Run DRC?

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, January 12, 2012 was originally posted on January 19, 2012.

DAY(S 13-)14: It’s ironic that the relaxed, peaceful lake town of Gisenyi lies right on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo — not to be confused with the other country, the Republic of Congo (confusing, I know) — a nation constantly making headlines for civil unrest. In late 2011 (just a month before I’d left for this trip), national elections in DR Congo — and the unagreeable results thereof — stirred up tensions throughout the country. Concurrently, it was around that time that a UN official deemed it “the Rape Capital of the World.”

Regardless of that bad press, I had an inclination to go there, not for the rape but for the passport stamp, mostly because the border was so close; it was literally walking distance away (about 20 minutes on foot from my hotel).

Tom, my guide from the Congo Nile Trail told me that Goma, the border town on the Congolese side, was so far removed from tensions in the capital that it was relaxed — he went there regularly for wine and supply runs — although without the Rwandan infrastructure, it’s “a different world” — one I wanted to at least check out for the day. I had remembered that Paulie, whom I met on the flight from Amsterdam to Kigali, was from Goma as well, and he seemed like a friendly, non-threatening Congolese man — it couldn’t be that bad.

Curiosity instilled.

Both my Lonely Planet and Bradt guide suggested that a day trip to Goma was an easy and popular trip for just a $35 day visa. However, three sources confirmed that times had changed since the publications of those books, and these days the visa fee is close to $300, and you need an invitation from a Congolese host to get in. Normally this can easily be handled by a tour agency that puts together Congolese tour packages for gorilla trekking in DR Congo’s Virungas National Park, or do the popular hike to the top of the Nyiragongo volcano. (Joe from my Rwandan gorilla trek was doing the latter.)

With no time left and no desire to spend $300 for a few hours in a dusty town, I remained in Gisenyi for another two nights.

“AH, WELCOME BACK!” said familiar P.C. (Pierre Celestin), the Rwandan man in a familiar lobby. My home away from home was the Mostej Hotel, a place where everyone knew my name — mostly because “Eric R.” was also the name of the head manager there.

“How was the bike ride?” P.C. asked. “How many hours?”

“Eight the first day,” I replied before counting on my fingers. “Nine the second day.”

“Oh! I’ll check your room so you can rest. Is that good vocabulary? I hear ‘rest’ for dying.”

“Oh, rest in peace,” I informed him. “Only if you say ‘rest in peace.’”

Sadly, I couldn’t rest there my first of two nights; they had been booked solid for an American NGO conference and so I stayed down the road at the Catholic-run hostel, CASFX (Centre d’Accueil Saint Francois Xavier), with very nice rooms, and a nearby internet cafe furbished from what I assumed were former quarters of missionaries. But with breakfast not included, no convenient 24-hour WiFi, and no friendly staff to keep me company, going back to the Mostej was a better option for me on my second night, especially since Eric the manager was nice enough to upgrade me to a bigger room. (Eric reminded me of my former high school vice principal Mr. White, with gap in his teeth and laugh like Barney Rubble.)

“[Ah, you’re back,]” said Epah (sp?), the smiling, charismatic old man who hosted the bar.

“Yes,” I said, shaking his hand. I appreciated that he still dressed to the nines when I was the only one staying there.

“Something to drink?”

I hadn’t planned on it at that afternoon when I just intended to be on the terrace to write. “Uh…”

“Small Mutzig?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Small Mutzig, the usual.”

My time back in Gisenyi was another period of rest and catch-up. I caught up on my blog since it never ceases to nag me in my head when I fall behind. I did laundry, walked on the beach, and ran errands around town, the most important of which was to get as many little bottles of Akabanga, the Rwandan hot sauce I had become quite fond of. There were only four stores in the downtown area that sold food goods, but only one of them had Akabanga left. I cleaned out their remaining five little bottles.

“Omelette avec tomate et champignons?” the breakfast waiter asked me during my last breakfast in the Mostej restaurant where I ate at a table in a room by myself. At least the news was on TV.

“Ouais,” I replied, smiling at his remembrance of my usual egg preference. “Est-ce qu’il ya Akabanga?” (“Is there Akabanga?”)

In the end, I’d spent five whole days at Lake Kivu — almost three of those in Gisenyi — which was more than I originally thought I would. But when you’re in a relaxed, almost lazy town that feels like being in the Caribbean — and in a landlocked African country no less — that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now if only the stores stocked up on more hot sauce…


The Lonely Planet guide said that, at least in Uganda, the American country music of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers was still alive and well, which was also the case in Rwanda. When taking the Virungas bus from Gisenyi to Kigali, the driver had put on a mix tape of American country standards, including Parton and Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream” — which was sort of funny to listen to with hilly African countryside going by the windshield.

The song kept my mind distracted from the fact that the Rwandan woman sitting in the row behind me was prone to carsickness with riding on the roads through the Land of a Thousand Hills; she vomited four times. Thankfully, it smell fruity; she must have had pineapple for breakfast.

Next entry: Remembering 1994

Previous entry: It’s Not All Black and White Along Lake Kivu

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    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  08:26 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Monkeying Around," which chronicled an eighteen-day journey through Uganda and Rwanda in eastern central Africa.

Next entry:
Remembering 1994

Previous entry:
It’s Not All Black and White Along Lake Kivu


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