Managing the yin and yang of mozzie mats
(work in process)
Make no mistake, malaria is a killer, and although there are fewer mosquitoes in the cooler highlands of Rwanda, you need to consider the entire country as being malarial and take appropriate precautions.
Regardless of the effectiveness of whatever malarial prophylaxis you're taking, the best precaution you can take is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. So, in addition to religiously popping your malaria muti, you should be slathering yourself with mosquito repellent, covering up with long sleeved shirts and long trousers between dusk and dawn and taking particular care not to get bitten when you're sleeping. That means sleeping under mozzie nets (where possible) and using mozzie coils.
That said, why would I be recommending devices as primitive as mosquito coils when travel shops are full of all sorts of clever gizmos that you can plug in to keep the pestilential little buggers at bay? Well, the simple, unvarnished truth is that unglamorous mozzie coils are effective in almost every setting - regardless of how primative your accommodation might be. Moreover, they don't rely on an external power source, which in a country plagued by such an unreliable electricity supply as Rwanda, is absolutely vital. And, as though they didn't already have enough going for them, they are also cheap as chips and almost always available in malarial areas.
I always travel with several packets of mozzie coils, because they are brittle and tend to break easily, especially when you are trying to ease the 'yin' and yang' parts of the coils apart. This is not as easy as it sounds, and takes some practice before you become proficient: I find that it's easiest to start in the middle and press gently along one coil to separate them. This is a task best done slowly and in good light before you decide to imbibe alcoholic beverages - trying to achieve this in the dark when you've had 'one over the eight' is bound to end in tears ...
You then need to push up the little pin from the little metal stand that comes in the packet so that it's at 90 degrees to the base, and carefully push the pin into the little slot in the coil - again, it's easy to break the coil at this point, so proceed gently and with caution. Once this manoeuvre is complete, you are ready to light the coil. It will initially burn with a flame, but in a few seconds, the flame will go out, leaving a smoking 'stump'.
Quite apart from being messy, you need to bear in mind that the ash that falls off the coil as it burns is extremely hot, and will sear most surfaces that it falls on: something that is unlikely to endear you to your hotelier. To avoid this happening, I find that it's best to place the coil onto a metal or glass surface (most rooms in the developing world still come equipped with an ashtray). At the other end of the spectrum, don't be tempted to place them on the sole of a flipflop, as I once nearly burned down a tent this way, narrowly avoiding asphyxiation in the process due to the noxious fumes liberated by burning plastic ... not my finest hour! [blush]
A couple of very obvious last points, which i mention because they are so obvious that you could easily overlook them. Firstly, each packet (which usually contains 10 coils) only has one coil stand, so however short your trip, sharing a packet of coils between two people sleeping in separate rooms isn't possible unless you bring an extra stand. For this reason, I tend to save coil stands after I've finished a packet of coils, and pack a few spares just in case, as they're elusive little gubbins that can easily get lost in your luggage. Oh yes, and bear in mind that you need to bring matches or a lighter too ... ;)
Just because it's poor doesn't mean it's cheap
A question that often gets asked on the travel forum is whether it's cheap to travel in Africa - the assumption being that because the vast majority of Africans are poor, it must be affordable for the traveller.
In fact, the converse is true: unless you are prepared to live like a local person AND have a lot of time on your hands, travel in Africa is seldom cheap, and can often be downright expensive.
This apparent contradiction starts to make sense when you consider the contributing factors. The most obvious is the vast majority of Africans live below the poverty line, and are reliant on subsistence agriculture for most of their food. You can buy food in markets, but often even the basics - let alone the more luxury products and the imported stuff that you'll be used to as a foreigner - it is often gobsmackingly expensive. This is particularly the case in densely populated areas such as the Great Lakes region, which has huge competition for agricultural land and a dire shortage of animal protein. In neighbouring Burundi for example, tilapia fish on the bone costs USD5 a kilo in a country where the average person lives on less than USD1 a day.
The same thing is true of accommodation: unless you are comfortable staying in a basic hut with no electricity, running water, sanitation or security, prepare yourself to pay a huge premium. The cost of constructing 'Western style' accommodation is disproportionately costly in places like Rwanda - which doesn't produce its own cement and is reliant on importing cement from farflung places such as China. Given the risk of having your valuables stolen or contracting medical conditions such as malaria or waterborne diseases that could be life threatening (particularly to foreigners), I don't think that it's an unreasonable expense, but it adds up very quickly.
