Rwanda Trip Entry V – Rwamagana and Nyagatare

Saturday January 23rd

I awoke from a deep sleep to Danny’s alarm. (“It is seven AM. Get your ass out of bed. The weather is . . .”) On the way to breakfast I saw a few baboons along the treeline. Some of the hotel staff had sticks to keep the baboons at bay.

After checking out we headed to reception and the gift store. I bought 6 postcards for 3600 RWF ($4.67). We drove to Rwamagana and met Danny’s friend Shannon briefly. They walked us to a bakery so we could wait while Shannon and Danny drove to her place to pick up his bags.

We had cinnamon rolls and I had African tea. The bakery is owned by an American woman married to a Rwandan man. It is supported by a church. Danny told us Rwandans like the looks of the bright cakes but they do not like the sweetness of them so they ask for decorated cakes but not too sweet. The woman working the counter’s name was Alice. She was early to mid twenties. She spoke pretty good English. She said she learned it in the orphanage. She was originally from Gisyeni. She also crocheted as a part time job.

The bakery

After Danny came back we walked to his host families home. It was behind a blue gate and and a beautiful garden that included corn, carrots, avocados, oranges and more. Papa Georges and Mama Jeannette had two daughters (Immacule [aka Mimosa} and Douce) and one son (Paceli). Mimosa was waiting for her exam results to see if she would be accepted to university. Mama and Papa did not speak much English so Danny and the 3 kids translated. We ate mashed bananas with a peanut based vegetable sauce, grilled corn on the cob (fresh picked from the garden), Rwanda candy and homemade banana wine. We went through a photo album. Papa and Mama met in 1995 in the church choir. They own their house and rent out a few rooms in a separate building in back. Georges is retired from the army and Jeannette is a nurse. We left when they were on their way to choir practice at their church. Mimosa was wearing a Chicago Bears sweatshirt.

Fun fact – when someone is drunk they are said to be walking 8s. If someone was drinking a lot of Panache (a non-alcoholic beer) they could be described as walking ones.

We drove to Nyagatare which was the large town near Danny’s village. Since his place was small and there was no lodging in his village we stayed in Nyagatare. We went out for brochettes and potatoes at a restaurant Danny liked. We met a parliamentarian who moved to Rwanda from Canada several years ago (I went on the Parliaments website and I think it was John RUKU-RWABYOMA.)

Nyagatare is in one of the lowest elevation areas of Rwanda. They have quite a few mosquitoes and plenty showed up to the hotel room. But for $13 a night you can’t really complain, right?

Sunday January 24th

This was they day we got to see Danny’s village and home. After a breakfast of omelettes (the only breakfast option offered during our stay at this fine establishment) we set off for Danny’s. After sort of losing our way on the back roads we pulled up to the compound to see Danny yelling at a dog. The canine in question was Simba and he was very interested in Kennedy when she is in heat. He would continue to be a problem all day. Danny’s house was two bedrooms, a central room and a separate latrine. A shower and kitchen were shared with his Peace Corp site mate Mark.

The school

Danny took us on a walk through the village and introduced us to his friend and mobile minutes dealer Emmy. On the other side of the town was a rock with a hollow spot that you could hear when you pounded on it. We also saw Danny’s school and met the principal. Lunch was brochette and a coke at a bar which was a nice escape from the sun. Emmy asked a lot of questions about the USA. His English was impressive and language was his focus in school (the EKK track – English, Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili). After returning to the compound we delivered the suitcases of food and books for the school children and set some rat traps.

Rwanda Trip Part IV – Akagera National Park

Friday January 22

The alarm clock went off early again this morning. We departed our hotel at 6 AM with a packed breakfast. We were headed to Akagera National Park. As we were eating our fruit, eggs and potatoes we turned off of the paved road and onto dirt. A trail of dust followed us to the manned gates of Akagera National Park. I was reminded of something like Jurassic Park. (Was the fence keeping people out or something in? How strong are the sides and roof of our Toyota?) Akagera National Park runs along much of the shared eastern border with Tanzania.

