Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Huye and surrounds

A bunch of us decided to get out Kigali for a few days to check out some of the other areas of Rwanda. Although Park Volcan is the main attraction in Rwanda with its promise of getting up close and personal with gorillas, the $500 entry fee is a bit steep for us so we decided to instead check out the Nungwe Park in the southwestern corner of the country.

From our hotel we grabbed the ubiquitous moto to the bus depot, where after a little poking around we found ourselves on a Volcan bus heading to Huye (also known as Butare). The vast majority of Rwandans do not have cars, so regional buses leave regularly from all the major towns and are quite reasonable, we paid about $4 for a two hour ride, which came complete with a small child throwing up on me. (note, not all bus rides are guaranteed to include such close contact with the locals) Huye is considered the 'intellectual capitol' of Rwanda, sporting the national museum and a few universities but probably draws most of its tourism from its proximity to Nungwe national park and to the Murambi genocide memorial.

A few in the group had already been to the memorial before and didn't have the stomach for it once more, so the rest of us went on alone. Murambi was a technical school under construction, really about to be opened, at the time of the genocide. Tutsis gathered there for safety under advice from the local clergy and under the impression that the French troups stationed there would protect them from the slaughter. However, soon after the 50,000 refuges settled in the troops left, leaving them to be killed over the next days. Mirambi is unique in that many of the bodies haven't been buried there. Instead in a series of rooms the corpses were laid out on low tables and covered in lyme. There are some that still deny that the genocide happened, that the numbers were exaggerated, and it is for those naysayers that the bodies were left intact, to offer irrefutable proof. It only took one room for me to decide I had seen enough, it was both overwhelming and also to me at least, felt inappropriate to be there, certainly to continue on after seeing some. Seeing mothers and their children lying side by side drives the point home, and again one has to marvel that the country seems to function as well as it does only 15 years after such atrocities.

On a lighter note, on the way back I ran into yet another Project Rwanda bicycles. I've probably seen a dozen or so of them while here, they are cargo bikes being built and sold to the local coffee farmers to help them more quickly transport their crops to the washers. They are provided at cost (amazingly, $120 according to their blog) via a microloan, which the farmer then has to repay over three years. The program came out of a buyer for Stumptown coffee out of Portland, and apparently the earlier delivery of the beans will mean that the farmer will get a higher price for them, up to $100 more per year for a typical farmer who owns a few hundred trees. I will admit to being a bit skeptical of the program, as I thought the bikes were far more expensive than that and the locals seem to be perfectly content loading on hundreds of pounds on their normal bikes, but on finding out more about the program it really is neat, both well thought out and seemingly sustainable. Kudos to them.

The next day after much haggling with a throng of taxi drivers, we headed out to Nungwe national park to see us some monkeys. The couple hour drive out to the park entrance was absolutely beautiful. Rwanda is just covered in tall rolling hills and the patch work of terracing and crop plantings makes for an amazing backdrop. The park is home to thousands of monkeys of different varieties but they also take care to only allow visitors to track certain family groupings, keeping the exposure to humans at a minimum. And tracking it was, although we started first on a well maintained trail, our guide soon veered off and started bushwacking through the brush, machete swinging as he cut our way to the present location of the monkey family. While we were limited to a crawling pace through the thick vegetation the monkeys were constantly moving quickly through the canopy, flying from one tree to another only occasionally stopping to groom each other for a bit. It made for a fun experience, but all in all we never got closer than a hundred feet or so due to the height of the canopy.

Back in Huye I noticed a couple funny names for stores. One being the 'Google' paper store, the other a Yahoo.car tour company. The internet has spread far and wide, even here in the middle of Africa. Most medium sized towns have internet cafes with reasonable rates and all of the studentts in the film program also have Facebook accounts. It does make one wonder just how powerful having a 'google' or 'yahoo' name brand is though.

No comments:

Post a Comment