Remarkable Rwanda Part 3 - Domiciles, Lakes And Ellen The Generous

Posted in Travel / The Honey Badger Diaries

Remarkable Rwanda Part 3 -  Domiciles, Lakes And Ellen The Generous

The rotund architect rubbed his puffy hand around in circles on his bloated face and through his mousey, sparse hair, pondering his shoes through bloodshot eyes while negatively shaking his head in frustration. Butch stood with his arms folded, feet akimbo and sighed. No one met my eyes. They both sighed repeatedly. Things weren’t going according to plan. The men said the budget was too small, our dreams too big, and my ideas impractical. “Over ambitious”, they mouthed. I woke up feeling anxious.

My dreams were suffused with building a home last night. We met with architects. I spelt out my vision of a small barnlike house now influenced by the dwellings we’ve seen on our African adventure. My aspirations have changed, but the question is, “Can our carefree lifestyle be maintained once we’re back in South Africa?”. Looking away, the architect muttered, “Probably not”. I think he was ready to throw in the towel. “Always over ambitious. Tone things down a tad.” I can hear that voice in my head. “Bloody hell, I won’t!”


In the Honey Badger, we’ve made a comfortable nest of 12 square meters. We enjoy the nomadic lifestyle and find the adventure exhilarating. We’re seldom bored.

I am very aware that this sudden obsession comes from the exposure to the landscapes we’ve meandered through, especially in Rwanda.

In a highly advanced, clean, prosperous East African country, many still maintain modest cottages. Building materials are locally sourced and clay bricks are made on site.


Colourful doors, small windows, clay bricks and tiled or corrugated roofs seem popular. Families maintain their properties, yards are swept daily, and communities gather on rickety benches to chat under shady umbrella trees.

Neighbours are within spitting distance, the communal lifestyle is maintained where everyone is safe, an extended family and friends protect children, and they are in constant communication. Sorrows and achievements are shared. Old men hold the fort and meet under magnificent trees, while women tend the lands and manage roadside stalls and markets. Heavy loads are ferried by bicycle, motorbike or wooden carts up steep hills and treacherous downhills.

Paths in the countryside or main roads are easily accessible, giving us all a good landscape view.

Gardens are green, and enormous fruit and indigenous trees provide shade and shelter during wet spells.

The Family Home is the most critical asset. Children may leave for the city, but their family home will always be in the village where they were born. We are often confronted with the question, “Where is your Family Home?” When we reply that we no longer have a family home, our answer is met with outrage and disbelief.

Butch and I are looking forward to the creation of our family home again. In January, I was confronted with the realisation that my children would no longer have any reason to return to South Africa if we didn’t settle down again, preferably in the Western Cape and especially near Hermanus.

But enough about my dreams, let’s get on with my final blog about Rwanda.


It was the beginning of the rainy season, and most days, a thick blanket of clouds shimmied across the skies. Seldom could the sun burn away the thick whipped-up meringue floating menacingly in the sky.

Skipping over puddles and streams cascading down the endless slopes, we’d stop to shop at markets where we found fresh produce and local delicacies.

One lady told me that homes must be fragrant and showed me how scented bark is dried and burnt in homes to ward off mosquitoes and flies while infusing the space with perfume.

Some of the barks used could be Cinnamon, cascarilla, or croton, which are common in most gardens and commonly used dried bark for pleasing scents. Some other familiar bark aromatics include sandalwood, rosewood, agarwood, cedar, birch, pine and juniper.

However, Africa is best known through the ages for its Frankincense and Myrrh, though not many people know how many varieties of Myrrh and Frankincense there are and how different their scents are. True Frankincense has a lemon/lime citrus scent and Olibanum.

"Olibanum oil is used to treat respiratory infections, lungs congestions and phlegm, nasal tract infection and bronchitis. 2- Olibanum oil is also used in aromatherapy. Inhaling the frankincense scent as an aromatherapy agent stimulates the brain function. It is used as a stress reliever, it also induced sleep." Google.


Districts like Kigeyo and Kivumu are blanketed in green, where the undulating hills are contoured and planted with a billion tea or coffee trees, some dating back to Colonial times. During our time there, it seemed the trees rested after being harvested. The rains had arrived in time to nourish the roots and wash the leaves of red dust.

Nyamyulmba on lake Kivu was our destination, where we would spend a night or two camping at Paradis Malahide Cottages and Camping.

