Cycling the Congo Nile Trail in Rwanda

I mean the name already sounds like an adventure – despite the fact that there is no connection whatsoever to the Nile or Congo. At the meditation retreat we got to know Cloe, a British world traveler, who is currently living in Zanzibar. We were able to spend a few days with her in Gisenyi, through which we not only found out about one of the most beautiful camping spots, but also heard about the Congo Nile Trail, a hiking trail that runs along the shores of Lake Kivu. Since I didn’t bring my bike all the way from Germany to hike, cycling the Congo Nile Trail seemed to be the start of our cycling trip.

As we were going to meet up with Marie two days later in Kigali, it was quickly decided to leave already on the same day that we got back from the volcano hike in Congo. Cloe did tell me about the steepness of the trail, but of course I thought it can’t be that bad- it soon turned out that it actually was that bad. One hill after another and another and another. Not sure which one was worse, but kids jumping out from every corner did compete with the steep hills. All these kids seemed super cute, and, at first more fun than the elderly German society, but certainly lost their cuteness with every high pitched and long-drawn-scream of MUZUUUUUNGO, GOOD MORNING, HOW ARE YOUUUU and GIVE MONEY. Especially because GIVE MONEY and GOOD MORNING sounds to my unaccustomed ear basically the same – its difficult to stay polite. They start running with you for long distances and I found myself triumphing every time I made it past a child very quietly without it spotting me. In my mind I could only laugh about myself and compared this situation to vipassana meditation and its constant quest for indifference towards the sensations (pain, feeling on the skin), because they come and go, but they will always be there- you can only learn to ignore them. What a practical use of the technique right after the 10 days of vipassana.

To be fair to the children though, especially on the third day, I would have not made it up those steep hills with my fully packed bike without two really helpful children helping me to push up my bike for at least an hour each – without asking for anything in return.

The first base camp – yes that’s what the campgrounds/basic accommodation is called – Cymbiri Base camp was only 17 km away, so I expected to get there easily before darkness by leaving at 2 pm. Unfortunately, the hills do take their time and soon the sun started to get weaker and weaker. On this part you move on big unpaved roads so there are always people around to ask if you could stay with them, but in my mind I really wanted to just camp at a nice spot at the lake – to simply jump into the water after such a sweaty day. Maps.me can tell you quite exactly how much further it is to your destination, but its not very exact on the steepness of the path – therefore its difficult to assess how much further it actually is. Finally, about 10 minutes before darkness the sign of the Basecamp appears and its only downhill for about 5 more minutes. Of course, getting to the lake there is no sign for the accommodation, but everyone who looks at me can tell what I am looking for and point me towards a white gate – made it! And at least there seems to be justice for all the hard work – Cymbiri basecamp is a beautiful camp spot for 5000 RWF (5 EUR) per night, right next to the lake with amazing breakfast and really friendly staff.

The next day the hills continue and the trail becomes smaller, but still there is rarely spots where there are no people around. Its absolutely beautiful – thousands of extremely green hills and the deep blue lake going through tiny mountain villages.

On the second day, in order not to make the same mistake again and since the base camps are in considerable distance from each other, the plan is to stop at a basecamp early. Unfortunately Musasa Basecamp is closed and Bumba, which would be the next base camp is too far away. But the villagers, who don’t speak any English or French in this region – not that I really speak French – point uphill when I keep asking for accommodation. Right before Musasa Town a big group of Muzungus is standing on the road together with a Rwandan man. They are very unhappy with the accommodation he offers and decide to walk to the next base camp where I just came from – I told them how far it is, but at 3.30 they still decide to keep going. I wonder if they made it – surely not before darkness. For me, I am very sure I will not make it to the next one, so I stay. Yes the accommodation is more than basic, but the family is very nice and are trying hard to make it comfortable for me. I am surprised because the man helps me to wash my cloth (I learn later that this seems to be more common than in Uganda that men do the washing) and also at dinner we eat altogether. From my – this is definitely in rural areas only – experiences in Uganda the guest eats by himself or with the man in the living room, while the women eat together in the kitchen. Not so here, the woman that cooks eats together with us in the living room – how nice and normal that feels:)

On the third day it becomes very obvious that this trail is not made for cycling, at least not with loads of luggage as we have it with us. The hills are too steep and for at least 2-3 hours to Bumba I have to push my bike uphill because its too steep. I have a boy walking with me and helping me push for at least an hour – without saying anything he helps push my bike and takes breaks with me. But I can tell he is thinking WHY THE HELL DOES SHE NEED SO MANY BREAKS??? It seems like they would have walked this way anyways and I just make it a bit more interesting.

Happiness only returns when reaching the main road that is currently being prepared to be tarmac, which means that the slopes are less steep and for once it goes downhill for at least 20 minutes. One more going-to-the-wrong direction for 30 minute, 5 screaming kids and one long hill later, I finally reach Rubengera, (5 ½ hours since leaving Musasa) which is where buses go to Kigali, the capital.

The lady working for the bus company says that the buses are too small to take bikes  – waaa. Then a nice guy walks up and offers to help – its clear he will ask for money but I am too exhausted at this moment – and he is really nice. Within 5 minutes he organised the bus ticket, put my bike in the back of a big bus that just pulled up out of nowhere -yes the guy was asking for 2000, but one of the best investments on this trip yet! – and I can sit down and relax. Oh and how I enjoy not having to cycle up these 1000

hills to Kigali!

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