Muji muto. Muji mwiza. Murugo. (A Budget-Friendly Adventurer’s Guide to Musanze)

Karibu murugo. Musanze town.

20 minutes from the Congo and 30 from Uganda, home to one of the multinational wonders of the Great Lakes region: the Virunga mastiff. 0.1% of Musanze residents are foreign (not Rwandan)[1]. Of the 0.1%, 75% are wealthy tourists in Ruhengeri to spot a gorilla, complain about the service at an overpriced luxury hotel, and return home with their cliché safari gear unsullied. Escorted from park to bar to airport in comically durable trekking vehicles, these foreigners rarely make an appearance in town. In my town.

I am judgemental and possessive. Possessive of my town. Of my neighbors who take my bike for a spin when I stop by to purchase chapatti on the way home from work (they’ve promised to teach me how to make it myself). Of Harmonic bar, an establishment that monopolizes Thursday nightlife with weekly karaoke and offers half price drink specials not as a promotion but because they are running out of boxed wine and, fair is fair, they only charge half price for a half glass. Of La Paillote, unashamedly graced by Christmas decorations in February, home to the most delicious, inconsistently available vegetable samosas in Rwanda, accommodating of my bike and permissive of WiFi exploitation even in the absence of an obligatory purchase. Of Isa, the owner of the used bike shop where I haggled for my own mountain bike, who rents bikes for the equivalent of 0.75 USD per hour and will execute minor repairs on my model free of charge. Of Kimaranzara, a local Rwandan buffet where I occasionally lunch on weekdays, serving a plate of beans (ibishimbo) fit to fill your stomach at the equivalent of 0.30 USD and where I am known as “Daniella, the good Mzungu.”

Friends and relatives have commented on the nature of my photo-sharing and general communication regarding my life in Rwanda. My father phrased it best: “Well, with all of the time you spend hiking and mountain biking and rock climbing , what’s next? Gorilla wrestling? Are you training for a spot in the Rwandan X-Games?” I won’t be wrestling gorillas anytime soon (the Rwanda Development Board would have me promptly deported). I will concede, however, the selective nature of my cross-national communication. But in all honesty, how many readers want to see selfies of grant report drafting and photo editing? In what follows, I attempt to provide an “adventurer’s guide” to the greater Musanze area, complete with running, biking, and hiking routes. The guide attempts to provide a counternarrative to a tourist market populated exclusively by privileged young coeds on “holiday” and prototypical, weekend warrior expatriate employees of large NGOs, laughably receiving hardship placement pay in one of the most secure and fastest developing nations on the planet.[2] This is not the Lonely Planet guide to East Africa. This is Musanze on the cheap.

On a more somber note, avid readers of this blog (humor me, perhaps there is at least one) may have noticed that it has been nearly two months since my last post. Part of this is due to the fact that I spend nearly half of my 50 hour workweek writing. Part of it is due to the fact that I’m currently working on a book project with a friend and colleague, and so spend a good deal of my free time writing. But my M.O. is unsolicited honesty, and I will honestly tell you that I have been climbing mental and emotional mountains over the past two months. Some summits beautiful, some valleys painful, some still trapped in the Virunga mist of uncertainty that is my subconscious. I’m still processing, navigating umubano (good relationships) with myself and those I hold dear, and I promise a more substantive post is on the way. But for now, as ndageregeza gukomera (I try to be strong/patient), I think that pictures are all that I can handle. We all need a few pretty pictures now and then.

 

Route Distance (km/mi) Cost Mode of Transit Time Commitment Location Notes
Mt. Kabuye Elevation 2500m/7500ft above sea level 5,000 RWF (7 USD); 2,000 round trip bus Musanze to Gakenke, 3,000 round trip moto from Gakenke center to Kabuye base hiking Two hours to summit, three to complete the hike. Factor in one hour each way for bus and motorcycle transit to and from the base in Gakenke Gakenke, Rwanda Gakenke locals may offer to serve as “guides.” This is unnecessary. You can clearly see the summit from the base and, with minimal Kinyarwanda, can navigate intersections by asking fellow pedestrians (fringe benefit of Rwanda’s population density); highest non-volcanic summit in Rwanda
Rwanda Climate Observatory Elevation 2,500m/7,500ft above sea level 800 RWF (1 USD) round trip taxi transit Hiking, alternate path on paved road allows hikers to attempt descent as a jog 1 hour to summit and 45 minute descent, 20 minute taxi ride from Musanze each way Byangabo, Musanze, Rwanda (Mount Mugogo) Hiking with a scientist, preferably and employee of the observatory, will thoroughly enrich your experience
Kinigi/Volcanoes National Park 25-30km/15-18 miles round trip 0 RWF/0 USD (bike rental 500 RWF per hour) Biking or running 1.5 hours round trip biking, 2.5 hours round trip running Kinigi, Musanze, Rwanda While you can’t actually enter the park, the run/ride to the park is beautiful, with nonstop views of Mt. Sabyinyo and Mt. Muhabura. On the way you will pass the “Africa Rising” cycling center, home of Team Rwanda. When you reach Kinigi center, there is an inexpensive coffee shop to grab a cup or a snack in the middle of your journey or at its conclusion, should you choose to taxi back to town (300 RWF taxi, 1,000 RWF motorcycle)
Uganda Border 35km/21 miles round trip 0 RWF/0 USD  

biking

3.5 hours Cyanika, Burera, Rwanda Non-stop views of Mt. Sabyinyo, Mt. Muhabura, Lake Ruhondo and Lake Burera (don’t cross the border with a bike! You will have to pay import taxes)
Rwaza Flexible; upwards of 30k/18mi round trip 0 RWF/0 USD Biking or running 2.5 hour run (with 1.75 hour exit option), 1.75 hour bike ride Rwaza, Musanze, Rwanda Head out of Musanze on the highway to Kigali, turn off at the dirt road towards Lake Ruhondo (Kigali 84km). From here you can choose distance or direction- once you reach a series of waterfalls, you can turn around, go right (toward Paroisse Rwaza, a beautiful Catholic church with views of the Virunga Volcanoes) or left on a steep incline toward Murandi and Gashaki, with breathtaking views of Lake Ruhondo
Nyakinama/Kabere 30k/18 mi 0 RWF/ 0 USD Biking, running if ambitious 2 hours biking, 2.5 hours running Nyakinama to Kabere, Musanze, Rwanda Breathtakingly green hills, Virunga mist, breathtaking views of Sabyinyo and Muhabura. You will pass freshwater streams and, ironically, the Rwanda Peace Academy and Rwanda’s national military college literally right next to one another

 

[1] Republic of Rwanda. (2012). Fourth population and housing census: Musanze District profile.

[2] The Economist. (2016, January 2). GDP forecasts: the fastest shrinking and growing economies in 2016.

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