Little did we know our campsite would be in the parking area. But, as long as we have an electrical connection, facilities, and a restaurant, we are as happy as Larry.

We parked the Honey Badger as close to the Penny Creeper as possible, opened our windows and hatches, walked down to the beach, and settled under a shady grass or palm leaf umbrella. With a contented sigh, I breathed the fresh air wafting off the lake.


Lunch was a most delicious avocado salad. I would repeat this treat on numerous occasions. The avocado commonly found in Rwanda was a large (at least 500g in weight) thick-skinned, purple avo: the buttery flesh, sweet and lip-smacking delectable. One bite and all thoughts of the calories would disappear.

Although Rwanda is not a Banana Republic, bananas are featured in most meals and prepared in various ways. We soon learned that bananas come in a variety of shapes and sizes and even colours. My favourites are the tiny Lady’s Fingers, but we have sampled red-skinned and Plantains, which look like large bananas and can be green, yellow or almost black. They are generally eaten as a carbohydrate, such as a potato, rather than a fruit; this is how you need to think of them to cook them successfully.


They are deep-fried, boiled (stewed), and served as a vegetable accompaniment or crisps. Because granulated sugar is not an ordinary household commodity, bananas are seldom served drenched in a flamed sticky toffee syrup. Pancakes are rolled with no filling, and fruit is served fresh. A fruit platter is featured on most menus for breakfast. Fruit, even sliced watermelon, is served at room temperature.

We are so privileged to take refrigeration for granted. Most households do not have a fridge in countries where electricity is a luxury. Whenever we order beverages, we stipulate that we would like them cold. The norm would be to serve the beer or soda at room temperature off the shelf.


On our bikes, Butch and I set off each morning to do our customary explorations. This time, we had to climb several hundred feet up into the mountains, hugging the shore.

Colourful fishing boats have always been one of my favourite subjects to photograph, this scene reminds me of the Italian coastline. 

Commercial harbours are sophisticated, with many cargo boats loading commodities like coal for delivery to various towns dotted along the shore serving Rwanda and their neighbour, the DRC.

We had to stop to enjoy the views and found ourselves looking down onto an extensive Methane Gas exploration site.

Methane Gas Resources are found in Lake Kivu in the Eastern African Rift Zone. The lake contains high concentrations of naturally occurring methane gas (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), with the highest concentrations ranging from 270m to 500m at around 2,400 sq. km.


One of the many highlights of biking is our pit stops to enjoy views, coffees and occasionally, if there’s an opportunity, breakfast, mainly when the view is irresistible and the menu has us salivating.

I said to Butch, “Even if it kills me, I am going to put my foot into the DRC. Please be warned. How can I be so near yet so far?”

“We’ll see about that.” He said, his arm outstretched, pointing his hand straight ahead. There it was, a mere few kilometres away from us. “Just my foot across the fence will suffice.”

Breakfast was a feast of fresh bread and three poached eggs!


A menu of activities is presented once one has registered at a lodge. Prices are quoted in US dollars and often far exceed our budget. But, who can resist pampering? Not I. I will haggle and bargain until I get “a good price”. Butch does it better than me, and when I’ve given up all hope, he takes over. We drive everyone to the point of distraction, and in desperation, they relent.

The lodge chartered a boat to ferry us to the  Nyamyumba Hot Springs on one side of Lake Kivu near Gisenyi, right across from many of the hotels along the lakeside. The hot spring pool is very rudimentary, with cement bags stacked around the edge for the water to pool for depth.

I gingerly entered the pool in my bather and soaked for a few minutes. The hot water and minerals worked their magic, and soon, I was relaxing and getting into the swing of things. The Ethiopian lady next to me informed me that she comes annually for no less than three months. She was healthy, pain-free and had no arthritis in her joints. Unlike many Indian ladies, she added, who suffer knee and hip problems, her knees and pelvis were still in top-notch condition, thanks to forty years of soaking up the minerals.

A while later, the masseuse summoned me to follow him behind a fence, where he proceeded to cover me in hot mud from the banks of a second hot spring. This new experience had me flummoxed, but I figured it would be “in for a penny in for a pound.” The years might fall from my face, neck, and legs due to all this rubbing, kneading and exfoliating.

