Initial Impressions

The random number generator we use to select the next country for us to visit appears to like Africa.  It chose Rwanda this time.   Some early homework revealed Rwanda is a country which has some tasty food with lots of bananas included.  We thought we’d even aim to source some banana beer.  Rwanda looks green and lush and is called the ‘Land of a 1000 hills’.  It didn’t enter the Winter Olympics nor did they qualify for the finals African Cup of Nations football competition currently underway so I chose to concentrate on their cycling competition.  My other initial impression was that it’s an excellent shaped county to make a clock of!  It looks a bit of a no-nonsense country so I’d better watch my step.  Please remember therefore that the following tales are all in my imagination.

Travel in Rwanda

Well that was a surprise.  Rwanda is not what I was expecting at all.  Perhaps that’s why I got so many things wrong and ended up, how can I put this, in trouble.

I should have guessed that my preconceived ideas of Rwanda being a desperately poor and underdeveloped country was wrong when I went to see Arsenal play and their shirts were emblazoned with ‘Visit Rwanda’ slogans.

Like many of you no doubt, the last I had heard of Rwanda was the 1994 genocide when close to a million people were killed in the space of 100 days.  A lots been going on since then with reconciliation being at the heart of it.  I’m not going to paint a scene of a bed of roses and with an administration in power that could be described as authoritarian, I’m going to watch my step.

I flew from Heathrow on with the swanky RwandAir straight into the capital Kigali.  Rwanda is a small, landlocked country, about half the size of Wales, mid way down the eastern side of Africa.  I had an image of dry, arid, dusty capital but no its not.  Kigali is almost as green as Wales and nothing like I imagined.  It is modern, swanky hotels, new cars, lots of scooters and very welcoming.  Something I wasn’t prepared for.

I’ve learnt to travel over the years without drawing attention to myself.  I dress down and carry what I need for the day in a plastic carrier bag.  That way I aim to look just like I am out doing a bit of grocery shopping.  This time however that policy got me into trouble.  None of my mates told me plastic bags are banned in Rwanda!  The policeman was very kind.  He let me off with just a warning provided that I attended one of the monthly clean-up days that Kigali has. 

I turned up ready to do my penance but it seemed everybody else in the country had done something wrong. The place was packed with litter pickers. No wonder the city is so clean.

I also got into trouble when I walked into a bar and asked for the local banana beer.  It was brown and cloudy – a bit like a Bass in the 1970s.  I complained saying it looked like it had been made from bananas that had been wrapped in banana leaves and buried underground for three days before being retrieved and fermented.  It turned out that’s exactly how banana beer is made.

(A video that helped give me an insight into the country: Oscar and Dan)


We had a bit of a problem catching a train initially in Rwanda as there aren’t any.  But we weren’t going to let that deter us.  Rwanda has become known a place where it is easy to do business.  It’s like a Singapore of Africa.  There’s been lots of tentative plans to build a railway in the past but nothing had materialised – not till now.  It seemed like plans are all well and good but if you keep falling out with your neighbours then things aren’t easy.  Having said that if the UK and France can build the Channel Tunnel and even get it to meet in the right place in the middle then anything is possible. 

Our plan was to build a north-south and an east west railway line to the borders with DRC, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. That would show a sense of willing and if the neighbours wanted to join up the line they could.  Even if they didn’t we thought it would be a great tourist attraction. 

One slight problem though.  Rwanda is also known as the Land of 1000 Hills and hills aren’t always conducive to building railways.  Not to worry, if we can build railways in Wales then Rwanda should be a doddle.  We just kept to the valleys and went around any hills.  The idea of the prototype trains seen on past Rwanda stamps however had to be shelved. With those long noses they just couldn’t get around the sharp bends we had put in.  

Highest Point

They say everything you read about Rwanda is about gorillas and genocide.  From my experience it’s true. The books I’ve read and films we’ve watched all focus or mention them, oh, and banana beer – its everywhere. These next couple of days would be no exception.  We were heading up to Rwanda’s highest point, the volcano Karisimbi and at 4507 meters, 14,787 feet, and it’s a bit of a beast.  It lies in north west Rwanda right on the DRC border, and in the Volcano National Park, famous for its mountain gorillas.  We were told that if the gorillas don’t get you the kidnappers will, hence the need for guides and a military escort.

Most people we met were in the area to start their gorilla treks.  We were lucky because on the first day a couple of gorillas popped out to see us on the forest trail.  I think they wanted to see me in my green wellies.  Well, it is the rainy season and pretty muddy, and that’s me saying that from Wales.

We camped just below the summit and the solders lit fires and were kind enough to share their food with us – potatoes and bananas.  We were up before dawn the next day, quickly climbing above the tree-line and on the summit by mid-morning luckily escaping any altitude sickness which some suffer from climbing this peak. The other thing I wasn’t expecting was the snow at the top!   There’s no road up here but there is a communications mast, built by hand apparently – they must like communicating. In no time at all it was time to head back to Kigali.

(Account plagiarised from Eric and Matthew Gilbertson’s Country Highpoints)



We have had our first experience of cooking plantain – looks like a banana but is starchy rather than sweet.  Igisafuliya means “pot” in Kinyarwanda, one of the official languages of Rwanda, and so named because it is all made in one pot.  It consists of chicken (not a lot), onions, leeks, pepper, tomatoes, celery (or in our case celeriac), plantain and spinach. The addition of rice and garlic bread was not in the original recipe.


