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Rwanda – Tanzania

August 18th, 2010

On arrival in Kigali, we took stock of our surroundings and reached for the guide books, to plan our sightseeing.

Unlike any other country, we had long known that the main site to visit in Rwanda was a memorial. As we are sure most readers will know, the memorial in question commemorates the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

For those who are not aware, the Rwandan genocide in 1994 resulted in the deaths of over 1,000,000 people, all carried out in just over 100 days. It was the result of a well planned and brutally executed plan by the dominant Hutu population to entirely exterminate the numerically lesser Tutsi peoples. Following years of persecution by Hutu’s, the Tutsi’s and anyone associating with them were rounded up and hunted down but groups of soldiers and specifically created death squads.

Thus it was with some trepidation that we drove over to the memorial; a clean, very modern, installation set atop one of Kigali’s encircling hills, with views over the city.

The museum provides personal earphone audio tours, which allow each person to walk around at their own speed, whilst also helping to maintain a respectful peace within the memorial. The audio tours also assist in isolating each person with their own thoughts, allowing you to fully contemplate and consider the wealth of information on offer.

The memorial is set within tranquil grounds, arranged in such a way as to guide you through several  symbolic gardens until you reach the mass graves, situated at the bottom of the gardens. At present, over 250,000 people are buried in three long rows, stepped down the slope of the hill, looking out onto the city where they were killed.

More and more people are buried here every year, as more human remains are recovered or discovered. Even more shockingly, the wall of names which line the mass graves carry only a few hundred titles. The devastating truth is that, since entire families were wiped out, no one is left to name the victims.

Of all the exhibits within the memorial itself, the most hard hitting was the last; the childrens room, dedicated to those who died in the genocide at such a young age. Here, several children’s profiles are displayed, along with heart-renderingly poignant personal information about their all too short lives.

In all, we spent over 4 hours at the memorial, as we took time to take it all in. We both agreed afterwards, this was the most horrifically moving and hard hitting remembrances we had seen. Little did we know, more was to come in Rwanda.

After spending the day at the memorial, we headed back to our expensive campsite( the ‘One Love’ campsite, the only campsite in town) and had few beers with four friendly English backpackers (Roger that Goose!) who were also camping, as well as some Dutch (again!) overlanders in the hotel bar.

We were also joined by a pair of northern chaps (from ‘Manchester’, wherever that is), namely Dom Goggins and Chris Jackson, who are running a marathon in Congo, to raise money for a Congolese charity. (Take a butchers at the accurately named ).

Unfortunately, someone had brought a pair of dice and a pack of cards along to the bar, so we all ended up getting into bed around 5 am, with sore heads and empty wallets after some ridiculous drinking games.


Eventually, made it up out of bed, headed into town and had a long internet session. Realising that we weren’t going  to make it to Lake Kivu that day, we got some food and had an early night after cleaning a few bits in the car which were filthy.


After looking at how much we had spent so far in Rwanda (it is very expensive here!), we decided to skip Lake Kivu and the south-western genocide memorial, deciding instead to visit two more local memorials en route to the Tanzanian border.

First memorial was one we instantly recognised from the Long Way Down series. It was once a Catholic church, where local Tutsi people had congregated as the genocide swept Rwanda, hoping for salvation and protection from the death squads.

Sadly, this only made the killers tasks easier, as they locked the doors and threw grnades through the windows, before entering the church to finish the killing by hand.  Another building in the same church compound had been set alight with people crammed full, burning and suffocating all inside. In this compound alone an estimated 10,000 people were murdered.

In the church itself, row upon row of bones and skulls were arranged on racks. Most of the skulls were cracked or smashed, or still bore the deep scars from the killers machetes.

There were maybe 200 skulls in front of us, one of which still has a spearhead sticking through it. Either side, the pews were draped the victims clothes, still ripped and bloodstained as they were on the day they were killed.

Coupled with the dark black blood stains on the walls and ceilings, as well as the horrendous stories of women and children being routinely tortured, raped, humiliated and killed, we left slightly dazed and extremely moved.

Some stories were worse than we imagined possible. Overall, what struck us most about the genocide was the amount of apparently pleasure the killers took in the violence; at times the stories were beyond belief and we struggled to take in quite what could fuel such hatred for people to do these things, not only to complete strangers but also to friends, neighbours and family members, all  due to their ethnicity.

We moved on to another church further down the road, which had also been preserved as a genocide memorial site and let as it was 16 years ago. In a church barely bigger than many found in an average English village, over 45,000 people were though to have been killed here.

Again, the pews were draped with the clothes of the dead. At each site, guides offer to walk round with visitors, explaining in detail happened. As we walked, we were shown the holes peppering the roof and dark spots on the ceiling, the result of grenade shrapnel and blood respectively.

