For the northern half of the shores of Lake Kivu, I decided to follow another bikepacking route: the Congo-Nile trail. And so, after a few kilometres on tarmac, I turned off onto dirt track.
The first part of this trail was downhill, but still very slow. At times it was slippery, at other times the trail simply went along jagged bedrock. At its best there was still lots of exposed rock, making for a bumpy ride.
Down at the lake’s shores, there wasn’t much of a trail at all. I followed some singletrack through fields, reaching a river and a bridge. Well, it used to be a bridge, anyway.
Some locals directed me upstream to where the river was somewhat shallower. It was little more than ankle deep, though the sand under the water was loose enough that my leg sunk in to my knee at one point. On the other side, I had to push parts of the climb – rough, slippery surfaces combined with steep gradients made for a tough section.
Thankfully the second half had somewhat better surfaces, and less steep gradients. I was able to ride at a somewhat more reasonable pace downhill, and didn’t need to push any more of the climbs.
People were generally nice, mostly just greeting me with a “hello” or “good morning.” When schools closed in the afternoon the begging increased substantially.
Eventually I reached tarmac, and cycled on to the town of Gisenya. Heavy rainfall began as I arrived, and I waited it out in the covered area outside a supermarket. I then went to find an ATM. The first two only took Visa cards (I have one but it’s my spare, and awkward to get out). The third was out of money.
The next ATM on my map was a kilometre away. I was about to ride to it when I realised it was across the border, in the Congo. For a moment I considered trying to get to it before making the obvious realisation that it’d dispense the wrong currency!
There were more ATMs a couple kilometres away, on the Rwandan side of the border, so I rode to those and managed to get some money out. I began to cycle away from the river, making it another 15km or so to the next town before looking for somewhere to stay.
The first place was cheap, but had no mosquito nets. I decided to give that one a skip, and rode on to another place I knew of on the other side of town. At 12000 RWF (£9) it was more than I’d like to pay, but I did want a mosquito net. And at least it had a hot shower!
The next morning began with a long ascent, the continuation of the climb away from the lake I’d begun the day before. After gaining about 800m the road settled into rolling hills for a time.
After a long descent, a short climb led to the town of Ngororero, a town which I found difficult to pronounce! It was still quite early but I wouldn’t be able to make it back to Kigali today, and didn’t anticipate passing any more hotels in the next 90km. And so I stopped for the day, checking into a hotel. The town was noteworthy for having some of the cheapest biscuits I’ve seen, 100 RWF (£0.07) for 50g.
I left Ngororero riding downhill on a rough dirt track. It was rough enough that even downhill I was averaging 12 Kph.
As I neared the bottom of the descent there was an unusual lack of people, and the track was in even worse condition. I worried that the upcoming bridge would be gone. Thankfully, it was still there.
Across the rickety wooden bridge the road conditions improved drastically. It was about as good as dirt roads get, and I settled in for a long climb.
Over an hour of climbing later the road levelled out and deteriorated somewhat before descending again. Being Rwanda, this was of course immediately followed by another climb. A series of switchbacks mostly riding on exposed bedrock left me overheating a little. It wasn’t hot – barely 20°C – but it was so humid that my sweat wouldn’t evaporate.
The road improved again for the descent and then, wonder of wonders, became flat! The final 20km stretch to Kigali was on a smooth dirt road. I think it may have been built by the Chinese, or they may have mining operations nearby. Locals called out “China” and “Ni hai” to me.
In Kigali I rode up into the centre to stock up on food at a supermarket, then back down to the hotel I’d stayed at before.
I took two days off here. On the second day, I went back to the Burundian embassy. After a trip to a bank to pay the fee, I collected my visa. Coincidentally Burundi had introduced a visa on arrival system just a couple days before. These things can take a while to take effect at land borders so I’d decided to collect this visa to be safe.
The next day, I set off riding out of Kigali. On the climb out of the city, several of the passing vehicles spewed disgusting black fumes. It wasn’t the nicest thing to cycle in!
After a couple of hours I reached Nyamata. Like most towns in Rwanda, it has a memorial to the Genocide. I visited this one, a church. Thousands of people sheltered here, hoping their attackers would not desecrate a church. The explosion damage and bullet holes prove them wrong. 50,000 people are buried in a mass grave nearby.
I rode on from Nyamata, and headed to the Burundian border. I knew the Rwanda-Burundi border was closed, but since it was only 12km away I figured it was worth a go. But the Rwandan police were firm: no chance without a special exit authorisation. And so I turned around.
I turned off onto a dirt road, heading now in the direction of Tanzania. The road descended into some wetlands, and reached a wide river. The original bridge had collapsed, but there was a new one – though it was narrow; not wide enough for two loaded bikes to pass. There was a queue.
Past the river the road climbed. Around midday it began to rain, heavily. I took shelter outside an empty building and was soon joined by some kids. The rain became absolutely torrential and the wind picked up, blowing the rain into our shelter. Just at that moment a woman arrived with a key and gestured us inside. And so I waited there with 4 kids, a woman, two chickens and a rabbit. After about half an hour the rain was light enough that I set off again.
I rode for another 45 minutes or so before the rain got heavier and I took shelter. A nearby family kindly invited (insisted really!) that I join them in their house.
I resumed cycling, and continued climbing up along the dirt roads.
A few kilometres before I was set to rejoin the tarmac, there were some roadworks making for a somewhat muddy environment.
My front tyre suddenly went flat and I stopped to sort it. I found a piece of glass, removed it, and swapped the inner tube before continuing along.
After another couple hours on tarmac I reached the town of Nyakarambi, just as it was getting dark. I checked into a lodge and asked where I could find a supermarket. I was about to walk there but the hotel owner, Agustin, kindly gave me a lift. He also drove me to another hotel that he owns where I ordered food that they would then deliver to my room in the other hotel.
Dec 6: 94 km
Dec 7: 83 km
Dec 8: 91 km
Dec 11: 172 km