Every Rwandan book read and film I watched seemed to have a reference in it to banana beer. I managed to find an online purveyor of Rwandan beer/wine and thought I would be daring and order some.  It was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience since as soon as I placed the order I received an e-mail back saying that my luxury handbag was on its way from a delivery company in America. Exactly the same thing happened to a friend who writes an excellent beer blog Big Alex’s World Beer Blog and picked up on my discovery of a source of Rwandan beer and ordered some. Fortunately our beer arrived safely and not our luxury handbags. I found the 11% banana beer pretty refreshing.  It may look like the homebrew I made in college days but tasted like a fizzy punch.

We also managed to find some Rwandan coffee.  One of the books I read described the challenges of developing a coffee industry and the need to get the freshly picked coffee beans to the washing plant within four hours. The lack of transport made this difficult hence initiatives started up to provide loans for people to purchase bikes to transport the beans.


We managed to find three films to watch about Rwanda:

‘Shooting Dogs’ with John Hurt and Hugh Dancy.  A film about the 1994 genocide from the point of view of a priest  and an English teacher who share their school with UN peacekeepers.  A harrowing watch which leaves you asking ‘what would I have done?’

‘Hotel Rwanda’ . Another film about the awful 1994 genocide.  It portrays hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and his efforts to shelter over 1000 people in the besieged Hôtel des Mille Collines during the genocide. Since leaving Rwanda in 1996, Paul Rusesabagina has become a prominent critic of the Rwandan regime and is currently serving a lengthy jail sentence.

‘Gorillas in the Mist’ starring Sigourney Weaver as the American naturalist Dian Fossey who goes to Rwanda to study the mountain gorillas. She is appalled by the poaching of the gorillas for their skins, hands, and heads. She is eventually murdered by person/people unknown. Her efforts are said to have helped save the gorillas from extinction and made the administration in Rwanda realise the tourist potential of the mountain gorillas. Part of the income generated from gorilla treks now contributes towards their preservation.  The film seems pretty dated now but still a moving watch.


There was no shortage of literature for me to read.  I ended up reading four books in all, two fiction and two non-fiction books, a bit of a record for me as I’m normally a slow reader.

‘Our Lady of the Nile’ by Scholastique Mukasonga.  It may seem strange but out of the films and books on Rwanda this is the best I’ve encountered for giving me a real insight into the country, customs, food, countryside and its people. It is told from the point of view of the pupils at the Our Lady of the Nile boarding school and has translated very well from its original French.

‘The Flower Plantation’ by Nora Anne Brown – beautiful writing. I hadn’t realised how it dovetailed into the ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ story  till part way through

‘Do Not Disturb’ – Michela Wrong.  A weighty tome.  A piece of investigative journalism looking at Rwanda over the years. Puts the genocide in context.  Not a book to take with you on holiday to Rwanda.

I extended my ‘virtual’ stay in Rwanda to follow the Tour du Rwanda and read ‘Land of Second Chances’ by Tim Lewis. I don’t pretend to know a lot about cycling but now know more than I did before and much more about life in Rwanda. A good read, well written and more than just about cycling.


Gorillas seem to be synonymous with tourism in Rwanda so what better stamp for me to get as part of my ‘virtual’ holiday than one with a gorilla pictured.  They look fine creatures. 


I tackled solving the only Puzzle Cache currently in Rwanda.    It was called Never Again and gave me an opportunity to learn more about the genocide and to spend time reflecting on past atrocities in the country.  Here’s wishing Rwanda a bright future moving forward. 


I was happy when I discovered Rwanda Restored, a local charity based here in Cardiff that is supporting education in Rwanda.  Rwanda Restored seeks the advancement of education of young people in Rwanda by building or improving schools, relieving financial hardship by providing money for food, housing, education, clothes and social support for widows and orphans across Rwanda.  It was certainly  interesting learning more about the valuable work they have been doing in Rwanda over the years, building a school and financially supporting pupils who attend.

Supporting a new desk in Kigali


I’m continuing to try and make a clock in the shape of each country I visit.  Rwanda is another nice shape for a clock.  I failed in my attempt to meet anyone in Rwanda in Cardiff so rather than have the clock sit on my bookcase I gifted it to Rwanda Restored and they kindly took it out to their school in Kigali where it now of the wall. Many thanks.   


I stayed on a bit longer in Rwanda than I originally intended to in order to catch some of the Tour du Rwanda cycling race.  I didn’t find a live stream of the race but the highlights on the official YouTube channel were good to watch.  As well as the cycling it was interesting to see countryside and people. Stage 6 was won by Ukrainian Budiak Anatoli, a valiant effort considering the terrible things happening in his home country.

Rwanda – Music

Rwanda is quite a musical and dance nation as far as I could tell. Like the Rwanda nation itself it has modernised quickly and there is a lot of hip-hop music around.  Searching Spotify and I came up with quite a few playlists that appealed to me from gospel to traditional music with a strong bass and harmonies.    

Farewell Rwanda

The modernisation of Rwanda had completely passed me by so it’s been an excellent month learning about Rwanda old and new.  I haven’t met a Rwandan as yet but did get the opportunity to meet up with some people who had visited the country and it was great to listen to their experience. Farewell my friends. 

Meeting someone from Rwanda

When we had our ‘virtual’ month in Rwanda earlier in 2022 I never managed to arrange meeting anyone in Cardiff from Rwanda. 

In August 2022 presented an opportunity to put that right.  We had the pleasure of seeing and meeting Ingoma Nshya – the ground-breaking Woman drummers of Rwanda.

I learnt that for centuries in Rwanda, drumming was an activity reserved exclusively for men. Women were not permitted to touch the drums  or even approach the drummers.

They played at the Clifton Street Festival and gave it their all.  Well done.

One thought on “Rwanda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s