Map of Akagera National Park

At reception we paid the $35 entry fee per person and $40 for our guide, Emanuel. We all piled in the Land Cruiser and headed to explore the park. Over the course of the day we saw zebras, crocodiles, hippos, cape buffalo, antelope, impala, several types of deer, elephants, a giraffe, wart hogs, velvet monkeys, baboons, and several types of deer. It was a lot of driving on rough roads. An electric fence runs the length of the western border of the park (The Rwandan side). Our guide explains this keeps the animals in the park and the farmers out. They used to have problems with the farmers killing some animals that were attacking their livestock or eating their crops. Since the fence has been put up the number of incidents has fallen greatly. The eastern border of the park is the Akagera river and the animals are free to cross into Tanzania as they please.

Emanuel, our guide, was born in Uganda to pastoralists (raising livestock). He came back to Rwanda with the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) during the genocide. He has a safari type outfit on with tall black boots with his pants tucked inside of them. He had a baseball cap on. He seemed to enjoy his job and was very informative.

A giraffe by the watering hole

There are over 500 species of birds in the park with about 300 being permanent and the balance migratory. The topi is the fastest antelope in Africa. The park has about 130 elephants and 75 giraffes. There are a few, newly introduced lions but the grass was tall so we had a slim to none chance to see them. (Update: In May 2017 rhinos were reintroduced to the park)

Impalas (I think) in Akagera National Park. Jokingly called the “Fast Food” of Africa by our guide because the “M” on their butt is like McDonald’s and they run fast.

We ate lunch at a rustic campsite on a hill at one of the highest points in the park. We had a type of sausage, bread, pringles and candy. The small area was heavily fenced so when campers stay there they are undisturbed by inquisitive animals. The views of the lakes and hills were gorgeous.

Hippos in the water

We saw all kinds of animals. My favorite was a giraffe. We also saw elephants right at the end of our tour. We also learned that hippos are dangerous and not to be trifled with so we gave them plenty of space.

We stayed at a hotel inside of the park. It was fairly modern. They had a pool and a small 3 legged monkey named Jess or something like that. She stole some peanuts from us and got a sip of some of our beer. She wasn’t shy and would sit in your lap but usually moved on when she realized you were not going to offer food.

We ate our most expensive and fanciest dinner that night. There was a company retreat at the premises so it was a buffet dinner. The staff unfolded the napkins and put them in our laps which was a strange experience to say the least. Then we took them off and got up to get our food from the buffet. A band was hired for the company event. The New Beats Band was from Kigali and played reggae and other similar music. I headed back to the room and did some writing in my journal. I had the best night of sleep of the trip.

I couldn’t find this one in the guidebook. Looks harmless though.

Rwanda Trip Part III – Jambo Beach

Thursday was a relaxing day. I slept in at the Women for Women Eco Lodge. I met the rest of the group at the covered lounge for breakfast. We had a leisurely day. Andricke picked us up at 1. We met Danny’s friend fellow Peace Corp volunteer at the gare (bus stop) in Rwamagana. Hannah was just back from a trip to Kigali and is from Washington DC. She joined us for lunch at a restaurant called Jambo Beach (“Swimming Strictly Prohibited”) on Lake Muhazi. I had poutine which was surprising to me to find in Rwanda. The restaurant had a resident crane whose name was Tonya. After hanging around she went in for a fried banana that was on a plate before being chased away by the staff. Very peculiar tastes for a bird!

Tonya the crane at Jambo Beach

After lunch we drove Hannah back to her village. It was my first, but certainly not the last, time off the paved roads. The going was very slow and the road was rutted in some places. As we got closer to her home she started to point out people she knew. Danny had told us she was pretty much fluent in Kinyarwandan. It seems like she really had a good connection with her village and I am sure the knowing the language so well really helped.

Lake Muhazi at Jambo Beach. Those are bird’s nests on the tree branches.

We drove back to Kayonza gare to get food for a safari lunch on Friday. It was a hectic place with lots of people waiting for buses, shopping or just hanging out. Danny procured Pringles, sausages and bread for us. It was a good day and I really enjoyed the slow pace. However I was looking forward to the adventure at Akagera National Park.

