Border crossings are always a bit nerve racking, but since I entered Kenya for the first time back in February, I have been extremely lucky until Burundi. On the Rwandan side, we were stamped out of the country in seconds and that included the carnet de passage. However, on the Burundi side, as we parked the motorcycles we were greeted by a guy who acted completely drunk or stoned who decided he was going to be our helper and take good care of our motorcycles. I really love these kind of helpers, the ones who don’t actually want to help, the ones who don’t actually do anything and in the end try to get something out of you. Sorry buddy, but your woes are not our problem and we have been travelling for way to look to give you a piece of our pie – even if it’s only a coke you are after. You might think I am acting really harsh but if I gave a hand out to everyone who asked me, I would be worse off than them.
While we obtained our visa and got stamped into the country, I kept one eye on the bikes. I wasn’t so worried about our gear as we had decided to take our helmets and my tank bag with us. But you never know, he was that out of it, he could have easily tripped over his feet and knocked over the bikes. After we got our visa we then had to tackle the customs guy who had never seen a carnet de passage before in his life! But I will give him credit, he looked at it and slowly worked out the paper work and we could finally leave.
The one thing I really hate at border crossings is the last guard, he or she is always decided they want to see our documents before opening the gate for one last time. Normally, we have to pack them away in order to drive to the gate, therefore when they stop us we have to dismount, unpack them, hand them over and wait until they flick through the many stamped pages in our passport completely confused before they eventually give up and let us pass. This time, I decided I wanted to avoid this charade by giving the documents to her first while we were still off our bikes. So as Mike and I walked from the customs office back to our bikes we had to go past the officer. I handed her our passports and documents and said can you please check them before we drive up to the gate. She shrugs me off and hands the passports without even checking them and now I wonder what she is going to do when we come back with the bikes.
Of course, my thoughts were right, our personal drunken guard wanted money or a coke. In fact everyone in the car park now wants a coke and has surrounded both bikes. I was super happy that my bike started on the first kick and we moved to approach the gates, The guard lazily came over to us and asked me for the documents. I let out a sigh, of course you do, less than 2 minutes ago, I was handing them to you and now you want to see them! Grumpily I said, I just gave them to you. She looked at both of us, someone said something about the motorcycles in French, and she opened the gates. “Welcome to Burundi” I think to myself. If this is what it’s like at the border I wonder what the people inside the country are going to be like.
Not even one kilometer passed and already the vibe of the country changed. People were waving out and clapping their hands to get our attention as we drove past. Actually, if there was no border you would actually think you were still in Rwanda. The countryside is completely developed for agriculture, not a single square inch left undeveloped. The biggest difference in the two countries is how the people and cyclists thumb a lift.
The whole country is a mountain range that only drops down around Lake Tanganyika. Being incredibly lazy, no one wants to push their bikes up or even down hills, so they grab hold of any passing truck with one hand and somehow arrange themselves so they end up sitting side-saddle. Normally, there would be about four to six guys lined up across the back of a truck with about the same amount of hitch hikers hanging onto the back of the truck above them. It was such a dangerous system, luckily for me I never saw an accident, but I can imagine that its must happen a lot, as these trucks are travelling around 60km/hr around sharp corners with massive cliffs on one side and a huge drop on the other side.
We arrived into Bujumbura early afternoon, with the hotel prices way out of our budget at 55 Euros per night at the cheapest place, I contacted Sarah through “couchsurfing” and asked if she and her flat mates wanted two smelly bikers for two nights. We had a blast at Sarah’s house, straight away Sarah and her flat mates took us in and instantly befriended us. Sarah gave us her very own room to sleep in and after a quick shower, we were invited out to dinner with the others. French was flying around the table thick and fast, despite not understanding them 99.9% of the time I found myself enjoying myself.
With a three-day visa, and one mission, Burundi was slightly more of a bucket list country. For the past couple of countries, I have been having meetings with a few nonprofit organizations who focus on business incubation. It is a small job for Mark Phillips who has set up a NPO (nonprofit organization) with a partner, called B’ginnings.
B’ginnings mission is to reduce poverty be educating the worlds businesses and communities, by connecting entrepreneurs in developed countries with those in less developed ones by teaching and guiding them through the process. I have been Mark and his partner’s ears and eyes on the ground here, arranging meeting in a select group of companies here in East Africa and getting a general feel of the company that Mark is interested in setting up a connection with. Personally, I love doing these meetings, you meet some amazing people and Burundi Business Incubator was no exception, they were well establish and had a great variety of businesses they were helping the locals develop.
After my meeting, Sarah showed us to the most amazing French bakery, we sat, we drank good coffee, we ate quiches and chocolate éclairs and we all got stuck into free Wi-Fi. A boring afternoon for some, a luxurious one for me. Before we knew it, our one full day in Burundi was over and we had to head to the Tanzania border.
We rode south along the edge of the lake, until we hit the edge and our only option was to climb over the mountain. The customs building was 20km north of the border in a small village. We headed there first and were stamped out of Burundi. However, before we headed towards the Tanzanian border I wanted to have something to eat. We ended up riding back into the village despite the strange looks from the police and sat down to a coke and a Bruschetta (BBQ meat on a stick), before heading back past the customs building on onwards to Tanzania.