In October 2018, Bruce cycled across Rwanda with a group of fellow Slow Cyclists. Travelling from Kigali to the shores Lake Kivu, he climbed some of the countries famous hills, sampled ugwagwa – banana wine – and was a particular hit with the scores of school children who ran to greet us as he practised his new favourite word umunyorogoto…
Rwanda…The Land of a Thousand Hills. This is not a misnomer. This is why we came on a cycling holiday here! It could be tiring, there were thrills and spills (I was the main perpetrator), but the sense of satisfaction at making one’s own way and under one’s own steam through this Garden of Eden was entrancing.
A toast to ‘Imana’ – the Creator in the Banyarwanda tradition – was given on our first night after dinner. George, half Rwandan and half Belgian, was hosting us in his stylish house overlooking the twinkling Gitarama night lights. His proposition is that the idea of one God came from Rwanda and then spread up the Nile to the “known world”.
Our entire trip was on similar lines: we kind of knew the outlines of the past, but to be there and perceive with our own eyes and ears was mind blowing.
The genocide. We vaguely knew the facts, but it was sobering to visit the Genocide Memorial Museum, to see mounds of mass graves in every village we passed through, and to see only very few older people, often bearing the dramatic scars of healed gashes.
We knew it is called the ‘Garden of Africa’ though the sheer variety of plants trees and flowers was staggering. Each hill farmed up to the summit, with neat furrows of dark, volcanic earth. Towering sacks of carrots, potatoes, cabbages and cauliflowers awaiting collection by hardy cycle taxis, mammoth stalks of bananas and green plantain and sticks of sugar cane in every village.
And, of course, the people. They had an extraordinary ability to appear in the most remote locations. Full of smiles and softly called greetings of ‘maramutze’ and ‘amakuru’. Beautiful, smiling children in abundance; all wearing crisp and clean school uniforms, and every one determined to race the cyclists, mostly in bare feet. And the singing: wonderfully resonant voices ululating in rhythm on the first Sunday in an Evangelical Church with a choir of over 2,000! As we cycled along the red earth paths, a mesmeric and compelling sound rose from each of the small churches we passed.
The effort of learning a few words in Kinyarwandan was well received and some will remain with me forever: ‘umunyorogoto’ (earthworm) – has there ever been a more onomatopoeic word?! – and the Swahili for a cat, ‘epussy’ of course.
Trekking up to 10,0000 ft in the Volcanoes National Park to see the Mountain Gorillas was spectacular. One of our group said it was the best day of her life (but at her husband’s prompting she agreed it was second only to her wedding day).
This was a tonic for our bodies and souls. No telly, no internet, no newspapers, but raw untrammelled creation. The team that looked after us understood this was why we had come to cycle in Rwanda and were wonderful, friendly and knowledgeable in equal measure.
A toast to you for everything, and a thousand, million thanks from us all.