View from the Eco Lodge

Bed at Eco Lodge with mosquito net down

Rwanda Trip Part II – Kigali and Kayonza

We awoke the next morning and managed to figure out the shower. They did not have a shower curtain so the whole floor was wet afterwards. Reduce, reuse and recycle the water I guess. The temperature controls seemed to be just for show. Danny had arranged for breakfast to be served late so we could sleep in a little longer. However sleeping in wasn’t the easiest. Right outside of our first floor window were 3 huge (10,000 L maybe?) water storage tanks. We could here the pump kicking in when someone used the water which was frequently. I saw quite a few of these tanks throughout the country and I imagine they are very useful if the water stops working. After showering I was ready for my first full day in Rwanda.

My breakfast consisted of fried potatoes, a meat sauce, hot African tea (I think it had a milk base) and small, sweet, delicious bananas. After finishing we set off to find a forex bureau. We went on foot as it would be easier then taking two cabs. What struck me as we set off was the amount of people out and about. It was a Wednesday morning about 10 or so and there were people everywhere. In my town at 10 on a Wednesday morning there would not be 10% of these people out. People were on the sidewalks, streets, buses, moto taxis, bicycles and porches.

After some wrong directions (including some from a police officer) we found a place to exchange our currency. I switched $300 USD at 770 Rwandan Francs (RWF) to $1. The largest bill is 5,000 RWF but they were out so I got 231,000 RWF in mostly 2,000 RWF bills. Other paper denominations are 1,000 and 500. There are 100 RWF coins and some smaller coins that were hardly ever used. I left with a large wad of bills in my pocket.

Flush with cash we followed Danny to a mini bus stop. For 230 RWF ($0.30) each we took a van to the commercial district. The van was a larger Toyota. There was a driver and a guy who took the money and handed out tickets. There were 4 rows of 3 person bench seats. At the end of each bench there was a flip down seat once the row behind you was full. They certainly packed people in.

The commercial district was very crowded with some new and some used goods for sale. A lot of it spilled out onto the sidewalk. It was a very cool place and had a buzz to it. Our goal was to find some cloth for custom made shirts. We went to a building with several different areas of cloth. There was so much variety! All kinds of patterns and colors could be found. I found a blue based fabric with some elephants for 4,000 RWF ($5.19).

We made our way to a bus station and took a larger bus back across town to Kimironko market. Danny had a lead on a seamstress that another Peace Corp volunteer recommended. Her name was Josephine. We found the seamstress section. They were all on the edge of the large, unelectrified building. They had natural light and whatever breeze happened by. Their sewing machines were powered by a foot pedal. Josephine measured us up and Danny made plans to have us pick them up on the way back through Kigali sometime during the next week.

With our mission complete we decided to get a snack. We headed to a bar across from the market. They had several types of beer I had never heard of. I settled for a Skol beer. One thing that they do in Rwanda is open and pour the beer in front of you. I think there is a superstition about poisoning. If you are in the bathroom when your drink comes they will wait to open it until you are back. All of the beer and soda bottles are glass and reusable/returnable. I was able to save some bottle caps along the way.

A cool, refreshing Skol beer from Rwanda.

Danny ordered brochettes and potatoes for us. A brochette, French for skewer, is grilled meat on a stick like a kebab. Sometimes it has onion as well. Mostly we saw goat brochettes but I think there was fish and chicken available at certain places. There are two main kinds of goat brochette – muscle and intestine (zingalo). Danny, when ordering, was sure to stress we wanted the muscle and not the intestine. He pointed to his arm muscle to emphasize his point and wagged his finger while pointing to his stomach. He also asked how long it would be. As we would come to find out waiting for food in Rwanda could take a while. Often it was over an hour for simple food.

While at the bar many of the locals were watching Rwanda play in the Championship of African Nations soccer (or football if you prefer) tournament that was hosted by Rwanda. We could tell when Rwanda scored because the crowd went wild.