We toured the underground mass graves outside the church, struggling to take in the scale of the killing with coffins all around us, stacked at least 4 high. Each coffin contained anything up to 10 people. The graves also contained, even higher racks of skulls and bones, the chilling hollow stare of thousands upon thousands skulls becoming too much to view.

This was killing on an epic scale; approximately 1 million Tutsis were killed in 100 days across the country with bones still routinely found in fields and buildings across the country. Once the killing stopped (when the mainly Tutsi RDF army took control of the country) the streets were so full of corpses that cars couldn’t get through.  Dogs also had to shot en-masse as they had developed a taste for human flesh.

Neighbours had turned on neighbours and families on each other. We met people who had lost friends or parents. One of the most frustrating things for us was that many of those who killed are still walking free today, such was the scale of the bloodletting and the overwhelming numbers of people involved.

There were so many aspects of this event that left unanswered questions and warrant further investigation and justice. In the end, we got on the road again much quieter and a little unsure about how to take in the huge amount we had seen and heard in the last few days in Rwanda.

It had been a strange experience spending a couple of days visiting the killing sites of hundreds of thousands of people. We often struggled to appreciate the scale of the violence and killing; to try to imagine it, we couldn’t help but think back to the very gruesome Hotel Rwanda film as it seemed to accurately catch many of the aspects of the genocide.

Whilst in Kigali we took time to visit the Hotel Des Milles Collins, the very hotel featured in Hotel Rwanda. The hotel manager hid 1000 fleeing Tutsis at the height of the killing whilst simultaneously befriending, cajoling and fooling the killers into looking elsewhere. The hotel still operates, is very clean and luxurious, but interestingly we noticed nothing which reflected it’s past; maybe we didn’t see it but a small plaque might have been appropriate.

Outside the second church there had been a memorial dedicated to an Italian nun, who was killed by the Interahamwe after repeatedly feeding and watering the thousands taking refuge in the church and appealing to the International community via telephone and radio.

Throughout the memorials we visited the failure of the UN to act was regularly highlighted. Whilst the West may well have ignored Rwanda during it’s time of need, they’ve certainly helped since with a lot of aid (as we understand it) and now it stands as a very clean and well organised country – in stark contrast to many of the countries we have travelled through thus far.

Whilst we have tried to give an insight into what we saw in Rwanda, we cannot even come close to fully portraying the violence, brutality, barbarism or sheer butchery that was exacted here only 16 years ago. For more information, seek out any of the many books on the subject. If you are ever in or near Rwanda, we urge you to visit the sites, harrowing as they may be, to learn about this atrocity which brutalised and broke this country in two.

We left the churches behind and pressed on through the seemingly endless rolling hills, climbing and descending through evergreen valleys and crossing rice-paddy strewn valley floors. As with Uganda, this is a beautiful country, full or glorious sights.

Dare we say it, but the infrastructure in this country is a complete contrast to other African countries, judging by our experiences thus far. The roads are perfect, there are lots of traffic police checking paperwork and road-worthiness of vehicles. Drivers were all reasonably safe and motorbike taxis were only allowed to carry one passenger (both of whom must wear a helmet at all times!).

We made it to the picturesque border crossing with Tanzania by 6 pm and managed to get a few sly video clips (a big no-no at borders) as the car rolled across the bridge, over the Rusumo waterfall below.

Unfortunately by the time we had got through the Rwandan side it was 6.30 pm and all the Tanzanian customs chaps had gone home! So we watched a film on the laptop as we set up camp by the Customs house, cooked some pasta with our newly acquired pesto , planning to have an early night and hit the road first thing tomorrow.


Managed to get paperwork sorted, scoff some breakfast and be on the road by 9 am, which was pretty good going. The next place we wanted to stay in was Arusha, right up in the North East of the country, at the foot of Kilamanjaro, which was 600 miles away on a combination of good tarmac, potholed tarmac and dirt roads. Considering the highest mileage we have every managed in a day in the car is around 450 miles on perfect roads in Eygpt, we knew this was at least a two day drive and meant some camping in the bush.

By 11 am we had covered 100 miles, having saved some fuel by slipstreaming a completely crazy articulated lorry driver who would happily go completely offroad at 40 mph to avoid potholes and bomb along at 60 mph on the thin road, whilst of course not forgetting the standard overtaking on blind bends/hill crests.

During a diesel stop in a small village Carl went on the hunt for some food which we could quickly grab and eat in the car. After dealing with no less than 6 different people in one cafe, he was eventually ushered out being told that there was a great place 100m down the road. Turned out this ‘lovely food’ was actually ‘lovely phone’, as it was a mobile phone shop! Confusion overcome (and almost 20 minutes) later he arrived in a small restaurant and explained that he just wanted some bread or sambosas (samosa). Minutes later he was handed two black bags which turned out to contain rice and a bag full of piping hot fish stew – take away food in the equivalent of a tescos carrier bag! Presentation aside, it was a cracking meal and one we’ve sought out again since in other towns.

