We arrived in Kigali international late in the evening and went straight to bed for to get some rest. Kigali is a pleasant surprise, unlike other African capitals. Hilly, beautiful and clean. There are pedestrian sidewalks everywhere and tarmac on almost all roads. It seems like Rwanda is the way for Africa to move forward.
We left early the next day, destination Goma, a three hour drive along beautiful, hilly countryside. Green is the dominant color in Rwanda. The road is narrow and curves among the hills, but there are no trucks and the tarmac is in very good condition, making the ride smooth and safe. Three hours later we arrived at the border town of Gisenyi, on Kivu lake.
The busy transborder post is occupied by different people, including a healthy number of call girls that offer cross-border services to international organization ex-pats. It does not take long to clear formalities and enter in a different world. Goma is just 5 minutes walking from Gisenyi but worlds and decades apart. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest nations in the world, effectively a failed state, sitting on top of 24 trillion dollars of mineral reserves. Goma, has a population of about 1 million, a handful of paved roads and no foreseeable future.
It was Sunday afternoon so most of the people were out, wearing their Sunday clothes and spending time on the streets, which is what they mostly do anyways. The roads are covered with a mix of dirt and lava that flowed in after the catastrophic explosion of mount Nyiragongo in 2002, destroying 40% of the city. A bad ambience, a mix of poverty, muddy waters and insecurity is spread across town.
Goma suffered a refugee influx during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the subsequent cholera outbreak and humanitarian crisis, the first and second Congo wars in the late 90s and the eruption of Nyiragongo. Ever since being in the center of a conflict zone – as late as in 2012 it was captured by the M23 rebels and then retaken by government forces – it has a very long way to cover to offer the basics to its citizens.
The lack of financial resources has helped the chukudu to reign among utility vehicles. The chukudu is two-wheeled wooden vehicle for freight transportation. It costs $50-100 and can earn up to $10 in an area where most people live with $2 per day. The driver has to push it uphill and free-ride it downhill, not an easy task when fully loaded.
The city infrastructure is in such bad condition that even a moderate rainfall transforms it to the Venice of Africa. Navigating through mud holes wearing your best dress and shoes is part of the everyday life in Goma.
In sharp contrast to the surroundings, Lac Kivu Lodge was surprisingly luxurious, with well trained staff, wonderful rooms and great views on the lake.
Next: Mountain Gorillas