoes in the distance (but still only half way to clinic!):

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Paediactrics is very different to what I am used to, HIV is vanishingly rare. Malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea are the common killers – subsistence lifestyle is tough even when you live somewhere as lush and fertile as Rwanda. I always used to think that a life with no cars, no bills to pay, and no tesco – where all you have to worry about is growing enough food for the family and a little for market would be great, but here I see it is not as stress free as I once thought.

Of course, working in a resource poor country, it is easy to find areas in which with a little training and a small amount of cash mortality can be decreased. Rob had wanted to identify one such area that he could work on during our 3 months. And he found it – improving children's care by starting up a paediatric 'Critical Care Area'. This area would house seriously ill children and ensure the basics were done well and that oxygen could be administered – currently Shyira cannot supply oxygen to critically ill patients even though it owns 3 functional oxygen concentrators! The problem is that the solar electricity is only available in theatre (O.R.) and the admin block. This is now being routed down to a bay in the paeds ward which will allow this live saving gas to save lives – the little bay will be repainted, supplied with some basic equipment and called 'Paed Critical Care'!

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As we are now stationary for a few months it gives a chance for visitors. Our first visitors arrived less than 24hrs after us. Chris and Jigs, great friends from SA, who have been travelling on a dirt bike and making small promo films for charities that need publicity – check out www.africauncut.co.za.

It was so fun to catch up and compare notes and get tips for our northward route especially as next week we will be back on the road and heading towards Uganda with our new friend Miriam and Pol's sister Beth!

Posted by robandpol 01:37 Archived in Rwanda Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

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