she said (Rwanda): THAT TIME EVERYONE ON THE BUS STARTED THROWING UP
April 18, 2016
So we check out of earthquake hotel and got dinged again on the USD to Rwandan Francs conversion rate. Then when we asked them to call a taxi, the reception lady said it would be 3000 Francs and then upon consulting her boss, came back and said actually 5000. We were pissed right off considering we were their only guests for a week and now they were trying to squeeze every last little Franc out of us so we, in less words, said screw you we'll go to the street and find our own taxi. This was a bit of a spite move because we truly had no idea if this would actually be possible but principle wins out today. The first person we asked for a ride was a moto driver who promptly rejected us because we had our backpacks. Though he didn't speak much English, there was definitely something about "jail" said...what was unclear about who would be going to jail if he took us, us or him. Nonetheless, rules are rules in Rwanda and this guy wasn't going to be breaking any today. So we just stood on the street with our bags and it seriously was minutes before a Rwandan guy walks over to us and asks if we wanted a taxi and we said as long as it's 3000 Francs, then yes. Guy says wait here and walks across the street to get his regular old car (i.e. not a taxi) and pulls up to pick us up. I'm willing to bet the guy is not a taxi driver but rather just a guy with a car who saw us standing on the street and capitalized. Before this trip and even most places during this trip, there is no way I would have gotten in a car with regular old Joe in his regular old "taxi" with all my stuff and even now as I write it, it sounds sketchy as hell. Except for somehow it wasn't, because that is just how it works around here with taxis. Both in Rwanda and Uganda we just never really feared this kind of thing and I tend to err on the super conservative side of things while traveling. Of course there is always a possibility we could have gotten robbed and it's totally unexplainable why we felt pretty comfortable but we did. In a place like Asia or Central America I would never get in anything but a clear marked taxi. Perhaps it is because there just isn't the culture of backpacking tourism here that exists in those other highly touristed places. And where there is an absence of tourists, there is usually an absence of scams and blatant screw jobs so you really can trust local people more. I dunno, really that's the only explanation.
It's always an adventure (i.e. super stressful experience for me!) using local transportation in a new country for the first time before you know how it all works. So we really had no idea what to expect as we drove down into the bus park where our car was immediately surrounded by a ton of ravenous (ok that sound sinister...it wasn't) people waiting for that trunk to open so they could carry our bags for us and make a few bucks. As usual we grabbed our bags really quickly and ran into the bus park. It was tiny but man what it lacked in size, it more than made up for in congestion to a level we were overwhelmed with even after coming out of Kampala. Because here there was bus tetris but it was almost fully enclosed save a few driveways in and out and the entire outer wall was full of offices/ticketing counters for the various bus companies and each seemed to have about a hundred people lined up outside of it, lineups and buses seemingly becoming one mish mash of chaos. We managed to buy our ticket and assume like Uganda, it would be a coach bus because we were going intercity. Turns out that all in-country buses in Rwanda were the dreaded minibuses, nooooo!!! Perhaps because Rwanda is such a tiny country that it just doesn't have the population traveling to fill up a coach bus. Further, unlike Uganda that had a bus attendant who collected fare and directed the operation, the Rwanda minibuses had no such thing so as expected, much more chaos ensued. Regardless, we were actually looking forward to bus travel within this country because since it is so small, everything is relatively close. So our usual 8 hour bus ride is cut down to 2 or 3.
So with the whole minibus situation, there is no under storage for bags so we get on and actually have no idea where on earth our huge packs will fit...obviously they need to go somewhere on the bus with the people but freaking where?! And the bus was pretty well full already. Just then a Rwandan guy who I assumed was with the bus company, gets on the bus and it's all very frenzied and he takes our bags (Bridger is in front of me so bus guy grabs my bag and then I pass him Bridger's) to the front of the bus to stash them somewhere on the bus and then we get seats. In all the chaos, turns out that neither Bridger or I actually saw where he put the bags and the bus was so full of people that we could not see now so panicked a bit because he very well could have passed them right out the bus door when we weren't looking! It was somewhat comforting but also blindsiding when the same guy showed up at my window about 10 minutes later giving all sorts of enthusiastic thumbs up and looking back and forth at us obviously lingering but we didn't know why...until we realized that he wanted a tip for stashing our bags for us. I can't remember if we ever tipped or not but at least we could take this as confirmation that our bags were on the bus because, after all, you would have to be a particular kind of sociopath to ask us for a tip after you've stolen our bags haha.