It was a long day on reasonable tarmac roads in a desolate landscape, reminding us of our time in Libya when we had to drive all day to get through the country ASAP due to the expense. We ate local food at lunch and by the evening were looking for somewhere to bush camp.

We found a fairly secluded spot, but unfortunately we were spotted by a local chap. Generally it is advisable not to have anyone see where you are camping, as this only invited unwanted visitors and hassle. As it was late, we decided to befriend him and explain that we wanted to sleep here and asked permission to stay. He said yes amid lots of handshaking and sign language.

After having dinner we managed to find the BBC World Service on the world receiver radio Carl’s uncle had given us (thanks Tom K!) and found out some of the football scores from the opening day of the Premiership – what odds would you have got on Blackpool to win 4-0 like that?!


We awoke early to find that our alarm clock had clearly malfunctioned, as instead of a pleasant ‘beep beep beep’ it issued cries of , ”Hello my friend, my friend, my friend! Good morning!”.

A quick glance at the watch showed it to be 6.30 am. Sleepy eyed Carl stuck his head out of the tent window to ascertain where this new alarm clock seemed to be chiming from, only to be met by the smiling visage of the chap from the night before,  once again proclaiming that we were his friends and not one bit aware that he might be disturbing us at 6.30 am.

After some painfully translated small-talk, man then asked if we could give him a present…for example some trousers! Amazingly we managed to smile it off and get him to leave us alone.

We hit the road to Arusha after a local breakfast, where the language barrier resulted in us being given chipati alongside a meat soup consisting of goat stomach, intestines and lung. Filling, but most definitely not that tasty and very, very chewy.

Unfortunately, 30 minutes down the road the tarmac stopped, leaving us on a dusty, bumpy, dusty, corrugated, dusty, bumpy and dusty road that lasted for the next 5hours or so. Did we mention it was dusty and bumpy?

We eventually pulled up for lunch spitting out dust with our ears ringing from the constant deafening noise of the morning’s drive. In all that time, we had only managed 100 miles, the same distance which had taken us 2 hours the day before!

Cutting our losses, as dusk descended, we found a village showing the Arsenal vs. Liverpool game, before heading out into the countryside to bush camp. After a session of blowing the dust off of everything, we eventually found something clean to cook with and eat off of.


Thankful that we would soon be back on tarmac, we pressed onto Arusha and arrived early in the afternoon, but not before stopping to get some photos in the frankly ridiculous dust. Thus, we arrived here, at the Masai Camp in Arusha.

Whilst our primary intention for reaching here was to climb Kilimanjaro, we have had to accept bitter defeat on this key part of our trip. Having shopped around, we are not only faced with $800 each for the hike up the hill, but also a weeks works of garage fees for the car, as well as losing a weeks progress south.

After our holdup in Nairobi, as well as running over budget with diesel and running costs, we sat down and went through our options. We have always maintained that this trip was only possible on a very tight budget and, whilst we can sanction the occasional extravagance, we were left with a choice: either we could stick to our original plan and attempt to summit Kili, and thus leaving insufficient monies to complete the West Coast or we could bit the bullet and accept that we would have to put this particular challenge on hold for a few years.

So, it boiled down to either not climbing Kili or not driving up the West coast. A tough choice, but a simple decision in the end; we drove here and we’ll be damned if we aren’t going to drive back home. Sorry Kili, you’ll have to wait.

Bitterly disappointed, we decided to have a day of fixing mechanical and electrical issues, then continue the drive east to Dar Es Salam and Zanzibar; we haven’t seen the sea since Cairo, so its time to hit the beach and drive the Defender over some sand castles!

We’ve had a lot to write about in this blog, so hopefully this doesn’t put anyone off reading the whole thing, but hopefully we’ve gotten across what we felt needed to be said.

Meantime, we’ve also featured in the Bucks Free Press, as they continue to cover the trip. For those of you who missed the article, it is available (along with all our LRM articles to date) for your viewing pleasure on our Media Page, over, on the right hand side, under ‘Media’.

As a trial run this week we’re also going to try and add some vague captions to the photos below, here goes:

  1. Friendly Tanzanian locals.
  2. The wall of names at the Kigali genocide memorial
  3. The mass graves at Kigali genocide memorial – 250,000 people are buried in four of these rectangular concrete graves.
  4. Church site 1,5,000 people were killed here. Damage is from grenades and gunfire.
  5. Church site 1,5,000 people were killed here. Damage is from grenades and gunfire.
  6. Church site 1,5,000 people were killed here. Damage is from grenades and gunfire.
  7. Fish stew time!
  8. Real African road with bright red soil.
  9. Carl drops the tyre pressures to try to keep our bodies in one peice on the rough road.
  10. Loaded – we ‘changer-money’ at the Tanzanian border.
  11. – End. The dust road!
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