Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.
So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. --- Mark Twain

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Burundi, Bujumbura

Burundi is left behind. A few hundred meters further is a next African small state. This time it is Burundi. Burundi is situated southwards from Rwanda. The area of Burundi is 27.834.km2, ( the area is the 145-th in the world), the estimated number of population - 10 million. The neighbouring countries are Rwanda, DR Congo, Tanzania. Burundi has also been called the „Switzerland of Africa „ because of its mountainous nature.

Burundi is like a small dot in the map of Africa. Located in the heart of Africa and shaped like a heart.


For clearity – here is the map of Burundi.


The bridge at the border of Rwanda and Burundi. Further on the flag of Burundi.

As usual , I drive to the barrier, shake hands with border-guards (or military or whoever they are at the present situation), and show my passport with the Burundi visa, having received the visa in Uganda already earlier.

The search of Burundi Embassy was again a longer procedure, because different sources issued different information. Lonely Planet instructs a place in the centre of town, and some data can be found in internet, but what is missing is the Embassy. Then a tourist information refered to the centre of town and the address was supposed to be Luthuli 67, situated near The Kampala Serena Hotel.

So back to the centre of town to find a close - to the hotel house. Nothing. I ask at the hotel – no information. In the long run a telephone number is found and no answer from this number. After a half-an-hour –search , as usual, the streets have names but no numbers on the houses, I managed to find the right house. And the signboard on the iron gate said that The Embassy of Burundi has moved away, no exact address, but only the region, named Kololo. And again the same telephone number that didn`t answer. The result of the search in the internet gave three different locations. And no Embassy there either. So I just drove on in the region of Kololo until The flag of Congo and then the Embassy of Congo caught my eye. Three or four businesslike men were standing in front of the Embassy and my idea was to get some information from them. Before I could open my mouth I was asked whether I wished to get a Congo visa and it was made clear that it could be possible (of course, a familiar story). I replied that next time, but just now I had to find the Embassy of Burundi. And perhaps they knew the location of it. And they really did, - to drive on a few hundred of metres and then turn left and there the right place was. I believed them . And so it was there as instructed. I got inside and said that I was there because of visa matters and quickly continued talking wanting to know when the visa could be obtained.

Burundi visa. The three-day visa could be obtained at the border. And staying for a longer time the visa should be extended in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. I myself planned to apply for a monthly visa. One can`t see much in three days nevetheless that it is a small country. So the story went on so – I had no invitation to present – neither from a company nor from a local, and no flight ticket and no hotel reservation. And so it took quite a time to explain that I have no invitation because I am a tourist. And I have no flight ticket here and back because I am travelling by my own car . In the meantime I showed them my car by the gates . And as there is overnight possibility in the car - there has not been and will not be any hotel reservation. The last explanation took the longest time. Still such a different situation, I guess. So I repeated in detail that for me Burundi is not the first African state to visit and so I don`t make reservations or pay anything beforehand until I can see the condition of the place. About shower and toilet, about water and water at the moment etc.etc. After everything is looked over the price will be discussed.

The result of the long talk was such – as the Abassador was not in the house any more I was suggested to come back the next day and have a talk with the Ambassador. I asked for a visa application form and it was given to me. The next morning I was there with completed application and other papers, a couple of photos, colour copy of my passport, copies of vaccinations. I told the Ambassodor the same story – that travelling by car, wishing to visit their country, having no invitation and all the story again. Anyway – my passport – full of stamps was reviewed . I was told that they have their own rules and procedures and requirements to be followed by visa application. And that I could come back the day after tomorrow in the morning. I asked if there was any chance of having the visa the next day , otherwise I had to stay in Kampala two more days. And the reply was that well, I could come the next morning. And the next day the month-long Burundi visa was in my passport.

So it took almost no time at the border as the necessary sticker was in the passport. Twenty minutes and the whole process was over. Not many people there, only some money changers.


Further on the road took along the side of the hill towards the capital. The road was decent , but the traffic was quite different. In a word – crazy. It seems that everybody is in a great hurry. As the country is mountainous many cyclists use the help of cars to reach up the mountain. This photo was taken hastily and through the dusty windscreen. The car was slowly climbing up and two bicyclists were getting hold at the back of the car and by the back car-hatch some more stowaways were hanging. And passing by is performed in every position. After that it`s no wonder that there are a number of car wrecks and overdriven fences by the road.


And more – if a car needs repairs then it is performed just in the middle of the road , either rear axle is taken apart or there is the gearbox by the car. The danger triangle is not used, could be stolen. That there is a vehicle on the road is announced by green branches placed on the road, the same technology is used in many other African countries.

