The enormous gray volcano silhouettes poked from behind the hills which are carefully stepped hills for efficient cultivation, while I rode along the narrow slip of pristine asphalt road, lined with thin blue gum trees. I noticed the lack of vehicles compared to Uganda but took note of the large amounts of people wandering the streets with purpose. As we passed the men, they whistled, alerting the others that something different is travelling along these roads. The women dressed in western clothing but with local printed cloth wrapped around them, not only performing as an apron or a sling to support their children on their back but a piece of cloth to hold up their sagging boobies. Somehow, they look so graceful when they slowly turn to gaze at my bike with their baby on their back and a large sack of coal on their heads. This was my introduction to Rwanda and I was shocked how different it was to its neighboring country Uganda within only a few meters from the border.
Border crossings are just formalities, a legal line penciled in the dust to distinguish one government from another. However, the culture and the people tend to blur across that line and only by traveling the road do you discover where the real boundary lay forming the edge of that particular culture and how far it travels into its neighboring countries. However when it came to Uganda and Rwanda, I was for the first time on this trip very wrong. It did change at the border.
Rwanda’s government after the genocide that ended in 1994 underwent some major reforms, which affected the country for once in a good way (as far as I could see). Now corruption at all levels seems to be under control and proud of it. The way Rwandans now take pride in their country clean and green image by banning the use of plastic bags and enforcing once a month clean up your street day. And the major change in lack of police and army presence on the streets. These opinions of mine were all reinforced as I made my way through the country that in less than twenty years ago was a completely different story.
With Rwanda only a tenth of the size of Uganda, we had to cut our travelling days down drastically. That we only had 60km to travel to our next destination, did not mean we could not go off track and look at some pretty sights around Rwanda! But first we had to finish up the border formalities.
This border crossing was not anything different from the usual formalities. Uganda was very easy – step one, go and register with the police, step two – fill out form, step three – get stamped out, step four -go and get carnet stamped out. Once we were finished and rode up to the police barrier, the guard asked if we had been to that building and that one, and then lastly pointing to the customs office. We said yes to everything, as I know he just watched us do so. He then exercised his rights as a guard and asked us for our exit chit. “What exit chit?” We asked. “The one from the customs office” he replies. Mike knew I was starting to fume, it’s a small border with no one leaving but us and he had just watched us wonder from one building to another but he still was asking for an exit chit. Mike offered to go and I stayed with the bikes. Within minutes, he returned from the customs office with a smirk on his face. I looked at him questioningly, but he shook his head and showed the guard. The guard pointed to the furthest away shack, “Now over there” which was the police building. Mike returned from the police shed with an even bigger smirk. I wondered what it is, waiting for the guard to tell us to go to the immigration building next but surprisingly he let us through and we hit the Rwanda gate and yet another lazy guard.
The guard stood there and looked at us. I left my bike running, waiting patiently and he looked back at us. I couldn’t stand this kind of guard taking his job so seriously. I then called out. ‘Can you please lift the gate? Or do we leave the bikes here?’ I was planning on leaving mine, right in the way of any oncoming traffic (even though to my disappointment there really isn’t any oncoming traffic to annoy). He demanded our passports. He casually flicked through them for no reason once his curiosity was satisfied. He then demanded we park our bikes over there, pointing to a rough looking car park.
The immigration officer seemed to think I am Indian before I passed him my passport, and asked me how India was doing. I couldn’t think why except for the dark hair and looked back at him complexly confused. Then he realized his mistake and tells everyone I am from New Zealand. The customs officer decided he wanted our bikes parked right outside his office. We told him the officer on the gate told us to park over there (where he cannot see them of course). The officers got up from his chair and peaked out the side door at them and said “mmmm ok, that’s fine”. He stamped our carnets and we were once again back at the first police guard, handing over my fake insurance and my fake driver’s license. He accepted them without any second looks and we were once again back on the road.
Not long after the boarder we pulled into a dirt side road, behind a large dump truck, billowing the usual about of dust, we followed him tentatively trying to spot a place to pass him. However, he surprised us by courteously pulling over to one side and letting us pass him! Further, down the road we stopped at a rise in the road to take a picture of the beautiful lake that had unfolded before me. Within seconds, the children surrounded me and watch as I take the picture. We started talking to the two eldest boys who both had great ambitions to become a lawyer and a pilot someday.
Then two elder women arrived, and I started talking to them with the help of her younger son who wanted to be a lawyer. She watches me closely and is very curious to see how I tie my hair up and how my amour jacket fits me. I bend down and un-zip my pants to show them my boots and knee protectors. Everyone suddenly surged around me and came to look at the crazy white girl’s motorcycle protection.
Meanwhile Mike was being interrogated by an 18 year old boy about how to become rich like a white person. It’s hard to answer a question like that. We are not rich. We work for our money and save for many years before it is possible to do something like this and now we both are working while travelling. But then again, we are definitely rich in experience and we only get richer in that.
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Introducing the Motomonkey Shop
While I have been travelling, I have also been collecting a few pieces from here and there. My business partner Louise receives my packages from around the world and then helps me categories, markets and stores them. When you make a purchase she ships the beautiful things from her very own house. It’s taken awhile but we have now arrange to sell the items through my website.