Congo Nile Trail: Day 4

Day four of four days’ walking from Gisenye to Kibuye:

As many warned me, the scenery when hiking along mountains by a lake becomes much the same after a few days.

My only contention is that this need not be a warning: In my experience, similarity need not make for lack of interest. Watching the single track and the Lake emerge into view and disappear behind me, both tantalisingly near and far, can never get boring.

But I’m not talented enough to capture the endlessly interesting nature of this in writing and photographs.

So today there is both less writing and fewer photographs. I have only a few fragments, noted down during my hike:

On a corner, I hear a child singing muzungu excitedly. He’s tiny and has an even tinier sister. They stand respectfully with their parents. I smile, extend my hand. The little one looks no longer curious but scared, and screams. The other slowly approaches, shakes my hand, and retreats, without turning his back. I must, with white skin, backpack, camera etc, be scary to them. I wonder briefly if we all look like colonial surveyors might have done, only with more technology.

I think of Musasa Base Camp last night. I was warned it would be difficult. When I arrived a lady advised me to pitch my tent next to the coffee washing machinery and plantations. I tell her I have no tent. I’m about to leave, but I hesitate. However basic the spot is perfect: a high peninsula overlooking the lake. I want to stay.

Just as I’m about to leave she points me to a man. The man gestures to me to get on the back of his scooter. I do so. He takes me down a short dirt single track to house at the end of the isthmus. There I meet Innocent.

Innocent is a kind man. He’s a year younger than me. He studied agriculture and he’s been manager of the RWACOF (Rwanda Coffee Co) Coffee Washing Station here for two weeks. He was told hikers would visit, but I’m his first. I ask if dinner and bed are possible. He hesitates. It’s possible, he says.

He shares his lunch with me: beans and maize. I go back to his house. I edit my photographs on my iPad. He arrives back after work finishes at 4pm. He watches me edit the photographs. Can I take some of him? Of course. I take photos of him in from of his house. We edit them together. I email them to him. I guess he wants to send them to his family in Eastern Province. I ask him if he’s lonely. He says he likes the rurality. I get it. I would, too. But most people our age wouldn’t.

I leave at 6pm to take photos of the sunset. It’s too hazy. So there is no sunset. Children watch the Lake on the screen on my camera. Night falls, and I stumble back along the dirt path to the station. It’s pitch black.

As I arrive I hear an engine start, and an immense noise. Suddenly lights flicker into being, and the buildings come into view. The coffe has been collected and it’s time for it to be washed. Innocent proudly shows me the process and machinery. Then we go to his office. I edit my photographs and he attempts to send the audit from his laptop to RWACOF in Kigali. But the mobile internet signal is too weak. He’ll walk to the nearest point of coverage tomorrow, he says.

The generator is switched off at Innocent’s orders. The station flickers back into darkness. We go to another staff member’s bedroom. The handful of boarding staff, Innocent and I eat beans and rice around a small table. Innocent discusses in Kiyurwanda with his staff. Then we retire to bed. There’s lightening on the horizon, but no thunder. Innocent assures me the rain wont arrive for some hours. We go to bed.

in the morning I ask Innocent how much I owe him. He refuses to take any money. His spare room isn’t for rent, he says (even though the sign outside the station says it’s a base camp). He’s grateful for the photographs, and would like me to keep in touch with him. I thank him for his true kindness. Of course I will. I feel like I’m leaving a friend as I walk away, even though I barely know him. There’s also something romantic about walking towards and walking away. It reminds me of a GCSE poem: ‘We kissed at the barrier, and passing through, she left me, and moment by moment, got smaller and smaller.’ Unlike cars or air travel, which speed away or towards catastrophically and almost instantly, walking has a sense of gradual becoming or parting. Perhaps I like walking for its sentimentality, and its naturalness: it’s amazing what man can achieve without machinery.

The path weaves inland over several miles as a series of zig-zags around cultivated valleys. This is relatively flat and fast walking. At the road, I think there’ll be no point walking alongside mahout traffic. So I’ll moto [scooter taxi] into Kibuye.

My feet start to hurt. I think of Victor. We discussed suffering. Victor says he likes challenging himself with a long walk, a challenge where feet hurt and that requires effort to discover the beauty of the world. I agree with him. I think about how food and water have not been guaranteed on this hike. How I’ve never known where and when my next meal will come from, or whether I will find drinking water free of disease.

11am. Suddenly the sun is high out of the clouds and the heat is punishing. I’m covered in sweat and I’ve drunk all 1.5 litres of water. Children ask me lots of questions. I start to ignore them. I can hear them following me. New children from the next corner. Whispering muzungu. I fee like an animal in a zoo. They whistle at me.

The final section up to the road is steep. I negotiate a moto. I offer him far too little. Kibuye is further than I thought. When we arrive, I apologise him and pay him what he originally quoted. He hadn’t ripped me off. We’re both happy now that we both understand each other. No hard feelings. Literally. In any case, it took a long time as the roads were bad. My driver kept slipping on the sandy and rocky switchbacks. It made me smile: not the paved Rwanda I was used to, but more like the dangerous but friendly Togolese and Ghanaian rural roads of last year.

Home Saint Jean is a haven of peace and beauty situated on a peninsula. Panoramic views of Lake Kivu are visible on three sides. I eat the meatiest and biggest lunch I’ve had for days, and the Mützig (German-style larger brewed in Rwanda) goes straight to my head. I fall asleep at 6pm.

Komoot GPS Trail: https://en.komoot.de/tour/14002768?ref=wtd

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