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Travels & Trips

Up and down Lake Kivu

This month I’m working from my friend’s house at Lake Kivu. Over the weekends, we wish to explore the beauty of Western Rwanda together on two wheels!

Havana and I rode to Kibuye, Karongi district from Nairobi. You can read all about the 1373km trip through Uganda, incl. our preparations check-list on this earlier post.

Kibuye/Karongi town itself is rather quiet, and has a rural feeling to it. The main feature is the lake. It’s just sooo beautiful 😍

Some impressions of town:

The lake so awesome! One night we go for a sunset photo shoot.

And before long – Weekend 1 is here!

We plan to ride South to the famous Nyungwe Forest on Saturday morning, and ride through Butare back to Karongi. The return route will include an 80km off-road stretch. We decide to split it into two days and find a nice place to stay in Nyungwe Forest and make an advance booking.

The plan:

(Spoiler: It never happened like this…)

Two long days in the saddle again? We’re still suffering from the 3 long days on our bikes on the way here! We’ve been sleeping early to combat fatigue and be effective at work. One evening I decide to scavenge facebook for a massage place. We succeed and book two deep tissue massage therapy sessions for Saturday morning. They are back to back because there’s only one therapist, but by 11:30 we plan to be on the road!

Lovely place. Friendly team!

While Havana is having her treat(ment), I head out fuel the bike and then tighten the chain. It just takes 3 minutes and I was honestly too lazy during the week.

The chain situation

I pull out my spanners. I quickly realize that the chain cannot be adjusted further with typical means. The back axle is at its furthest point out. 😲 Kids assemble and watch me curiously while I think.

Havana shows up from her massage incredibly relaxed while I’m getting some advice from my friend in Nairobi about the chain issue. Can I find a fundi to remove a few links? Will it be tight on the back sprocket or is it just too worn out?

We agree that it’s not worth risking to head out like that and call our trusted local boda to point us to the right fundi.

He’s somewhere near the main bus park. Yes, that’s the main bus park of Karongi town. See your life!

Havana makes new friends while the fundi gets to work

We’re welcomed and the chain is out in 5 seconds

Fundi turns into dentist and knocks out two chain links

The old chain is stretched too much. It’s not sitting neatly on the sprockets whatsoever. This is not great!

There’s something I haven’t yet mentioned about Rwanda. The language is Kinyarwanda, which I don’t speak or understand. If you interact with the common man you gotta figure out how to communicate – remember that you’re the guest here! Some people speak some Swahili, others speak some English, and there’s also a bit of French (but my French is just too rusty).

Around my bike we have our trusted swahili speaking boda who doesn’t speak english, the fundi who speaks a little english but no swahili and around ten bystanders who speak in hushed Kinyarwanda to each other. We make the triangle communication work somehow and add in just enough pointing and sign language to cook up a plan.

There’s a new Chinese-made chain with the right specs (as per the manual!) available. It’s 10,000 RWF, approx 1150 bob. Our friend in Kigali calls his fundi but we can’t seem to find a Honda chain and sprockets in Kigali fast enough, so we go with this one. It fits like a glove!

Kinyarwahilinglish is a perfectly functioning language!

As I pay, the fundi tells me he is still new and has a lot to learn. I found his chain work sensible and encourage him to check out youtube videos but he lacks a smart phone.

We take selfies and bounce!

The Plan, version 2

It’s nearly 1pm, so we can’t do the original plan anymore. We agree to do a quick dash up the border town Gisenyi, close to Goma. It looks like an epic route with a million twisties!

We head out from the fundi and ride up the hill leaving town. In the first corner I realize that my back braking power is zero. At least I know what’s going on. My DIY mentor would be so proud of me. I stop to adjust the drum brake’s cable that is now totally loose given the back axle was moved all the way front.

Now we should be set! Let’s head out!

A final glance at the incredible view across Lake Kivu! Soon, the road moves away from the Lake and we ride through a mountain range. It’s just corner after corner for an hour. We get ino a good riding rhythm with some photo stops, happy smiles as we both bob our heads to our playlists.

There are deep trenches along the roadside. An amazing rain water management system along the slopes. Some good thinking was put into constructing these roads!! We get the purpose but it doesn’t make it less scary in corners…

Roads are fairly deserted but one thing that stands out are the well behaved mini buses ferrying people and goods from town to town. We also meet small children chilling out in the trenches and watching us curiously. Some jump on the road in excitement and wave. The speed limit makes sense after all!

The views!

It looks like it might rain. We’re trying to make mile but it’s also really cold suddenly, so I stop to put on my windproof rain jacket over my mesh jacket.

And then:

Are we in Karirana!? Wow! The last thing I expected were tea plantations. I start wondering what came first: the cold or the tea!

We should be close to Gisenyi now, and soon descent back down to the Lake!

Can you spot the Lake in the distance? We haven’t seen a lot of people on this afternoon’s route, but now the road is getting busier. Lots of people are walking. Many bicycles ferrying cargo and very few bodas.

We enter Gisenyi and cruise along the lake shore

Passing by a brewery!

We are at a few hundred metres away from Goma, Eastern DRC! How epic is this!? We HAVE to take a selfie at the border! I put the border post on my Google Maps and bluetooth guides us down a road until we reached a well-armed and closed barrier.

We are a bit puzzled. Are we even allowed to take photos here?

We watch some local women shout and scream at the unmoved soldier manning the barrier. The whole situation is not very inviting. A screenshot might need to do!

YESSS!

It’s 2 hours to darkness and we’re a thousand twists from home. But first things first: Lunch!

