In September 2016, lawyer David Jones joined ten other Hope & Homes for Children supporters to take part in Ride Rwanda, a journey from the country’s capital, Kigali, to its north-western border with the Demoratic Republic of Congo. In doing so he helped the charity raise more than £36,000. Here he tells us what he thought of a country he’s long wanted to visit and explains why he’s desperate to return.
What made you sign up to join this adventure in the first place?
I did a politics degree in the 1990s when the genocide was taking place, and ever since I’ve taken an interest in Rwanda. Hope & Homes for Children are a charity that are based close to where I live so I’ve known about their work for a while. I’ve travelled a fair bit but never to Africa and I have been waiting for the opportunity to do something a bit different, away from the usual tourist hot-spots. When I heard about the ride, the idea of combining cycling and Rwanda seemed like a perfect fit.
How would you describe Rwanda to someone who has never been?
Hilly, absolutely beautiful and home to some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. It was like an African version of the Lake District, without the tourists. Lakes, rivers, mountains, volcanoes. If I had the money I’d go back tomorrow. The riding was just amazing.
Was the adventure what you expected?
I expected it to be good but all the extras were brilliant. On one of the days everyone else went into the jungle to track gorillas but I stayed behind and got the chance to cycle with members of Team Rwanda, the national cycling team, on the Olympic mountain bike qualifying trail. It wasn’t commercial like it would have been in England, it was just an amazing trail through villages, jungle. I couldn’t have asked for more and it was surprises like this that made the trip for me.
Did you feel safe?
When I started telling people I was going cycling in Rwanda, I got all the usual ignorant comments like “why do you want to go there, aren’t you just going to get attacked.” But yes, I felt safe.
One of The Slow Cyclist’s core principles is to help our guests get under the skin of the places we travel through. Do you feel like we achieved that?
The first thing to say is that the only tourists we saw were gorilla trekkers. When we were riding, for 5 days we didn’t see another foreigner. That was pretty special. Lots of things you provided and arranged, from the reading list we were sent us in advance, to the chance to ride with members of Team Rwanda, helped me understand the place. I read Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands With The Devil and Land of Second Chances, about the Rwandan cycling team, before I arrived. Six months later I’m still reading about Rwanda, currently the very moving We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.
What would you say to someone thinking of cycling in Rwanda in 2017?
Don’t think about it. Definitely go!