Equipped self catering accommodation of a standard that would appeal to most Westerners barely exists outside the major tourist destinations of Southern Africa, so if you intend to contain accommodation costs by cooking for yourself, you'll probably have to camp and be prepared to bring your equipment with you.
Transport is perhaps the one aspect of travel in Africa that can be cheap: but only if you have loads of time on your side. The networks of buses and minibus taxis are usually extensive, but the time it takes to travel what appear to to be relatively short distances are disproportionately long. Partly it's a function of poor road conditions and/or difficult terrain, often it's due to poorly maintained and overloaded vehicle (which poses a significant safety hazard) and the fact that they usually stop in every little village en route doesn't help. If there are borders involved, then things get even more problematic: likely it will take an age to clear customs and immigration, and it may often be necessary to switch from one vehicle to another as services often only operate in country.
If you are on a reasonably tight schedule, the only ways of travelling swiftly and reliably are to hire a vehicle with a driver - expensive in a countries where both vehicles and fuel are imported and are generally subject to huge import tariffs - or to fly (usually only practical between major centres).
Lastly, in most emerging African tourist destinations, numbers have not yet reached the critical mass required to generate either economies of scale of competition. For this reason, your ability to 'shop around' is usually limited, and the differentiator between tour operators is usually quality of service and the standard of accommodation offered (which ranges between expensive and hugely expensive). Do your research, and if one option seems unusually cheap and too good to be true, then it probably is. Such is the case with the unscrupulous Kennedy Nari Ndayisenga of Hakuna Matata Safaris, an operator who leave sbehind him a trail of unhappy clients whom he has cheated and let down.
In summary, is Africa a cheap place to travel? Sadly not. Is it worth it? Absolutely!
What changes when you cross the Ugandan border?
What changes when you cross over the Rwanda/Uganda border? Quite a lot, actually. For one thing, the side of the road that you drive on, and in addition, the time.
Rwanda was a Belgian colony, and so drives on the right hand side of the road, whereas Uganda drives on the left hand of the road, as befits the British colonial influence.
Moreover, the two countries are in different time zones, with Uganda (being on East African Time, and GMT+3) being a hour ahead of Rwanda (Central African Time, and GMT+2). This works in your favour as you're crossing from Uganda into Rwanda (in which case you 'gain' an hour), but can be problematic going the other way, as you 'lose' an hour - this is particularly important if you're heading towards somewhere with a defined closing time.
Suggest you eat lunch on the hoof: service is SLOW
If your decide to do a tour of Rwanda - or indeed, anywhere in the Great Lakes region - with a safari company, chances are that the package will be all inclusive and will feature lunch.
This sounds good in principle, but in practice we found it a nuisance. Firstly, we're not used to eating large lunches, and the generous portions at breakfast and lunch meant that we were really only interested in a snack and a drink in the middle of the day.
Far more significantly, service in hotels and restaurants in this region is abominably slow, even by African standards for reasons that I can only speculate on (for what it's worth, my theory is that the kitchens don't keep much food in storage and only send out for certain perishable ingredients once they have been ordered). You can wait up to an hour for your food to arrive once you've ordered, and even the 'fast food' options such as toasted sandwiches or soup of the day can routinely take 30 minutes to arrive. This means that lunch stops can easily stretch out 1.5 hours, which can take a chunk out of the day which you can ill afford if you're on a tight itinerary.
One other unwelcome source of delay is that often what you order turns out not to be available. However, for reasons that I don't begin to understand, you're not told this immediately, and it take a considerable time for the waiter to deliver the bad news, thus further adding to the delay. For example, we had one occasion where we were only told that an item wasn't available after 20 minutes, and then had to go through the whole drawn out exercise of ordering an alternative.
Our perspective on things is that we didn't travel all this way to spend out time looking at the inside of restaurants, and so after a few days, we asked our guide whether we might opt for packed lunches instead. This turned out to be a much better option, as we could choose a picturesque place to have our picnic, and didn't have to worry about service delays. The packed lunches were perfectly adequate - if somewhat unexciting - and if you're travelling with children, have the benefits of being allowing them to be eaten in 'installments' whenever they get hungry.
Age restrictions for chimp and gorilla trekking
Note that only people over 15 are allowed to trek chimps and the minimum age limit for gorilla trekking is 18. When you see the topography and vegetation you have to contend with, you'll understand why: whilst some might be lucky and see them after a short and easy hike, we had to trek for 3.5 gruelling hours through the appropriately named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest before we encountered gorillas.
It appears that this rule is strictly enforced, and you'll have to show a passport when you arrive at the departure point.
If you are travelling with children, I recommend that you make them aware of this limitation well ahead of time, as it would be devastating for them to get to the forest and only then realise that they won't be allowed to do this.
Storm drains this big means it rains ... a lot!
Ruhengeri gets about 1.2m of rain a year (that's over 4 feet in old money), and can be subject to torrential downpours in the two rainy seasons (September - November and March - May). So you'd be well advised to make sure you pack appropriately, with a waterproof jacket and ideally a collapsible umbrella.
The heavy rainfall would explain why the stormwater drains in Ruhengeri are so huge. However, they're safety hazards in their own right, as it would be all too easy to walk straight into one of these and break a limb if you weren't looking where you were going, so exercise due caution, especially if you're wandering around after dark.
Beware of Kennedy and Hakuna Matata Tours
This is a warning for potential travelers to the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Burundi) NOT to use the services of Kennedy Nari Ndayisenga or his tour company, Hakuna Matata Tours & Travel. Put bluntly, Kennedy is a liar, a scammer and a thief who will think nothing of stealing your money and cannot be relied upon to deliver on any promises or commitments that he might make.
We decided to engage Kennedy as a tour guide based on some very positive recommendations from highly respected members on the Virtual Tourist website whose advice is usually reliable and accurate. These highly complimentary reviews were written by individuals who are extremely well travelled in Africa – however, looking back at these positive reviews, I note that these refer to tours run by Kennedy several years ago.
If you Google either Kennedy or Hakuna Matata Tours & Travel, you’ll find a large number of positive reviews on his tours and service. Part of this coverage results from the fact that Kennedy has an IT background and has a genius for self promotion by placing highly visible blogs and reviews, but also seems to reflect the fact that at one point, he actually did provide good service. As we learned to our cost, this has sadly changed.
Our personal experience is as follows. Our family was due to travel to Rwanda just after Christmas 2012 and we agreed a provisional itinerary with Kennedy, subject to confirmation after he had secured permits for gorilla trekking. In late November, he confirmed that he had managed to reserve permits to trek gorillas on the Uganda side of the border and asked us to pay a deposit of US$2140 to secure the permits, which we forwarded by Moneygram on 30 November 2012. We were notified that the money had been collected on 3 December 2012, after which he went silent, and all attempts to contact him via e-mail and both of his cellphones went unanswered.
After a concerted effort, I finally managed to contact him by e-mail. He claimed that he had been unable to contact us as he had been caught in an altercation on the DRC side of the border with Rwanda, in which his vehicles were damaged and his cellphones stolen: as this tallied with media coverage of unrest in this area, we were gullible enough to believe his story. In subsequent highly emotional e-mails, he claimed that he had barely escaped with his life and begged us to pray for him. Naively, we responded sympathetically and offered to postpone our trip until Easter to allow the situation to calm down and give him time to get on his feet again.
This was a big mistake, as from this point on, our trust and sympathy was systematically exploited and abused. Kennedy proved impossible to contact throughout January, and I only managed to track him down via his Facebook account.
He gave me yet another cellphone number to contact him on and I had a brief conversation with him, during which he informed me that he was conducting a tour in Uganda and would respond to me when he returned to Rwanda at the end of the week. Of course, he never did respond, but did send me an offer to become his ‘friend’ on Facebook, along with an invitation to view the photos he’d taken of his involvement in ‘peace talks’ he was participating in Kampala, Uganda.
After several unsatisfactory telephone conversations (always initiated by me), I told Kennedy that I did not trust him to look after myself and my family, and notified him that I wanted a refund of the deposit that we had paid him. Predictably, he became even more evasive after this point, making unspecific statements about the fact that he could only refund me ‘next month’. He promised to e-mail me the specifics of repayment (which, predictably he never did) and feigned surprise when I contacted him to confirm that the promised e-mail had not arrived. Communication ceased altogether when I pointed out that I was using our Facebook correspondence to establish a ‘paper trail’.
