From Kibuye to Uwinka

Does skipping writing for a few days matter? I used to feel obliged to write down every detail soon after the event once I started writing, and to write up my notes daily. But then it becomes a tedious chore.

So now I don’t worry about it. I guess it simply offers a different level of detail. And anyway, one of the Romantics wrote to another (Wordsworth to Keats or Coleridge, but I may have got that muddled) that its better to look at something, make a firm impression in the mind, then write it up into prose or poetry several days later.

I’m no Wordsworth, but nonetheless, here’s my valiant retrospective attempt at my arrival at Uwinka.

The bus, which I described with such wonderment the other day, arrived at Buhinga junction after several hours of winding along the mountain switchbacks. Eventually, seeing the upcoming junction on google maps (another impossibility in most of Africa only a few years ago), I shout ‘conducteur’. He doesn’t hear me. The passenger next to me taps the window with his knuckles.

I’m released into the still, dark, air. It’s cool. I’ve never been this cool anywhere on this continent, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco excepted. A moto-taxi arrives parallel as I step off the bus. I tell him where I’m going. Our shared language is limited to place names. After ten minutes or so, I arrive at the wrong place. I speak to an armed guard in French, and he then speaks to my driver in Kinurwanda. The price for the ride rises considerably, and we double back. At a little hut the driver buys a 1.5l bottle or water refilled with (most likely diluted) petrol. I’m going to be on this bike for some time.

Forty-five minutes pass. Early in the journey I shiver. Later I shake with cold. Mists appear as clenched fists on the horizon. They spread into stretched hands as we approach, enveloping us before we pass through the gaps between the misty fingers. It’s difficult to hold on because I’m shaking with cold so much. Every so often there’s a reprieve as we, alternating between the side of the road on which we drive, pass a truck so closely that I am warmed by its fumes. I lean forward and hug the driver closely – his coat shields me a little from the cold air. Eventually we arrive.

There’s steps to a visitor centre. It’s pitch black. I don’t pay my driver yet: I want him to stay in case this isolated outpost is not the right place, for I won’t find a route out of here until morning if it isn’t. The driver and I shout into the dark. A park ranger appears in khaki green trousers and sweater, a large gun slung over his shoulder. I pay the driver.

The ranger and I walk along a muddy, heavily rooted path between trees for what seems an eternity. I keep stumbling as I cannot see, despite the torchlight he shines along my path. I fear I’ll fall and trigger his rifle. This is, of course, completely irrational and unlikely. But this is a dark and magical place for the wandering of the imagination. Just as I begin to wonder whether this will ever end, or whether there has been some misunderstanding and I am going to the wrong place, I hear laughing and shouting. I find my cohort of Euro-Australian friends outside the toilet huts. I’m led to our tent.

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