So onwards we went from metropolis Kigali further out into the outskirts of the capital and then even further into the countryside. And as we did, for the first time since arriving here, we saw what the Rwanda of 1994 probably looked like before the massive influx of foreign dollars. As we left the city, the skyscrapers gave way to the all too familiar small mud/brick homes that dotted the countryside across the hills that Rwanda is so famous for. Rwanda is quite literally called "The land of one thousand hills" and it really was hilly, evident as our minibus cruised along winding and swerving it's way back and forth among them, the dry green hills whooshing by our window. Which is why we were nervous when we heard a "splat" sound that sounded like projectile vomit hitting the floor. Oh gosh, for a few tense minutes we waited for the putrid smell of vomit to permeate the bus...but it never came. So in the end I don't think it was puke but you can bet we moved our small valuables bags a little closer to us and a little more off the floor just in case.
The scenery through the Rwandan countryside was nice but wasn't quite as luscious green and spectacular as we had expected having read about such things prior to our visit to Rwanda (perhaps it was dry season?) and we found it lacking the same endless shades of lush green and the bright red road that we enjoyed so much in Uganda. Nonetheless, we enjoyed looking out the window at Rwandan village life. At one point on the journey, the most adorable baby in the seat in front of me leaned her head as far back as possible so she could stare at us, novel white folk. As much as I had feared a total atrophy of all things resembling SLP skills after having been away for so long, I realized old habits die hard as I somehow found myself in a solid game of "turn-taking" with this little Rwandan baby, like maybe 6 ish months old. She would look at me, I'd make a face, she'd disappear behind the seat only to come back and do a face at me, enticing me to do mine again. Adorable little tiny tot! Though evidently only I thought so because the little darling kept reaching out and touching the guy beside her's shirt or arm... and he would promptly move as far away as possible given the crammed-in bus. And then she would reach and touch his backpack to which he would yank away as far as possible and glare at baby. Like I mean, he freaking glared at this child in total disgust. It was bizarre, though sadly, not uncommon across my travels to see people react this way to other people's babies. It seems that to oogle over and play with stranger's babies like we do at home is just not a universal trait, who knew!
We finally arrived in a small town in the west of Rwanda called Kibuye and immediately jumped on a moto that took us to our lovely little hotel with a spectacular location on top of a cliff overlooking Lake Kivu which we enjoyed over dinner, drinks and chats with a random Australian traveler who regaled of with stories about climbing an active volcano in the Congo (which of course, much to my disagreement because thats a double death wish--active volcano AND dangerous country, Bridger decided he wanted to do too. Luckily we didn't have time so he didn't pursue it further and I didn't have to lay the smack down).
Unfortunately our experience was short lived because we got kicked out of our hotel "because we didn't book enough nights" even though we had booked the first and then booked a minibus out a few days later, thus implying that we would be staying longer. But because we were the last ones awake that day and hotel staff had already asked everyone else if they were staying and everyone said yes, we got the short end of the stick because by the time he asked us our plan, there was no room available anyways. Further to that, the minibus showed up that morning to pick us up and we were politely informed by the hotel staff that "we missed our bus" to which we "politely" reminded them that they booked it for the totally wrong day. Nonetheless we were out and we were out before even being able to let the Aussie who we had plans with know that we were given the boot. We to moto us and all our stuff over the next hotel which, under different, less pissy circumstances, would have been lovely. But adding insult to injury, we ate lunch at the new hotel and were charged for donuts that never came, peanuts that were supposed to be free and were given the most visibly overcooked, waxy fish and chicken you could imagine. And we are not picky people by any stretch, it was just that bad. So bad that for the first time since Cambodia, we did not tip! But the scenery itself was quite lovely and we had a nice day just hanging out on the shore reading and writing and watching a lovely sunset over the lake.
Kibuye and surrounding area was actually particularly hard hit by the genocide having a relatively large Tutsi population. A community outside the town was also the site of the only organized civilian Tutsi resistance effort during the genocide. Unfortunately even though they fought valiantly, they too succumbed to the violence and a memorial stands to this day although it requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle to reach so we were unable to visit. The following article speaks specifically about Kibuye in addition to some of the other stuff I have referenced in this post. The article is a graphic reminder of just how barbaric of a time this was in Rwanda as well as the challenges of rebuilding a unified country after such an event. It is a hard read but a good read for those interested:
While in Kibuye, we spent one day just wandering the small town. Perhaps the fact that it was so hard hit during the genocide is an explanation for such a thing, but we just did not get warm vibes here like we did in Kigali and surrounding areas. The energy of the place just seemed a bit more intense and unsettled, perhaps paying testament to the challenges outlined in the article about moving forward?
