By The Left - Quickly Into Tanzania
Yes, we're back on the right side of the road again. That is, the left-hand side, where traffic should be, after the fastest border crossing so far.
Less than an hour I think, and it would have been even quicker had the way not been blocked by masses of articulated petrol tankers stationary on the Rwandan side. I had to park by the entrance gate and walk to immigration and customs, noting a way for my bike through the melee at the same time. The tankers were squeezed so closely together that there was no room between them. But I found a route through the inspection shed that got me to the actual border (a bridge over a surging river) after I had done the paperwork and walked back to the bike.
There was plenty of joviality from the English-speaking officials, in the form of, "Do you like football?"
I thought I'd brazen it out and get in first with, "Yes - England one, Germany four!"
That seemed to go down well.
On the Tanzanian side it was the same. In the police office the inspector peered at my passport and exclaimed, "Let's see, you're German, right?"
"No, we scored one goal."
"Or two if you have eyes!" responded the policeman.
And then I was in Tanzania.
In all that time the trucks hardly moved. Anyone trying to cross in a car (I think there were two or three) remained blocked.
It wasn't free this time, $50 for the visa, but no fuel charge or temporary import fee which had been mentioned in various guides.
The way from Kigali to the border was quite pleasant, very hilly and scenic and the road full of people.
Hillsides on the meandering road from Kigali.
There's a lot of pressure on the land in Rwanda because of the density of the population. All land is either cultivated or built on, and all terraced.
There was no sign of the sugar cane harvests in Rwanda or western Uganda that I'd been told about, I think that must all be further north. Since Mbarara the major crop by far has been bananas.
And they're not carried on trucks with huge tyres damaging the roads. The sole means of transporting the crop, as far as I could see, was bicycle.
Hundreds of them.
Each bicycle carried three complete branches. A pair hanging down either side of the rear wheel, and one sitting crosswise on top.
The two hanging either side of the wheel double up as side stands. They hang about two inches from the ground so when it's time for a rest on an uphill stretch, the rider just leans the bike over a little and the branch of bananas holds it all in place.
From Kigali to the border, as in Ethiopia, about half the road space was taken up by pedestrians, most of them children. Between them weaved the banana bicycles, leaving just enough room for me.
In the whole journey there were maybe three or four cars and just a few more mini-buses.
The water infrastructure here is certainly less developed than in other East African countries. Even before leaving Kigali I passed a small brick-built compound beside the main road with a single hand-operated water pump inside and a dozen people waiting to fill scores of yellow plastic cans.
Thus about half of all adults walking along the roads, and maybe a fifth of the children, are carrying water.
But from about the halfway point almost right up to the border, and right through all the villages on the way, a continuous trench was being dug by hundreds of workers. I'd read in a newspaper that a lot of these workers are prisoners but I didn't see any of the coloured uniforms they're supposed to wear. But I did see miles of coloured plasic water pipe, in coils dumped by the roadside, ready to be laid in the trench.
So water is on its way.
The sight of all the banana bicycles - there must have been hundreds of them - was actually quite good to see in comparison to the situation in another banana-producing country.
In Guatemala a few years ago I spent a couple of days in a seaside resort on the Gulf of Mexico. We sat in the evenings on the terrace of a bar on the edge of town around which weaved the road to the adjacent sea port. One side of this road was completely filled with a continuous queue of container trucks, moving at about half walking pace, making its way to the port. There, it was just possible to see a massive crane affair winching the container off of each lorry and straight onto a much more massive ocean-going cargo ship.
Each container had the word 'Dole' in huge lettering along its side and was stuffed full of bananas. This queue was still there the next morning and all through the day. But local Guatemalan people were hardly to be seen anywhere.
At least in Rwanda it looked like the local Rwandan people were earning a living from their country's own produce.
Departing the border into Tanzania the change was stark and immediate. It's a big country, with much less pressure on space. So although the terrain is the same; hilly and green, it's all wild and untouched. A bit lonely at first, the sudden transition from a road full of people, and lots of waving, to a road full of no one. Just me.
And maybe ten people and no other vehicles in the fifteen miles to the first village and an overnight stop.
That was in the little village of Ngara, ready for the next day's exploration into the unknown.
Lastly, on my last day in Kigali I acquired a street map. Here it is, the tangle of fishing lines. The rivers and lakes are pretty empty now. No doubt full during the rainy season.
Posted by Ken Thomas at July 01, 2010 10:51 AM GMT