Driving downhill there were branches on the ground in the next curve. And a hundred meters away a small bus, without a rear wheel. Semi-axes had run out of the rear axle. I took the speed off, passed over and stopped. Because you never know when something could happen to yourself, and perhaps it is an easy problem. But this time the problem was not easy. But just at the moment the main problem was lifting the car by jack and they didn`t succeed in particular. There was no right place for lifting up and the jack didn`t fit everywhere. And not a good idea to use the car jack at every place. So after two minutes of explanation I took my own car jack and the lifting problem was solved. The driver said that somebody had promised to bring him a new semi-axes , and so there was nothing to do any more. Many times the problem is the lack of a simple tool. But life has shown that they have one 17-19 key in the car and all the problems are solved with the help of that, even the wheel nuts are torn off this way. A kind of iron pipe is some kind of help as well.

It reminds me the incident on Marsabit road , the wheel was stuck by a secret nut and as there was no right key in the car I took a chisel and hammer from my car and cut the nut loose.
Since the bus was taking passangers to Bujumbura , the majority of them wished to come with me. I refused because there were no seats. There have been people in the back of the car - armed security guards and others, but just strangers from the road are not taken to that rear room of the car. And as there were two empty seats in front I took two more or less proper English-speaking and at the police working younger men with. And my main interest was to know more about this country.

Further on – to the capital, but it turned out quite a long procedure to find a suitable overnight place. I had read about a bigger sea shore complex, which had a camping site as well. Yes, it really had. But the price of camping was 30 USD and the same sum for for staying at their parking place. So thank you, for this price – no staying overnight there.

Next we are looking for the long-distance truck drivers parking place. It should be of more normal price and also safer. Having found the right place in the dark town it turns out that can`t place my car among big trucks . And as just next to the parking place was a bar, where a big loud party was going on, so a possibility was offered to stay overnight next to the bar. Practically in the middle of the so-called „open-air-cafe“. I said that I would look around, perhaps could find anything suitable. A couple of hundred metres away was a smaller guesthouse and they wished to get 60 USD and that sum for one room. I refused politely, no success in trading.

Finally the chosen place was a gas-station by the main road. Safe, because there are always guards with machine-guns.


Accomodation at a gas station.

At night there were more some 6 or 8 bigger cars. The guard wished 1500 Burundi francs (0.80 Eur.) for the service and ate two of my bananas , then put his wooden bench next to the bus and announced that everything was now o.k. And it was. Only the heat was higher than expected. And in this kind of a place in the middle of the town it was not very wise to sleep all the doors open. Around midnight all went dark, probably the gas station was closed and silence came.

But in the morning the traffic noise woke me up at about 6 a.m. already. And the intuition said that no sense to place the table and chair beside the bus and start making coffee. It is wiser to find some other place.


Bujumbura tourist information. The sign says – Office National du Tourisme, so, it is official stuff. And the forums in Lonely Planet say that a good tourist company named „Burundi Tour„ was supposed to locate just next to the official office.


Currency Exchange. Could make the picture before it was interfered. A bit blurry, but instead of electronic display blackboard and chalk are used. Could change the last Rwanda francs. At the border the rate was the same – 2:1, one Rwanda franc is two Burundi francs. Good for the locals to calculate the prices. Either double or half.

Driving around I managed to take some pictures, but with this kind of traffic it was wiser to put the camera away and concentrate on other cars. There were almost no traffic lights and road signs, and very few traffic controllers.

The result was something like this.


Blue-and–white coloured cars were taxis.



At the intersections the main road signs were usually missing , and the right hand rule was said to be in use.


This is not an accident or emergency. This is the way how pushing goes on. The one, who can push his vehicle between others , drives a bit on and the others are waiting .


The roundabout and a bit less dense traffic.

Attractions in Bujumbura are almost non-existant. Near the town there is Rusizi National Park.



So – there are two warnings, but no crocodiles.


Three hippos.


No more animals or birds nearby at sight. The event was over in an hour.
And there exists Musee Vivant or just local zoo. Not expensive for tourists – 5000 or 2,7 Eur.


It was said to be a very surreal place, something that is not found in Europe. And so it was.

There were crocodiles , but no warnings about going closer and touching them.
But at least they were surrounded by a wall.

And here too a kind of wire around. The broken places are patched.


And as it was evening already and too dark for taking pictures inside, the door was opened and the snake was taken out.


At first on the floor.


And then outside.


Everybody was quite free to touch and stroke leopard, but frankly, I was not very eager to have my fingers in between the lattice. Just one quick movement and ...

At least – I was not instructed to come here by the tourism office. While I questioned about it - the answer was that it would be open after 5 o`clock. I think that they were not very proud of this place. The conditions were poor and so was the choice of animals. Leopard, perhaps 6 crocodiles, snakes, including mamba ( not black mamba), some guinea fowls and one chimpanzee, which didn`t like to get up. Just an example what a zoo should not be like. The animals are starving and chimpanzee ribs are showing through the skin.

Further story is not for those readers who have weak nerves.

Like in many places in Africa it is also possible here to buy for example a guinea–pig and then feed it to the crocodiles. The first time I saw this in Burkina Faso, in my overnight- place, at a crocodile farm. In the morning I was offered the following – to buy a hen, then feed this hen to the crocodiles and make pictures and video clips of the process. To the great amazement of locals I refused. They made their offer again and again. At least ten times. I guess that there have been interested visitors before.

No comments: