“I get so high, I just can’t feel it” – Noel Gallagher.
On the same trip, by default and odd African ruleballs, we ended up in Kigali FOUR TIMES. Yes, and despite that peculiarity, we really only had 2 nights and 2 days here! We loved our time in lofty Kigali, Rwanda’s capital and a city built deep into the mountains which sure as hell reminded me of Quito, Tegucigalpa and Caracas in backpacking days gone drastically by…there’s a new planet in the solar system. There is nothing up my sleeve…
Said 4 times in Kigali, were as such…
Time 1 – We touched down in Kigali airport from Brussels before we landed in Entebbe, Uganda. We didn’t even leave the plane. We used a very old and stupid airline lacking education and living in the dark ages. Brussels Airlines (I am still waiting on my boarding pass and backpack and $2000 USD, 4 weeks on…). ????
Time 2 – Then we backpacked overland from Entebbe in Uganda to Kigali, Rwanda. Arrival was by bus.
Time 3 – Then we backpacked overland from Bukavu and Cyangugu back to Kigali after insanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Time 4 – Finally we had 7 more hours in Kigali on a flight connection from Bujumbura in Burundi on route to Entebbe.
Each time’s arrival was blissful and buoyant. Gorilla crisps and a club and I’m 17 again…
Kigali is Rwanda’s capital city and is one of the most advanced, pleasant and calm African cities in my backpacking repertoire. It’s a sleeping giant. It called for some exploration but definitely not for a top 6.42 whackpacking sights the way I used to. I got bored of that sh*t when mid life depression kicked down my normal man doors.
Also, I didn’t properly read my guidebook and tick off certain sights in Kigali. Yes I loved using the Loneley Planet again but not all the time. There was one main place I wanted to visit however – The Rwanda Genocide Centre. This country had witnessed such horror in the very recent past. It cuts deep and as white people drenched in Yugoslavian and Northern Irish fake agreements, none of us gave a shit about Rwanda when it mattered. Shame on me. Shame on you. Over a million Rwandans were killed in a Genocide.
“If this is peace, then what are we to class as war?” – Omagh Bomb witness (Northern Ireland, 1998).
Apart from gaining knowledge of the genocide, I was happy to try some local food, drink some local beer, post a postcard to my brother and buy my Mum a fridge magnet. Kigali turns out to be a cracking capital city.
Top Sight – Kigali Genocide Centre
Sadly but significantly and importantly the Kigali Genocide Centre is the main sight. If you only have time to visit one place – make it this place. Sombre, solemn, sad, grotesque, essential.
“Zombie, zombie, in your head they are dying” – Dolores O Riordan.
We got a taxi here to the Kigali Genocide Centre and we were there on a memorially sad day. It was 7th April 2019. This was 25 years to the day that the horrific genocides began. 7th April 1994 was also a personal sentimental day for me as my brother Daniel was born that day, Oasis made their first ever UK radio appearance and Kurt Cobain killed himself. I didn’t even know the horror that occurred here.
The Genocide Centre opens daily from 8 am. We got there early and stayed for around 2 hours including having a coffee in the cafe and buying some souvenirs.
Why was there a genocide in Rwanda? Answer – because people were evil.
Sad “excuses” for the genocide in Rwanda – Following a civil war (1990 – 1994), Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana was assassinated in a jet from a grenade carrying him and Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamira, following negotiations related to the Arusha Accords. As a result, Rwandan ethnic cleansing groups controlled by Rwandan Armed Forces started their horrendous spate of murders, ethnically motivated killings of Tutsis by radical Hutus began.
Before I visited the Kigali Genocide Centre in Rwanda I had already witnessed some seriously grim Genocide Centres on my travels, including these gory places:
– Auschwitz German Death Camp, Poland
– Birkenau German Death Camp, Poland
– Stutthof German Death Camp, Poland
– Majdanek German Death Camp, Poland
– Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum / S21 , Phnom Penh, Cambodia
– Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Cambodia
– Genocide Museum, Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina
– Genocide Museum, Yerevan, Armenia
– Amna Suraka Red Security, Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors, Sulimaniyeh, Iraq
Other Sights in Kigali
“Downtown Kigali” is really Uptown Kigali as it is located at the top of a lofty hill, overlooking the city. This is the hub and the CBD. On our last night in Kigali, we stayed nearby at the Hotel Okapi so the uptown area was all easily walkable on foot.
Indepys Q (Independence Square) is on a main roundabout in central Kigali. Located also at the top of the city. Views, pretty gardens, peace. A longevit wail from genocide.
Selfie with a fake Gorilla
On our downtown uptown tour we were searching for the Gorilla monument. This was a chance to get a real selfie with a fake gorilla to make up for the fact that we didn’t even have a real selfie with a real gorilla having cancelled our gorilla tour in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Locals in Kigali have no clue about the location of the gorilla monument so don’t even ask the locals. But we found it eventually by walking around.
1-0 to the Arsenal
I was often bamboozled when I asked locals if they liked football and they kept responding that they all supported Arsenal. Had I missed something? Was there a famous Rwandan player at Arsenal? Did Arsenal have an academy or feeder club in Rwanda? None of that…it turns out that Rwanda once sponsored the Arsenal football team!! That was why I kept seeing Arsenal posters and badges and kits!
Try Agatogo, Rwanda’s National Dish
There were a few African dishes we wanted to try on this trip, namely the Ugandan “rolleggs” and the Rwandan “agatogo” and we found it in the second place we slept in in Kigali. It was at the back bar and restaurant in Hotel Okapi.
However, the service was damn slow and when the dish finally arrived, it felt like my hunger had passed. I didn’t expect a goulasch or chicken stew to be so huge!
The Agotogo was a hearty broth with a chicken thigh and leg, spicy sauce, bananas, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables all mixed in. Russell and Malina helped me out but still I couldn’t finish this beast of a meal! I liked the vegetables and the spice but not really the way the chicken was cooked. It reminded me of the famous Hungarian dish Paprika Chicken, which ironically I tried almost 10 years to the day earlier.
Drink Virunga Beer
When I am in a new country, it is always an obsession to try the local beer. My first beer in Rwanda was actually a Mützig which sounded German. I drank this one in our hostel, Discover Rwanda.
But then we headed to a place for dinner called Dolce and they had 2 other local Rwandan beers – Virunga Gold and Virunga Black. I decided to try both and loved them. On my final night in Rwanda, I also drank Virunga and declared it my favourite beer from this trip.
Aside from this, we visited a coffee shop, a supermarket and were in and out of the bus station a few times.
Here are some videos of my time backpacking in Kigali: