Burundi

I headed off in the morning, riding towards the border. Not, as the title of this post might suggest, to Burundi, but rather to Tanzania.

There were loads of people out running as I rode out of the town where I’d stayed the night. Some were in groups of up to 50, chanting as they went.

The letters L and R are often pronounced interchangeably here and occasionally written so

Within an hour I’d reached the border. There’s a one stop border post in each country – ideally it’s only necessary to go to the post in the country one is entering. However, the Rwandan guys weren’t sure I was allowed to leave, so I had to go inside theirs first. The immigration officer made a call and I was allowed to proceed.

Once I got to the Tanzanian side, the first thing I needed was to take a rapid Covid test. The guy was much gentler than most, though I’m not sure he actually inserted the swap enough to get a proper sample. He printed off my negative result before actually checking the test.

Inside the building, one difference to Rwanda was very obvious: a lack of masks. Even outside in small, remote Rwandan villages, most people have masks on – albeit often around their chins. Even the Tanzanian immigration officers didn’t wear masks. Despite their own lack of precautions, they had a remarkably long list of countries with travel restrictions.

Immigration took a while, though the longest part of that was waiting in line at the bank to pay my visa. I do have an E-visa, but I’d rather hold on to that to use for my second entry to Tanzania. Besides, I was able to get a transit visa here, which is cheaper.

After waiting for the guy in front of me to pay in 25,000 USD in cash(!) I paid and returned to the immigration officer. I collected my visa, exchanged my remaining Rwandan money, and rode off into Tanzania.

Right away I was off onto a dirt road, and a ferry crossing. The ferry was almost as wide as the river!

A long, often steep climb rose up the other side of the river, and I gained around 500m altitude. The attention here was a lot lower than in Rwanda. People notice me of course, but don’t shout. During my 60km in Tanzania not a single person begged for money!

After this climb I joined a tarmac road for a gentle descent to the Burundian border. On this road my nemesis returned, with a vengeance: rumble strips. Rwanda had been mercifully free of these. Thankfully, only a couple towns on this stretch were large enough to merit them.

I rode into Burundi, and across the border. I paid $15, and took a rapid Covid test. There was a TV in the waiting room, playing a music video. Initially it seemed like any other pop song but after looking at the subtitles, I could make out the words “Coronavirus.” A man sung into a microphone “Coronavirus is a deadly pandemic,” and the video cut to his backup singers who chorused “it’s killed so many people.” Well, maybe it’s a good way of communicating with the public!

After about 15 minutes I got my result. A remarkable number of officials had asked for money – a soldier, the guy processing the payment for my test, and the guy administering the test. During my time in Burundi, though, the general population barely begged at all – an interesting contrast to Rwanda where demands for money from locals are ubiquitous, but I would be shocked to hear such from a government official.

I exchanged some USD at the border too. Normally I just use ATMs but here the black market rate is significantly better than the bank rate. The bank rate is under 2000 BIF:1 USD, but I got 3200.

I gave in to none of them, only paying the official fee for the test, then moved on to immigration. After taking my photo and my prints, I was stamped out of Tanzania. Burundian officials initially told me to go pay for a visa, until I pointed out I’d just showed them the one I got from Kigali. They asked for my yellow fever vaccination (which I think is the first time).

The binding of the booklet has come apart. All the information is still there, and I have photocopies of it too. The immigration guys were very upset about it too – at one point their boss pushed my passport back at me and gestured for me to leave. I wasn’t about to do that, though, and I pushed my passport back towards them. After a little more grumbling they got on with processing me into the country.

Past the border I was climbing again. The population density was relatively low, and the low attention I’d been receiving in Tanzania continued. That’s not to say there was no yelling and such, but at least there was less.

I reached the town of Muyinga. I tried to find a supermarket but there was none – like Ethiopia, there are only very small kiosks. I bought a few things then checked into a hotel. I went for a quick walk around town, with “Mzungu” constantly being yelled out. There wasn’t much to see and I returned to the hotel. I was asleep not long after 6!

It was gloomy and overcast when I set off in the morning, and rained for several hours. Nonetheless it was pleasant cycling.

Since I was soaking wet I didn’t really want to stop for a break. After about 5 hours of cycling I made it to Gitega, the capital. It’s the seat of government, but not the economic capital – it’s a medium size town, really. There was a small supermarket there and I picked up some food and a roll of sellotape to try and repair my yellow fever certificate.

It stopped raining while I was in Gitega and I stopped for a break once I got out of town. When I went to leave, I found my rear tyre a bit soft. The leak was too slow for me to find it by ear, but there was a puddle nearby. Luckily bubbles emerged from the first part of the tube I placed in the puddle. I found a corresponding hole in the tyre, but whatever caused it was gone. In went another tube and off I went. No one had stopped to bother me the whole time I was stopped!

Not long after that I reached a turnoff onto a road I’d expected to be paved, but wasn’t. A section of it was flooded, muddy and slippery but thankfully that didn’t last too long.

The attention picked up significantly on this road. I put both earphones in to drown out the frequent yells of Mzungu, as I rode along the hard clay that was so cracked it felt like riding on cobbles.

When I stopped for a break it didn’t take long for people to gather to stare. I heard them talking about it for a while before one guy built up the courage to come over and demand money.

When the schools closed, there were lots of kids out, who usually chased me as I passed. A good way of getting rid of them was to try and take a photo, as they would then turn tail and run!

There were lots of steep climbs and descents on this section and I was glad when, after a few hours, I returned to tarmac. I rode on a little while further, and stopped at a small kiosk. Locals found it both fascinating and hilarious that there was a foreigner there and crowded around to watch and laugh at me. Again they ran away when I tried to take a photo!

Just a couple kilometres later there was a small town with several accommodation options. I checked in somewhere for 20,000 BIF (£5).

I headed out of town on a small dirt road. After a few kilometres, my rear tyre started going soft – this time, the cause was a bit of wire. Shortly after sorting that I reached the tourist destination that was the reason for there being so many accommodation options in such a small town: the source of the Nile.

There are many sources of the Nile, in many countries. This one’s claim to fame is that it is supposedly the southernmost source. Some locals have fenced it off with a locked gate, but there was no one around to open it so I just hopped the fence.

From here I continued south, on rolling hills initially trending upwards, riding on a fairly smooth dirt road.

Past the high point I began to descend, though still with lots of short climbs along the way. The road became a track, then more of a trail. There was a bit of rain and it became slippery; I pushed some of the downhill sections.

After several hours of slow downward progress I reached the bottom of the valley, and a bridge across the river. Well, bridge may be a stretch.

I joined a road which was still dirt but somewhat better condition.

A few kilometres later I reached a tarmac road in the town of Makamba. It was a fairly big town but people still gathered to watch as I went around a few barely stocked kiosks to get some food.

A couple more hours of hilly riding brought me to the Tanzanian border.

People like to run after me

I rolled right through the Burundian side, and made the steep climb up to the Tanzanian post. I thought I’d read this was a one-stop post, but evidently I misremembered. I hopped back on the bike and rode back to Burundi.

I was stamped out quickly, in what may be my final french conversation for a while. I’d found it quite fun to use my French; it’s not great but I know enough to get by. This was the first border in a while that didn’t scan my passport or do anything electronic, just wrote my details in a logbook.

Back up at the Tanzanian side I took a (free) rapid Covid test. The result came back (negative) after a somewhat shorter time than they’re supposed to take. I showed my e-visa to the officials. Again they just noted down my details in a logbook – presumably I could have used the same single entry visa at both crossings.

The first hour of riding in Tanzania was along gently rolling hills atop a high ridge, in sunlight. Then, though, dark clouds gathered. Thunder boomed. To my left I could see the storm getting closer.

I still had a couple hours to go and I decided to ride out the storm. I reasoned either it would be short, and I would dry out after; or it would be long, and I’d get wet anyway. The rain was reasonably heavy but not torrential.

A long descent took me down from 1700m to 800m. After the rain stopped I dried out, and rolled into the town of Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Dec 12: 105 km

Dec 13: 176 km

Dec 14: 153 km

6 thoughts on “Burundi

  1. Sam.
    I’m Colin Graver your aunt Nic’s father in law in Calgary Canada. We met in Calgary many years ago when you were quite young.
    I am so interested and look forward to receiving your travel Blogs.
    It is a tremendous adventure that you have undertaken and you are very brave.
    I lived in South Africa for 15 years. Relatively civilized compared to the countries you are traveling through.
    I’ve had a passion for Africa all my life so am thrilled to hear of your African adventures. The photos make your text come alive.
    Stay safe Sam and enjoy this once in a lifetime adventure.
    Looking forward to the next chapter in your saga.
    Colin Graver

    Like

    1. Hi Colin!
      Yes I remember you well, I look back very fondly on my time in Calgary. Thanks for your comments – I am certainly looking forward to South Africa and being back in a more developed countries with a few more luxuries.

      I hope you had a good Christmas.
      Sam.

      Like

  2. Amazing trip. What do you actually eat at these little shops? Staple food? Or anything special between Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania?

    Like

    1. The little shops are generally much the same. They mostly sell things like bottled drinks and household goods. For food, biscuits is usually about the extent of it. In Rwanda and Burundi they often also had Mendazi, a kind of doughnut bread. It often wasn’t very fresh, but I bought some when it was.

      Sam.

      Like

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