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.
(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!
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!
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.
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!
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. 👍 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! 🐍🐍🐍
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