By this time, I realised that we had been scammed, and followed up with another respected member of Virtual Tourist whose name I recognised from his Facebook friends list. In fact, she had not followed through on the tour that she had discussed with Kennedy, but directed me to postings on TripAdvisor, including
or or this link
These discussion threads confirm that Kennedy has scammed many other tourists, and that his modus operandi is consistent. Even worse than the tales of people like us who have lost substantial deposits are the accounts of the disastrous tours that Kennedy has ‘organised’ over the past few years, where tourists have had their much anticipated ‘trip of a lifetime’ ruined by his failure to book hotels, secure trekking permits, provide a roadworthy vehicle and/or pay his guides (some of whom have even had to cover costs out of their own pocket despite having paid for their tour in full).
Further research has indicated that neither Kennedy nor Hakuna Matata Tours& Travel are members of the Rwanda Tour and Travel Association. A phone call to the office in Gisenyi through which gorilla trekking permits are issued also confirmed that he is considered to be an untrustworthy and unreliable operator.
A subsequent Internet search turned up the following warning has been issued by the Virunga National Park in DRC: “The management of Virunga National Park would like to inform potential visitors that we advise against using the following travel agency: Hakuna Matata Tours & Travel. We have had multiple complaints from visitors using this travel agency and are now actively boycotting them.” (click here for more detail).
In closing, I would highlight that we are not naïve tourists who were caught short venturing forth into the developing world for the first time. Quite the contrary, since we have lived and worked throughout sub Saharan Africa for over 25 years, and this is the first time ever that we have ever been scammed. Because we are experienced ‘Africa hands’ and placed faith in recommendations from trusted associates on Virtual Tourist, we felt that we had done proper research and had identified a reliable service provider. However, in hindsight, our mistake was that we neglected to follow up on more recent references.
If it is possible for Kennedy to scam people like us, then how much easier is it for him to take advantage of tourists from overseas who are visiting the region for the first time?
DANGEROUS LAKE KIVU
KIVU KILLS. Just remember that before you decide to go off and swim or boat in some secluded place while visiting the lake. The shores of Lake Kivu are beautiful with white sand beaches in Gisenyi, rolling green hills nearby and even dramatic mountains overlooking it from the DRC side. On a clear day or hour it’s beautiful. Don’t let that beautiful view fool you. While Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes in size, it is one of only 3 EXPLODING LAKES in the world. The other 2 have caused carnage in Cameroon by exploding and gassing hundreds of people. The overall death toll on Lake Kivu is a lot less, but just make sure it’s not you.
The problem is that Kivu sits on top of huge pockets of Methane gas and Carbon Dioxide. Both are lethal. The geological term for this is ‘Mazuku’ meaning ‘Evil Wind’ in Swahili. Invisible Carbon Dioxide released in large amounts stays near the ground and kills every living thing there. Tie that in with the visible volcanic activity of Mt. Nyiragongo and lava pouring into the lake (in 2002) and you can understand why the lake has killed everything that lives in it. Twice. This was thousands of years ago, but larger pockets of escaping gas in some parts of the lake can suffocate an unsuspecting swimmer or boater. Stay in clearly marked areas or only swim where locals do.
It’s not all bad. The visible structure in the lake (pictured) collects the Methane which is used in the production of electricity supplying Rwanda. Its currently being expanded to provide export revenue by supplying electricity to neighbouring countries. The Primus Brewery right on the lake has used the Methane for years to supply turbines used in making their fabulous beer!
If you are a fisherman, forget Lake Kivu though. The high gas content in the water keeps the fish very small. All the ones I saw in the fish market were either small or absolutely tiny.Related to:
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This is not a ...gadget or a job..it's simply the bad habit of some young men or even children. They come behind you very silently and wait for a chance to open your backpack. You usually don't hear or feel anything.
It happened to me once in Rwanda and once in Tanzania. Fortunately I heard the sound of the zipper opening maybe because I am always alert for situations like this...I reacted spontaneously and caught the thief by the hand , shouting at them to intimidate them.
So when you have your day pack on your back, just keep away from groups of local people or else just keep it in front of you. Good luck!
A HUNDRED WAYS TO DIE
Doesn’t sound like a nice way to die does it? Please note that Diseases is plural. Very plural. If you want to get to know a local Rwandan VERY well – make sure you use a condom. You will see signs across Rwanda warning of the dangers of ‘SIDA’. SIDA stands for Le syndrome de l'immunodéficience acquise. French for AIDS. Unfortunately Rwanda, like so many developing countries, has a high infection rate. Being reckless can kill you. Worse – you could get something really nasty that will make you regret living.
Just in case you don’t believe it, I have listed some of the diseases and infections you can contract after getting SIDA.
