Wednesday, 31 August 2011

First run on African soil

Yesterday morning I pounded the pavements of Africa for the first time.  The pavements of Kigali, Rwanda to be precise.  I started my run around 9am and by the time I finished I was already starting to feel the heat of the sun.  Kigali doesn't get uncomfortably hot though, due to it's moderately high altitude (around 1,500m above sea level).

I only ran for a shade under an hour but that was fine.  The heat and the altitude and the fact that Kigali is far from flat (and I really mean FAR FROM) meant I had a good workout.  I love the fact you can run here without having to worry for your safety.  The most you are likely to attract is the odd stare, as if to suggest you are slightly crazy running when you could walk or take a motorcycle taxi instead.

I would have liked to have run again this morning, but we had to get up early to do some excursions to other cities in Rwanda.  Then again tomorrow we need to get up early as we are going to spend 2 days in the north of Rwanda.  At least I am doing plenty of walking to stay fit though.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Greetings from Kigali

Yesterday evening I arrived at Kigali airport after a rather turbulent flight via Brussels.  The fasten seatbelt sign must have come on at least 5 or 6 times, which I haven't experienced quite that much before.  The landing on the other hand was so perfect that I didn't even know the exact moment when we touched down.

Kigali airport seemed rather small and I went through the immigration controls without any problem.  The queue was around 15 minutes, which is really not that bad.  British passport holders do not require a visa to enter so it is really simple.  After clearing immigration controls my baggage was already on the conveyor belt.  This impressed me a lot as in some developing countries it seems to take forever before the baggage gets delivered.

With baggage in hand I exited the customs and Anny was there waiting for me with open arms, along with her sister and her sister's boyfriend.  A short taxi ride later we were back at their house.  The thing I noticed was that the taxis don't have meters and you have to agree on the price before getting in.  For this reason it is great to be staying with people who know what things should cost.  Their house is rather big and they share with 3 other people.  Like most expats they have a night watchman who works between 6pm and 6am.  The area where they live is very safe because there are frequent police patrols and most houses have night watchmen.

I had been feeling pretty ill on the flight.  I had what felt to be a migraine, and for this reason I had to exclude myself from the planned evenings entertainment.  Anny's sister had planned to take us to a restaurant and then a disco but I decided to stay in the house and sleep off my migraine and to let the others go and enjoy themselves. This was probably a wise choice as I wouldn't have been able to enjoy myself with a migraine and if I didn't take the necessary rest it may have continued into today.

We awoke very early to the sounds of cocks a crowing, and it seems they wouldn't quit their cock a do do dooing until they had gotten us up out of our beds.  Anny's sisters boyfriend and another flatmate went to complain to their neighbour as they got fed up of the noise and apparently the woman told them the cockerels are important to her as they are the only birds that can see angels, and they make noise each time they see an angel.  Chris then made the joke that he wished the angels would come later in the day, although she didn't seem to see the humour in that.  It is always hard to know whether people are winding you up or whether it is really part of the culture, but Chris had to the impression she believed in what she said about them being able to see the angels.  He later told me stories about some Congolese who put out milk at night for their ancestors to drink, and they really believe in this.

After we woke up and had a nice Rwandan coffee and some Spanish cheeses and local fruits, we set off to the market.  We waited at the bus stop but each bus that passed was almost full and couldn't take 4 more people.  So in the end we bargained with a taxi and he took us to one of the local markets.  It is impressive how much fruit and veg is on offer and it all looks really good quality.  Again bargaining is necessary at the market and you should never pay the first price they give you.  Just as we were about to leave we saw a young boy flanked by 2 police officers being taken away.  Presumably he had stolen something but the thing that surprised me was that there were about 20 to 30 people following behind.  Chris told me that the people here love to gossip and that is the reason they are all following.

Our next port of call was a sports club where they have a swimming pool and serve nice food and drink.  To get there we took motorbike taxis as these are often cheaper than taxi cabs.  The impressive thing here in Rwanda is that every motorbike rider wears a helmet, and every motorbike taxi rider takes a spare helmet for the passenger.  Even in Greece which is part of the EU they don't take wearing helmets seriously, and here we are in the heart of Africa.

Now we are back in the house and having a relaxing evening as our hosts both have to work tomorrow.  A lot of people remember the Rwandan genocide and so assume that Rwanda is a very dangerous country.  I cannot comment on the underlying feelings between the Tutsis and Hutus because I have not been here long enough, but what I can tell you is that you feel very safe here.  It is much safer than Nairobi for instance, and a good degree cleaner too.  Whilst there is some crime here, it is mainly petty crime in the form of pickpocketing, and rarely violent.  Apparently crime is a very risky thing for the criminals here, as the penalties are harsh and thieves are often subjected to vicious beatings when they got caught by members of the public.  Their best hope is if the police get to them before the mob do.

I hope I have given you some of my first impressions of a country that is not so much on the tourist trail, and I am sure I will have more impressions to share with you over the coming 2 weeks that I will spend here.  I apologise for the lack of photos but I need to wait till I get home before I can upload those unless our hosts are have a card reader I can borrow.

And one last thing on the subject of my training.  Apparently it is very safe for me to go running here, so I will be able to keep up my training just fine.  There is even an added bonus, and that is altitude training.  Kigali lies at around 1,500m above sea level so that will give me a few extra red blood cells and allow me to acclimatise just a little before I trek up Kilimanjaro.

So that is all from me for tonight folks so goodnight from Kigali and speak to you again soon.