Traveller Home Burundi


19th December 1992, Bujumbura, Burundi -

We headed out early and hit the Zairian border in the mid-morning. Zaire is a total dictatorship - as bad as one can get - so the bureaucracy is massive. We'd read a few weeks earlier that the Prime Minister wanted to have some governmental body directly elected, but the ruling dictator - Mbutu - didn't like that idea so he told the Prime Minister to dismiss his cabinet and reappoint the dictator's men to those posts. The Prime Minister refused so Mbutu moved in the military and basically ousted most of the cabinet members. It was a very low-key coup d'etat, and here we were at Zaire's border waiting to get in.

We cleared immigration without any problems, but the customs guy was just being a dick and told everyone to get off the truck so he could inspect it. He opened our food stores and after discussing the merits of which country the milk powder was manufactured in with our driver he let us through. Had the milk powder been made in Kenya he would have kept it, as Zairians have great respect for Kenyan-made products. We stopped for lunch near Uvira where a little old Zairian woman with a cane wandered right into the middle of our group.

Now when the locals watch us they're usually far enough away as not to get in the way. This little old lady was near blind and wandered right into the middle to see what was going on. I spoke to her in French for a little while, then Mike gave her a tomato, a bread roll and a cigarette. She was so funny - I've got a photo of myself looking and chatting with her, a very fond memory - hope it turns out. We sent her on her way and started the truck - needed to start heading to Goma so we could book our trip to see the gorillas, but Goma was at least a two day drive and Zaire has virtually no paved roads at all. The only way to get to Kinshasa, the capital, from the eastern side of the country is by the river - there aren't any roads!

I climbed into the front with Stefanie and Boz (who was driving) for this next leg of the journey. We drove a few hours but then we came upon a customs and immigration post. We sat there for a second thinking, "Why would Zaire have two customs posts?" The reason was that it wasn't Zaire at all - it was the border post with Rwanda! Rwanda's currently in the throes of their own civil was, so no tour companies are transiting through there any longer. One of the Rwandan police told us we didn't want to go into Rwanda because the bandits have been robbing safari trucks as they transit through. Evidentially we'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. We thanked the police officer (who then asked us for five dollars and got nothing), did a U-turn and headed up the muddy roads higher and higher into the Zairian mountains.

It rained a bit making the road muddier and the truck harder to control, plus the temperature was dropping. We persevered by drinking Primus and eating the pineapple which had been soaking in the rum from our punch the night before. We finally hit the summit and descended (more slid) through the mud to this quarry at the base of the mountains. It was dark by this time so setting up camp was on our agenda. As usual a few locals came and watched us, so I approached them to practice my French some more. I found out from them that there was a natural hot spring not twenty meters from our campsite - we'd just missed it because it was dark. I thanked them for the information and told them they could show us in the morning.

20th December 1992, Outside Bukavu, Zaire -

We went down to the springs the next morning and the boys weren't kidding - it was a large stream flowing through the jungle, only it was warm and the air was filled with steam from the river. Stef, Mike and Tina splashed around the water a bit before we went back to the truck to leave. We pulled into the city of Bukavu around noon, just in time to change money on the black market and do the food shopping for the next few days. Couldn't stop for more than an hour or so because we were flying like bats out of hell to get to Goma to see the gorillas. Our courier kept the tour going at a break-neck speed just so we could keep up with the itinerary.

We went to Kahuzi-Buega National Park before leaving for Goma, and that was so we could pay five dollars to go see what our courier thought was a pygmy village. Since we had an incompetent courier who couldn't lead a group of people out of a paper bag this pygmy village turned out to be a bunch of tea plantation workers who happened to grow dope as well. Dope trees abound, more than I've ever seen in my life, but not worth any money to see, let alone five dollars. It sucked and was a total rip off - all thanks to an incompetent courier.

We headed out of Kahuzi-Buega, slowly on the unpaved roads through many a village towards Goma. Zairian children think it's great fun to pick up rocks or other items and pretend to throw them at the truck. It got to the point where Jim has a few rocks on his lap to throw back if need be. The only other thing Zairian children know how to do is stick their hands out like beggars and scream, "Donnez moi une Bic." (meaning Bic pen.) Everyone on the truck was so sick of hearing these kids scream "donnez-moi" that when entering a new village, before the barrage of donnez-mois could be screamed by the kids, we'd all lean out of the truck and scream it at them first. That confused the locals a little bit, but not enough to keep them quite.

Speaking of thing we used to do on the truck - there's Raewyn, one of the Kiwi girls. Raewyn would always sit on one of the outside seats and would proceed to wave like crazy at any and all locals within her range of peripheral vision. I sat there and watched her for a while and figured out that she thought she was the Queen of England spreading goodwill and homeliness and that every local she waved at should wave back. If the locals didn't wave back she'd lean out of the truck wildly waving her hands harder while screaming "Jambo" - welcome in Swahili in an attempt to get a response. Amusing to watch her, but even more amusing to see the expressions on the locals' faces. The way the locals looked at Raewyn made me think that they were thinking, "Who's the silly bitch hanging out of a blue mzungu truck screamin 'Welcome'?" Remember I mentioned the Zairian boys throwing rocks? If I were a native and I saw Raewyn acting the way she was I'd throw rocks too - I don't blame them.

We drove all day, finally reaching the shores of Lake Kivu where we camped in a school yard for the night. That evening Brenda, Rich Tom (the plumber) and I were standing around the fire talking to one of the teachers when tom made a major faux pas. Tom wasn't that clued in as to the ramifications which can occur if you bag on the ruling dictator while talking to the locals (who could always be the police). He and the school teacher were talking away when the teacher asked Tom if he knew about Zaire's president. Tom's response was, "What, that he sucks?" Rich, Brenda and I all heard that and immediately all of us started screaming NO! NO! NO! NO! The school teacher saw our reaction and said he didn't like the president either. It was only after Tom saw our reaction to his comment that he watched what he said to the locals. Tom is a dim bulb, but he is amusing to be around - just to hear what the next outrageous statement to come out of his mouth is going to be.

21st December 1992, Somewhere on Lake Kivu, Zaire -

We got up, took down camp and started driving. We had to be in Goma today, no matter what, and the roads were flatter than usual so it was pretty smooth riding. We were told we were going to drive until we got to Goma - we needed to book the gorillas - be it midnight if that's what it took. We drove all day around Lake Kivu, stopping for an hour for lunch, then continuing to drive forever. It got dark and we kept driving. I sat next to Tom and amused myself simply by having a conversation with him - he's a bit dim as you know. Finally got to Goma at 9:30 p.m. and everyone was starving. Dinner began, but I started immediately into the rum and cokes. Jenni joined me after my first drink, so the two of us proceeded to finish off the bottle of rum then move into another half bottle of vodka. We were both stumbling drunk by 3:30 a.m. so we staggered to bed.

Keep Reading Keep Reading