Monday, October 17, 2016

The Motorcycle Diaries: Rwanda

It's OK, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Mom won't like this one.

"Be safe over there," she told me before I left home.

Naturally, I decided to rent a motorcycle and ride the dirt roads over the Rwandan mountains.

The iconic Guerrillero Heroico adorns the windshields of many cars and motorcycles in Rwanda, so perhaps my inspiration to zigzag the deeps ruts and jagged rocks came from a bit of subliminal messaging. That, and the fact that tourism here mostly caters to those whom Che Guevara would have despised.

Hey, I can see my house from up
here! No, the one in America.
I've had the white person, muzungu, experience in Rwanda. The swanky hotels and rooftop restaurants have welcomed me with open arms. Sometimes the manager of a stylish cafe in Huye brings in guitar so I can play it with him. I've seen the Kigali nightlife and the tourist traps.

One day I was told that I can rent one of the motorcycle taxis for just around six dollars per day. Riding trails on four-wheelers and dirtbikes was always one of my favorite passtimes in the US, and I also wanted to see more of this beautiful country and discover on my own.

My assistant, Irene, called up a driver and off I went.

Wanting to get the feel of the bike and make sure everything worked correctly, I decided to take the safer, paved road from Gasarenda to Huye before trusting myself to attempt the windy and rocky dirt roads that careen through the mountains and lack guard rails.

OK, not really. It was Saturday and I wanted to watch college football.

The instant I set off on my journey, mother came to punish me. By mother, I mean Mother Nature of course. It rained the entire one-hour drive to Huye and quit right when I arrived.

"Why didn't you just turn around?" one of my friends asked me.

Good news: the speedometer works.
Bad news: it's not in Freedom Units.
I told him that part of being American means that you don't miss football on Saturday. It doesn't matter where in the world we're sent, be it Africa or Antarctica, we'll find a way to watch.

Being soaked from head to toe an hour away from home and without a change of clothes, I had to think of a way to dry myself once the game was over.

"Oh that's right!" I said to myself. "I have a motorcycle!"

I paid to have the motorcycle for two days and wanted to get the most out of my money. My plan was to take any dirt road that I saw and just drive until I felt like turning around. Google Maps would save me if I got lost. My plans never go wrong.

On the bright side, road work doesn't last anywhere near as long.
The road north from Gasarenda seems to trickle down the hills like a stream after the rain. It's steep and slippery, but the payoff is worth the danger. The views from the backwoods roads are absolutely incredible, and the little towns along the way are reminiscent of the picturesque settings of fantasy video games I played as a kid.

When a reached a small village called Musebeya, I stopped for a drink before turning around. An ice-cold Coke would have been nice, but the lack of refrigerators in Rwanda don't allow for that. It's even ingrained in their culture; you have to specify that you want your drink to be cold when ordering at a restaurant or bar, as Rwandans prefer their drinks warm, even their beer.

If they had a gas station, they could do away with the tithe.
The term muzungu has come to mean white person, but its literal translation is "someone who roams around." As I was out "muzungu-ing," I remembered that there is a about a 15-mile dirt road to Kibeho near Gasarenda as well. It's sort of a pilgrimage site for many Catholics worldwide because of the Our Lady of Kibeho apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Kibeho is far out, but the church is able to raise money because of the number of people that come out, and it shows. The church grounds are beautiful and the building itself is large and modern-looking. It's a nice break from the bleakness that surrounds it.

Speaking of bleakness and reminiscence, my travels on the bike bring me back to Che Guevara once again. Much like the events chronicled in The Motorcycle Diaries, I experienced a much larger disparity of wealth than I've gotten used to. Children around Gasarenda are poor, but when you venture further away from the main road, there's a difference that almost can't be described in words.

I've seen many houses made from mud and logs. Kids carrying jerrycans filled with water pass by me on a daily basis while their parents work their hands to the bone in the fields. Further out, I could use the same words to describe the situation, but it's somehow worse.
This is a waterfall. I named it Carlos.

That's not to say that Rwanda isn't making strides. There's income inequality now, but Rwanda's upper class has only relatively recently emerged. Rwandans are very optimistic towards their future, and there are many NGOs that work to lift these people up. Also, the Kagame government seems to genuinely care about its less fortunate.

It's safe to say that I won't be replicating Che Guevara's subsequent journey.

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