What an inviting sign post! We pull over and find a beautiful garden restaurant.

We’re served with the most yummy marinated grilled fish. By now Havana and I can read each other’s minds. Kwani, what’s the rush! Let’s sleep here and explore the town a little!

We get through a few local beers and a friend who happens to be in town joins us. I learn that Gisenyi is a party town and attracts weekend guests even all the way from Kigali!

Some people may or may not have gone to sleep while others may or may not have gone out to experience post-covid nightlife!

Sunday I wake up with renewed ambition to get a good border picture!

After breakfast we pack up and explore town a bit

Near La Corniche

We pass by the Rwandan side’s airstrip, which is literally across the border fence from the Goma airport. Just a reminder how weird this border business is!

We reach the border area and are a bit more courageous today. We ask the soldiers if we can enter and take photos. While one answers yes, the other answers no. “Don’t take photos of offices” is the conclusion. πŸ‘ We park the bikes and take a stroll down past body scanners towards DRC.

We see cargo (diapers!) but not sure if it’s flowing east or westwards. One final conversation and we get permission for selfies at the final barrier!

Of course we get permision – because we’re glowing, happy, harmless tourists!

We’re excited! Why didn’t we carry our passports? We’d have hopped into Goma for lunch!

Next stop: The beach! We find a Serena hotel on Maps and decide to go for juice and to chill a bit more before riding back home.

It’s other-worldly. We are standing at a 5-star hotel’s beach in Western Rwanda staring at the water towards DRC. The news of the recent refugee crisis and the R23 rebel group’s strikes? We know of it. We can’t see it.

Expats are playing with their kids in the pool.

People are swimming, watching us curiously with heavy boots on their beach. Biker manenos 🏍️ 🀣

We chat over some fresh extra tasty juice and gear up to start our return journey.

I pretend to take photos of Havana but really: I’m just here for the colourful Kitenge clothes!

We’re going to be riding back the same route we came yesterday

Today we are more relaxed and well fed. The new chain is working and we know what to expect on the road: Corners, hill climbs, hairpin turns, long descents and views! 🐍🐍🐍

Exactly!

On one of those looooong winding roads I follow a bicycle loaded with gunias of produce. These people are fit!! They just push the bike plus load uphill. You won’t see many motorcycles as in Kenya or Uganda.

He’s doing a clean 50 downhill! Leaning into the corners with his heavy luggage on tiny bicycle tires. That’s real skill!! I’m very impressed and overtake him to stop and take his photo but as he shoots by me he’s too fast and I miss him 🀣🀣

Sometimes you see the road you passed a minute ago juuuuust across a valley

The road turns left, but you can see it re-appear on your far right

By the time we get back to Karongi we have graduated with a Masters degree in Lean Angle Management!

The Lake welcomes us home

We chill for the rest of our Sunday, intoxicated by our dopamines and endorphins!

Maybe next weekend we’ll make it to the famous Nyungwe Forest?

Update: yes, we made it. Get the story here!

And the return ride to Nairobi was also mesmerising, via Fort Portal and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Western Uganda. Link here

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Travels & Trips World topics

Stockholm

In July I attended the wedding of my friends near Stockholm and took the opportunity to see the city and meet old friends. Here are the pictures of my trip through the city and its surroundings.

My first impression was that there’s a lot of water. The city itself is built across a dozen islands, which gives it a unique flair. An island for museums, one for swimming, one for the old town, one with a natural park, you name it. Approaching the airport, you fly across the archipelago with thousands of them! Very beautiful πŸ˜€

I heard a lot about high equality between women and men in Scandinavia, but seeings the uncomplicated way of dealing with femininity with my own eyes was just liberating: Women are cycling with flying mini skirts and no one gives a second look. Male toilets with nappy changing unit. Ladies toilets have simple plastic bags as bins and not those “automatically disinfecting, push the pedal, then put your pad on the flap bins” you see else often. Adults simply change into swim gear on the cities beaches and again: no stares.

The most remarkable thing about Stockholm to me was that they have instituted a sort-of human right of access to a bicycle. You simply pay 32 Euros and you get access to rental bikes for 6 months! And not those annoying 30-minute slots common across the big cities in the West – no, you get the bike for 3 hours straight!

What do do in Stockholm?

Visit the parliament for a free tour in English! Very recommended for its beautiful view from the 6th floor and the architecture. It was also very interesting to hear a few facts about democracy. For example only in Sweden and Norway the parliamentarians are sitting organized by region not by party! There’s a ladies room in the parliament showing pictures of famous “first women” in Swedish politics. The room also features a mirror, where female visitors can see the reflection of the potential future prime minister of the country. A fantastic conversation to have with school classes and other groups of visitors!

Don’t miss out on a drink on a boat bar near the old town, watching the sun set slowly between 9pm and midnight. You’ll walk home in the twilight, it just doesn’t get dark in summer in Sweden!

I also did the early morning boat tour, getting a nearly undisturbed insight into smaller islands. Below are some pictures of the defense equipment still installed on the island to protect Stockholm city (but unused).

Another highlight for me was the museum of photography with a great video installation about Chinese migratory workers.

On the day of the world cup final we were lazying around with the German friends and family of the couple. We ended up playing football. As i was in a dress and flip flops, I started carefully at first to test the shoes. Later I even scored with the left foot. We had a couple of trees on the pitch, which made it even more exciting and surreal.
Another exciting physical challenge came in form of “a slackline”. We tried to walk across a rope spread between two trees.
This weekend I really found new joy about physical mastery which I hope to continue in London πŸ™‚

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