After eating our rented car and driver picked us up and took us back to our hotel. The original plan had us renting a car and driving ourselves around the country. However something changed with the law, or so we were told, so we had to have a driver as well. In the end this was a blessing in disguise. Driving looked to be interesting at best.

In any case the price couldn’t be beat. A driver and car was about $60 USD a day. The only thing we had to pay on top of that was fuel. Our Toyota Land Cruiser Prado was diesel and we figured we got about 22 miles to the gallon. Diesel (or gas-oil as it was called) came to about $4.40 a gallon. The fuel price was remarkably consistent throughout the country. I think the prices might have been regulated by the government.

Our Toyota Land Cruiser Prado on Safari at Akagera National Park

Our Toyota Land Cruiser Prado on Safari at Akagera National Park

Our car was an 8 seater in name only. There were two seats in front, a bench seat for three in the middle and two flip down jumper seats in the rear. But when you flipped down the rear seats you lost most of your cargo space. This was a problem early on. We had 5 people plus a driver and many, many bags – half of which we could jettison once we reached Danny’s house since they were full of gifts for him. Our next stop was an Eco Lodge outside of Kayonza so Danny made some calls and pulled a plan together. (He did a stellar job at doing this all trip long and we all really appreciated him being our patient travel agent on the fly).

Danny and I would take an intercity bus to Rwamagana and the driver, Dad, Mark and Bambi would take the bags to meet a Peace Corp volunteer at her house to store the bags for a few days. We would meet at the car rental office in Rwamagana where we had to sign the paperwork and pay for the rental.

On the bus I was flabbergasted by the amount of people walking on the roads at night. I think saying we passed 1000 people an hour would be a low estimate. We passed young people, old people, men, women, children, and all of the above on bikes as well. I also got to see my first taste of the hand signals used by drivers to warn of speed traps. Drivers would flash their brights and use their hands to indicate how far away police were. Usually it was two officers standing on the side of the road. One usually had an assault rifle slung across him. If they wanted you to pull over they would point and whistle. I didn’t usually see police cars. They did have radar guns (or “special cameras” as our driver called them).

In Rwamagana we met Peter who owned the car rental service. Then we piled into the car and headed for the Women’s Opportunity Center Eco Lodge which was our stop for the night. Dad had his own tent and Mark and Bambi did as well. Danny and I shared a room with two beds. We ate delicious pizza at the lodge. It was a beautiful night and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. The original plan was to wake up early and head to Akagera National Park for a safari but Danny sensed we were all tired and called ahead to change our reservation at the next hotel. (He had already made several changes and it was always the same worker who answered – Julius. When we eventually checked in Julius was working so Danny got to meet the man he spent so much time talking too.)

Lodging at Women for Women Eco Lodge – Tent on the right and indoor sleeping on the left

It was another good day on the road.

Rwanda Trip Part I – The Journey

The lists were checked and the bags were packed, repacked, and weighed after consulting airline policy. The countdown on my work computers Excel spreadsheet read 0 working days. It was go time. Rwanda was calling.

Our traveling partners for this trip, Mark and Bambi, pulled up in their SUV on a very cold Monday afternoon. Dad and I loaded up our bags and the bags of gifts and requested items for Danny, my brother volunteering in the Peace Corps. Along with our clothing we had a combined 4 extra bags for him totaling almost 200 lbs. We stopped at the bank thermometer to take a picture and say goodbye to the bitter cold (-1F/-18C)

The temperature on our departure day of 18 Jan 2016.

The temperature on our departure day of 18 Jan 2016.

We were flying out of Chicago O’Hare and we pointed the car south. Our first stop and last supper stateside was at the Brat Stop. I have been there a few times before but not in a long time. The building looked cobbled together and seemed to be expanded without a cohesive plan. I had a Polish sausage and one last Spotted Cow (“Only in Wisconsin”). The we navigated the cold road to the park and ride shuttle near the airport. As we got closer I could see in the night sky the wing lights of all of the air traffic waiting for the okay to land. At the park and ride I cast off my jacket, hat, gloves, and scarf – I wouldn’t be needing those where I was headed.