For lack of anything really to do in the area besides outrageously expensive trips on the lake (remember now, fuel is expensive!), we did not stay too long and decided to head to a place called Gitarama for a "day in the life of Rwandan villagers" experience through an awesome company called Azizi Life. The next day the bus, as scheduled, picked us up at our hotel. And we thought we had won the traveling lottery because we were the only ones on it...could it be that this was not going to be a full bus?!! The excitement was short lived as this minibus dropped us at the bus stop where another minibus was waiting for us, this one almost full. Oh cripes. So once again, we shoved our bags at the front of the bus on the floor underneath the seats and squashed on with the rest of the Rwandans, everyone touching everyone else as usual. By this point in the trip we are pretty used to overlapping sweaty body parts with strangers and pretty accepting of the fact that on buses, full every time, you will inevitably be rubbing up together and then you just surrender to it. It helps, trust me.
Once again, the bus starts winding it's way through hairpin turns through the hills, enough to make anyone with even a tinge of carsickness lose their guts. And here's the thing, I don't think the villagers in this region travel by vehicle all that often. This all culminated in "the puke incident". It shouldn't really have come as a huge surprise when we hear the undeniable splatty sound of liquid hitting ground. Shit! Sure enough, a kid two rows in front of us literally projectile vomited. Like didn't even look down, just a straight up, look forward projectile vomit, essentially covering all the seats and people in front of him in vomit. We could see it literally dripping down the back of the seats in front of him and god knows, you knew there was a big ass puddle of it on the floor which would inevitably be seeping its way towards our backpacks on the floor. Oh my gosh I don't want to think about it. Though probably neither did the Rwandans in front of him who now had someone else's puke splashed over their purses and jackets and backs. The bus driver was irate yelling something in Kinyarwanda and stopped the bus while the unfortunate souls who got puked on emptied out and did what they could to brush the chunks off their various belongings and the kid and presumably his dad got out and tried cleaning up both themselves and wiping up the floor. We were torn between feeling terrible for all these people involved and selfishly, being relieved that now maybe the puke puddle would be small enough that perhaps it would not be able to migrate all the way to our backpacks. Shortly, everyone piles back on the bus and we're on the move again, basking in the smell of vomit but luckily getting small reprieve because of the breeze from the open windows. Ok you literally couldn't have written what happens next. All of a sudden the puke epidemic starts spreading! Another lady starts hanging her head down and starts audibly gagging/convulsing like she's doing everything in her power to hold in her puke. And then, not even joking, the guy directly in front of us throws his head out the window and projectile vomits all over the side of the bus! So now we quickly close our window to avoid a puke shower, effectively hot boxing ourselves into this puke-mobile. For the love, there is only like 16 people on this minibus so like 20% of the bus is now puking and the driver is losing his shit screaming at everyone and then, I kid you not, all of a sudden he starts ripping plastic bags out of somewhere and throwing them at people. Yes, plastic bags, the ones that are illegal in Rwanda and that you can't get anywhere in the country! So we were like, what is this, the underground plastic bag black market or something?! Does he have like a legal permit to carry them for this purpose or something?! What is going on?! It didn't matter, now there were glorious plastic bags!!! I'm not a big puker but even I'm now sitting in the back willing myself not to start vomiting all over the place too and just showering gratitude into the universe that our bus ride this time is only 45 minutes instead of the 2.5 hour trip back to Kigali and that we were going to get off this puke-wagon soon enough!
We get off the bus and reluctantly survey the possible damage from this vomit machine. Though we cross our fingers for a miracle, sure enough, about 3 inches of Bridger's backpack waist strap had been marinating in someone else's vomit for the past half an hour. It was still wet and smelled beyond awful. Luckily the driver from Azizi Life was waiting for us at the bus stop so we tossed our pukey bags in the trunk and cruised to the office as the stench of puke filled up the car. Seriously, it was bad. When we arrived at the office, we literally had to say "hey sorry, we have to delay this tour because our stuff has puke on it and we need to clean it". Now here's the thing, it's not like you can just go get the garden hose and spray it down or something because that kind of stuff doesn't exist here. So as an alternative, our hosts graciously got us a giant plastic wash basin with some soap and set us up in the dorm bathroom. Oh my gosh, while I'm still gagging and can't even get near the thing, Bridger was actually a total champ. Even though he was equally revolted, he just got to work, putting his head down and got the shit done, soaking and scrubbing away in the soap, in the basin, in the bathtub. I'd never been so attracted to him. Haha obviously that's not true, but I was definitely feeling pretty optimistic about our future life together with vomit children. Anyways, just because this is our ridiculous lives, to add to the drama, there was a giant dead cave spider on the ledge of the bathtub just reminding us of the possibilities that might be lurking in our beds later tonight. Just perfect!
We ended up just leaving the backpack to soak in the soapy water for the entire time we were gone. Not entirely sure if it was a good idea for the structural integrity of the backpack but for the love, not wanting to carry around the ever-present odor of someone else's vomit for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately we didn't realize at this point that somehow we would continue to smell puke ALL day, even out in the village for hours. Still not sure if there was a puker in the village before us or if it was entirely psychosomatic and the source was only our deep rooted mental trauma?!