Bacterial Pneumonia, Septicaemia (blood poisoning), Tuberculosis, Cryptococcosis, Penicilliosis, Herpes Simplex, Herpes Zoster Virus, Isopsoriasis, Leishmaniasis, Candidiasis, Cryptosporidiosis, Microsporidiosis, Toxoplasmosis, Kaposi's Sarcoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Lymphoma. This list drives my Spellchecker crazy and they all sound horrible. With good reason.
All these diseases, viruses, infections and growths are available FREE when you save time and money not using a condom.
Please be careful.Related to:
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Rwanda is a Malarial Zone! If you visit - PLEASE PREPARE! Malaria can sometimes be fatal and at best may make you regret that you survived. Medicines must be taken days to weeks BEFORE you come here. There are 4 different species of Malaria and humans can get them all from the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Illness and death from malaria are largely preventable - if you plan ahead.
While you are here you need to use a repellent spray early in the morning and any periods of darkness, especially at night.
If you have a net - use it. That is why it is in your room.
Do not take chances!
I would suggest you buy repellent with 100% DEET. Please click here for more information:
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Safest place I've ever visited!
No matter where you go you always need to be on alert, but I have to say that Rwanda is the safest and most honest place I've ever gone. I managed to drop my wallet in a cafe in Kigali which included most of my money, passport, credit card and drivers license. We went in for breakfast and went off to visit some sites outside of Kigali. I had some money in my pocket so never noticed until the late afternoon that my wallet was missing. My heart practically fell out of my body I was so scared! Anywhere else in the world, including my home city of New York, that wallet would've been picked apart and gone. Well, I retraced my steps from the bank, to Nakumatt grocery store and finally to the cafe. When I walked in a waiter I had a few days before spotted me and with a big smile said "Hi, Hope, are you missing something?". I could have cried on the spot. They found my wallet and contacted security in the shopping center where the cafe is located. The security guards came up, they wrote down every detail of my wallets contents and then locked it away in a safe in the security office. Even though they knew my face matched the identifications they made me go over every detail. What is the bank name on the credit card? What currencies and amounts did you have in your wallet? Describe your identifications. Whew, it was such a relief and I was so thankful that I lost it there instead of somewhere else in the world! If ever in Kigali please purchase something at the Bourbon Cafe in the MTN Center!Related to:
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MTN Sim Cards
If you are in Rwanda and planning to go to Uganda and have bought an MTN sim card in Rwanda note that although the MTN network works in both countries you cannot charge your Rwandan sim card with Ugandan MTN time. So you must buy enough time in Rwanda to last you all days in Uganda or else buy a new sim card in Uganda. Same applies for Uganda. It is better of course to buy a sim card in each country as signal and quality of communication is much better.
Rwanda: negotiate prices/giving money out
I spent a month in Rwanda teaching at the Sonrise School for Orphans in Ruhengeri (now Musanze) and also went up to remote Shyria in the mountains and to lake Kivu. What I learnt most was to negotiate the price of motorcycles and bikes when you need ride. These boys are making a living and will try to up the price. However, although the price seems little to you it does encourage others to take advantage and you could be mobbed, The other tip is not to give money openly in the street but discreetly, Many people want to help you and they are all so friendly and helpful. If someone has been very helpful, like negotiating the price of food in the market and helping you carry it home then tip them, 200 to 500 rf is enough. If you give money out inthe street you have hundreds of street children bothering you and asking you for money. I gave 100rf (10p UK) out to women with babies or the disabled as I felt they could not work. Everyone is poor in Rwanda, you just have to be careful how you help them. Your heart goes out to them and you feel as though you want to give everything you have away. It pulls at your heart.
The Past is the Past
The mere mention of Rwanda justifiably brings to mind images of the horrendous genocide of 1994, let's be honest. The reality in 2007 is though, Rwanda is a much safer country than most African nations. Crime still occurs, but I found Rwandans are amongst the friendliest people in Africa during the month I spent there reporting. The genocide is still a touchy issue though and if you don't need to bring the topic up - don't. Many people lost family and will not want to talk about it. Approach this beatiful mountainous land with the same caution as anywhere in Africa, but realistically, in comparison to places like neighbouring Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda is noticeably much safer and enjoyable.
Boulevard de la Revolution, Central Kigali, P.O. Box 7469, Kigali, Rwanda
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Avenue Du 5 Juillet
Satisfaction: Very Good
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B.P. 1519, Remera, Kigali, Rwanda
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Good for: Families
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