It was a long journey to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Luckily Dad and I had the middle 3 person row to ourselves and I didn’t have anybody sitting in front of me to recline into my knees. I also didn’t have anybody sitting behind me so I could recline guilt free. Still, I didn’t manage to get much sleep on the about 9.5 hour flight. I did enjoy the Turkish Delight served after takeoff. I watched a few movies on the in flight entertainment system.

We had a short layover in Istanbul. We managed to find the gate for the flight to Kigali despite it being on the other side of the airport and in the basement, far away from the duty free shops and food court. I read somewhere that Istanbul is building a new airport which they could use because this one seemed really full. One thing that stands out was the way they moved people in wheelchairs around the airport. In Chicago people manually pushed them. In Istanbul the helpers stood on the back of a powered cart and zoomed around. I saw a few texting while navigating crowded hallways. It was surprising I did not see any collisions.

The flight from Istanbul to Kigali was long and warm. I was in the middle of a row. I ceded both armrests to the others and just concentrated on the destination. I did sneak in a small nap on my tray table and watched a few more movies.  As we descended to Kigali I could feel it getting warmer and warmer. I was watching the live elevation tracker on my in flight screen. In my sleep deprived state I thought it was elevation above ground level instead of sea level so I was extremely surprised when we touched down at some 4,800 feet instead of zero. I blame the sleep deprivation. The flight continued on after Rwanda to Entebbe, Uganda so most of the people still had another hour after I disembarked.

Stepping off the plane marked the end of the flights and the beginning of exploring Rwanda. It was warm and muggy especially compared to what I came from back home. We only had one more obstacle to get overcome before we were free to roam – visas. We were the last ones through the visa line and we had some trouble getting in as we didn’t know the hotel we were staying at offhand. Using my phones internet I was able to get the information from my brother waiting for us outside. After paying our $30 USD we picked up our bags and found Danny outside with a “Karibu Team Horicon” sign. Karibu is Swahili for welcome. Danny impressed us with his Kinyarwandan (the language of Rwanda) skills in haggling for cabs to take us down the road to the Hilltop Hotel. It was about two in the morning when we checked in. Despite the excitement of seeing my brother for the first time in over a year and being in a new place I fell asleep fairly quickly (after securing my mosquito net).

The land of 1000 hills was waiting.



A Working Vacation in Lewistown, MT

Looking across Lewistown, MT

(This post will probably have way too much information and photos for a town that, odds are, you have never been to and never will be in. It’s my blog and I can do what I want!)

I had the chance to work in Lewistown, MT for a week and took it. I was able to make some money and see a new place at the same time. Lewistown (not Lewiston like I kept wanting to call it) has about 6,000 residents and is the county seat of Fergus county (named after James Fergus whose picture is further down in the post). There are mountains around the town although I had a hard time seeing them due to the weather most of the week. Lewistown is right in the center of Montana. I had a good time seeing some buildings and eating at some restaurants. The hot tub at the hotel was pretty nice too!


All in all it was a pretty good time. Some of my favorite spots were the Rising Trout Cafe Continue reading

Mid-Continent Railway Museum

[I visited in 2014 and these pictures are from that time. The same day I visited Mid-Continent Railway Museum I also visited Natural Bridge State Park and Dr. Evermore’s Forevertron.]

Wisconsin Historical sign at Mid-Continent Railway Museum

Wisconsin Historical sign at Mid-Continent Railway Museum

Our trip to the Mid-Continent Railway Museum actually started with breakfast at the Railroad Inn Cafe in North Freedom, WI. I only mention this because I wanted to warn you that if you go and order the pancakes they are larger then the plate so don’t order as many as you would if they were a more normal size. The railroad theme and decorations were also a great primer for the museum.

A crossing tower. Someone would be in there watching traffic and trains to know when to drop the gate across the road to keep traffic from crossing the tracks.

A crossing tower. Someone would be in there watching traffic and trains to know when to drop the gate across the road to keep traffic from crossing the tracks.

It was a gorgeous day and there was a surprising amount to see. If you are at all interested in train cars I highly recommend making the trip to North Freedom. You can even ride on a train (7 miles round trip) down a restored rail line.