The cold shower afterwards was the highlight as the mud, stress, anxieties, and exfoliations washed away into a little trickling brook and straight into the Kivu Lake.

Afterwards. my beloved, who did not partake in the exercise, looked at me sceptically and did not comment on how refreshed and rejuvenated I looked.


Rubavu, an upmarket town along the coast, has become a bustling border town where hundreds of people from the DRC and Rwanda partake in cross-border trading. The streets are congested with carts, boda-bodas, and all rudimentary vehicles that cart goods to sell or trade-in DRC and Rwanda.

That was where I would be able to put my foot into the Congo, Butch said. According to the GPS, there was a fence into the lake at the end of the beachfront.   As surreptitiously as possible (I did not want to chance my arm and get arrested for trespassing), we made our way along the picturesque tree-lined boulevard, where I alighted the truck and did the necessary. I had the soil of the DRC on my flip-flops. That is good enough for me. Later that evening, I also put a flag up on the Honey Badger. (I doubt I actually did put my foot into the DRC, but the flag is up.)

Art galleries and curio shops are always an attraction and African handcrafted items are my favourite to admire and photograph. While Butch does the shopping I go snooping around. 



Our German friends Rene and Yvonne joined us for an enjoyable evening, but it was time for us to move on with a promise that we’d meet again in a day or two.

It was raining again. Every day, although not cold, was inclement. Tarred roads were slick, and dirt roads were a muddy mess with pooled water often filling potholes, making the going slow.

Our admiration for locals increased tenfold as they pushed their heavy loads up the winding, steep hills and then had to brake, straining against the pull and force of gravity when carts and bicycles pushed to increase their speed. There was no letting up for farmers, learners and employees, no matter the weather.

One morning, we decided to be ambitious, and on our bikes, we would scout for a lake. Google said the elevations would be our only challenge as the distance wasn’t unattainable. While the weather was in our favour, we set off.

We melted into the crowds and set off, experiencing the hills and sheer declines. We struggled up the foothills but flew downhill like carefree teenagers. It was white-knuckle exhilarating.

Once off the main road, we relaxed, enjoying the quiet dirt road more. On one of the knolls was a stand of hundreds of tiny white crosses—the burial grounds of villagers who died during the civil war. The numbers of butchered citizens never cease to shock me.

Someone once said, “It is easy to hate a group, impossible to hate the individual.” When it comes to genocide, that statement does not ring true. In Rwanda, the reminders of man’s cruelty towards man are amplified by the simple white crosses we saw on the hill. The tall Eucalyptus trees stand sentry guarding the dead.

Not an inch of land is left uncultivated. Squares of land are cultivated with various crops, sometimes corduroyed blocks ready for a maise or groundnut planting. Sugarcane stands tall and dotted between pumpkins and lupines, which are blooming. Here and there, where it’s possible, cattle are harnessed to ancient wooden ploughs, plodding listlessly, first one way, then the other, tilling the soil, their backs lashed to get them moving in time to plant Irish Potatoes.

Many kilometres later, we did summit the mountain. Sitting on a rock admiring the view and the elusive Lake Remera below us, we decided we’d done enough and agreed the view was worth the effort, but continuing would be exhausting. We spun our bikes around.

Yvonne had baked one of her delicious sourdough loaves. We were invited to join them for a late brunch. It’s such a spoil for us to have a table laid on. We couldn’t resist.

With Yvonne’s encouragement and expertise, I made my starter in a mayonnaise bottle later that afternoon. She, in turn, would start making bean sprouts. An old dog can learn new tricks.


Our trek to Kinigi in the district of Musanze in the Northern Province of Rwanda was to see the three volcanoes of the Volcanoes National Park, experience some of the culture and the highlight, visit The Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Kinigi village is the epicentre of the tourist industry, as well as gorilla trekking and golden monkey trekking. One is invited to do a Dian Fossey or the Bisoke trek to explore caves.

While the landscape remained pretty much the same the architecture changed somewhat. Geometric designs were incorportated and adorned buildings and was repeated as a local art form.

Tourists are encouraged to “keep your eyes peeled and prepare to be surprised at every turn by the sights and sounds of our nature filled with life.” From 

Our budget would allow us to visit the Ellen Degeneres Campus.

I have said before that I am always wowed when someone explores their grand ideas, having the courage to embark on creating something and to sustain it while incorporating local talent and educating locals with a passion for improving lives.

We have seen so many NGOs on a mission to fulfil their desires and egos at the expense of local communities. It was with the utmost respect and admiration for the Ellen Foundation for what they have created and achieved in Kinigi.

Dian Fossey (of Gorillas in the Mist fame) was an American primatologist and conservationist known for undertaking an extensive study of mountain gorilla groups from 1966 until her murder in 1985.

Guests are invited to walk through exhibitions showing the groups of gorillas Dian Fossey studied, recorded and habituated during her lifetime.

We could feel her simple life in a replica of her living quarters. Her typewriter, books, notes, everyday clothes, letters, and photographs depict her daily life dedicated to conservation.

High up in the volcanoes and mountains of Rwanda at the Karisoke Research Center.

Butch and I did a short personality test which matched us up with some of her favourite beloved gorillas.

Fossey was a member of the “Trimates,” Leakey recruited three female scientists to study great apes in their natural environments. Jane Goodall who studies chimpanzees and Birutè Galdikas, who studies orangutans.

Fossey spent 20 years in Rwanda supporting conservation. She opposed poaching and tourism in wildlife habitats. She was murdered in her cabin in December 1985.Fossey’s research assistant was convicted in absentia. There is still no consensus as to who killed her.

Her book Gorillas in the Mist was published two years before her death.

After our emotional exhibition tour, we needed a cuppa and pastry, a visit to the shop, and a walk in the gardens to contemplate what we’d learned. Finally, we had to take deep breaths of the volcanic mountain air. Clouds were gathering around the necks of the three volcanoes, swirling upwards as they gathered momentum and volume.

The heavens opened just before we finished our walk, a good thing to get us moving, Butch said.

Well done, Ellen, for creating a world-class learning centre and Primate conservation institute in Rwanda.

Rwanda has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions for me.


At the Red Rocks Campsite, we were able, with René’s help, to do a few maintenance jobs, e.g. fix the shower door to the rail.

I explored the grounds.

and visited the art exhibition, and on our last evening, we enjoyed supper in the restaurant, picking local dishes.

Our time in Rwanda was coming to an end. We’d take a slow drive to the border. We have time. I mulled my experiences around in my head. Rwanda, with all its pain, reconciliation, rejuvenation and kind, friendly, hardworking people, will always be an enigma.

Rumours swirl about hinting at corruption, dictatorships, and a lot of smoke and mirrors. Although everyone we met was friendly, helpful and generous with their time we did not befriend anyone. The dead might be buried but the living are still in shock, mourning and living in disbelief. It was as if everyone wears a mask.

As impressionable tourists, we have only scratched the surface of life and politics in Rwanda. Understanding the issues many people experience and their realities would take much digging. Last month, Rwanda closed its border with Burundi and the DRC. Conflict, it seems, is in one’s DNA.

We moseyed our way to the Ugandan border to continue our adventure of discovery. What will we discover there?


After much contemplation, I’ve decided that our next home will be a comfortable fisherman’s cottage with large windows to allow the sun to pour in from morning to sunset. Our needs are few. There would be a long table and beds for the children and grandchildren. A veranda. In the garden a lemon tree, cinnamon tree and White Stinkwoods. A kitchen garden filled with culinary herbs and a vegetable garden. A window seat, a library and on the veranda, a day bed suspended from the ceiling. And most importantly, I will insist Butch has a studio where he can read and potter around to his heart’s content.

That was until Wednesday evening when we were invited to dine with friends in their compound in Nairobi. A home fit for the Architectural Digest or Condè Nast. Open plan living spaces with seating areas for every mood or weather condition, formal gardens with boxed hedges, and a kitchen where two chefs can conjure up different menus without treading on toes. Tasteful and spacious, but with a touch of opulence. High ceilings, staircases and a sparkling pool wrapped around verandas—a magnificent home.

We can but dream.  

This morning Butch said he’d not slept well at all. “Everything’s packing up, and I’m thinking about repairs.”  Yes, the kitchen drawers are stuck, the bathroom yacht hatch has lost its hinges, the other one leaks, monkeys shredded the mosquito netting and an outside hatch has lost one locking system. The Wifi modem is kaput. One bicycle has a bent wheel, and Butch’s sneaker is losing its sole.

The short rains have started in earnest, and everywhere we go, the lakes are full, lawns are muddy, and skies are grey.