Lots of history at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum

Lots of history at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum

A highlight for me was the restored Pullman “fish car”. This car was used by the DNR to restock fish in lakes and streams. It has fish tanks in it. Although we couldn’t actually go inside of it we were able to look through windows. The idea of a train car full of fish makes me smile.

Changing direction at Mid-Continent Railway Museum

Changing direction at Mid-Continent Railway Museum

The museum has a very informative website. There is also a Wikipedia page about the museum.

North Freedom Depot at Mid-Continent Railway Museum

North Freedom Depot at Mid-Continent Railway Museum

Natural Bridge State Park

[I visited in 2014 and these pictures are from that time.]

The arch at Natural Bridge State Park

The arch at Natural Bridge State Park

Natural Bridge State park is a small park between Sauk City and Baraboo. It is home to Wisconsin’s largest natural arch. I stopped there to take the short hike to see the arch and find a geocache.  Archeologists have found proof of humans being here thousands of years ago. If you are in the area it is worth a stop and short hike.

Vandalism at the Natural Bridge State Park arch.

Vandalism at the Natural Bridge State Park arch.

You can find out more at the DNR and Wikipedia.

My First Montana Rodeo

Sadie and I were able to attend the opening night of the Northern Rodeo Association (NRA) Finals at the Butte Civic Center on October 6th. It was my first rodeo! (It was also two for one admission night which is always a plus.) There were cowboy hats, cowboy boots, a rodeo clown and even a proposal in the crowd (she said yes). The lighting wasn’t working for my camera. My pictures are quite dark so I am only going to add a few of them. Click for a link to a YouTube video of a bull ride (not taken by me but we were only a few rows up from this vantage point).

Cowgirl making a turn while participating in barrel racing.

Cowgirl making a turn while participating in barrel racing.

There were men’s and women’s divisions. A few events even had a junior division. Events included bareback riding, steer wrestling, breakaway roping, tie down roping, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, roping and the main event: bull riding! I liked the steer wrestling. A steer would be let loose and a little later the cowboy would chase on his horse, jump off while grabbing the cow and wrestle it down. I looked it up and the animals are around 500 lbs.

A contestant returns to his horse after completing a tie down roping rodeo challenge.

A contestant returns to his horse after completing a tie down roping rodeo challenge.

Bull riding was my other favorite event. Nobody was seriously hurt on the night I was there but there were a few close calls. I think this will be a sport I will watch and not ever try. Some of the contestants were college students from around Montana.

The prize for the best bull rider

The prize for the best bull rider

I also wanted to share some of the bronco and bull names because they are a lot of fun. Some of my favorite bronco names are Joe Dirt, Triple Respect (there was also a Double Respect), Fun Hater, Lights Out, Slim Shady, Deal or No Deal and Beaver Milk. My favorite bull names were Fender Bender, Olaf and Nut Cracker.


A cowboy hanging on to the bull at the Northern Rodeo Association finals.

A cowboy hanging on to the bull at the Northern Rodeo Association finals.

I would definitely go to another rodeo. I would like to see one outside in the summer. That sounds like a nice evening out.

Krakow, WI – Poland in Northeast Wisconsin

In May 2014 I was traveling to De Pere (for my brothers college graduation) from Stevens Point. I took the long way and stopped in Krakow, WI. In 2011 I had studied abroad in Krakow, WI so I wanted to see how they compared. Here are some pictures of the Krakow without the castle. Much of the Polish past could be seen in the church and cemetery.

Welcome to Krakow, WI

Welcome to Krakow, WI

Old Schoolhouse in Krakow

Old Schoolhouse in Krakow

Church in Krakow, WI. The words say "Kosciol Sw. Kazimierza" Kosciol is church and Sw. is like St. as in Saint. So St. Casimir's Church

Church in Krakow, WI. The words say “Kosciol Sw. Kazimierza” Kosciol is church and Sw. is like St. as in Saint. So St. Casimir’s Church

Some headstones

Some headstones

Krakow Cemetery 2

Me at the Krakow sign

Me at the Krakow sign