Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Pete and Andrew recently emailed to tell us about a three-day trip they enjoyed starting in Kigali and then out to the Twin Lake region in Rwanda. Both these bikers are still waiting for the Land Borders to open up. Rwanda is a small East African Country by comparison to other African Nations, but there are endless places to explore. This is especially true if your mode of conveyance is a motorbike. In this case we are talking about two very capable two-wheelers. Pete rides a newer KTM 390 Duke, and Andrew’s mount is a slightly older KTM 790 Adventure R. These bikes are not really matched in features or capabilities, but these Guys being old friends, had no trouble slowing down or speeding up to keep their travels on pace. Rwanda’s Regional and National Roads are paved and well-maintained for the most part. The undeveloped dirt roads are, of course, an attraction for bikers with the right equipment and tires. Both Bikers carry minimal kit and supplies including small tents. Finding a place to camp in the Capital city of Kigali is near impossible. The trip out to the Northern Province was an easy choice to make if only for the opportunity to escape the big city, and the stifling traffic. Even for the Locals, driving in Kigali is not easy and requires vigilance. The traffic is a busy combination of cars, bakkies, busses, large trucks and zillions of taxi motorcycles. The red taxi motorcycles make driving in Kigali an exercise in watchfulness. These Moto-taxi operators are not real bikers by any measure and are prone to riding methods that would not be tolerated in many other parts of the world. After crawling through Nyabugogo Pete and Andrew could breathe freely once they turned onto the RN4 heading up the mountain. The heavy city traffic recedes into more open roads with fewer vehicles and pedestrians. Climbing up the mountain is more of a chore for the cars and trucks that often get stuck behind slow-moving cargo carriers and tankers. For the motorcycles these slow-moving behemoths are easily passed. Here is their story.
Rwanda’s Cool Mountain Air
Both Pete and I had traveled this route once before, but at the time we were trying to out-run a patch of bad weather and rainy conditions as we traveled into Kigali. On this trip we enjoyed sunny weather and cool mountain breezes as well as the curvy mountain roads. We could maintain the legal speed limit and still relish banking our bikes on the RN4. The higher the elevations, the cooler the air became. These conditions were ideal for bikers that are well layered with riding pants and jackets. Once we turned onto the RN4 by the Engen Gas station it would be another eighty-four kilometers to the area where we would be exploring. The cultivated hillsides and mountains in the distance created a moving mosaic of wonderful scenery. I cannot over-state how clean and invigorating the Rwanda mountain air is. And the people in the rural areas carried themselves with purpose but were more prone to friendliness with a wave and a smile as we sped by.
Rubavu Coffee and Bus Stop
Our departure out of Kigali was after a small breakfast. By the time we rolled down the mountain past Nyundo to Rubavu, taking a rest stop was a natural decision. We noticed a regional bus off-loading passengers across from a large gas station. We pulled off the road slightly ahead of where the bus had stopped. This was a moderately sized commercial complex with a few bakeries and a coffee kiosk. The Cappuccino and croissants were top shelf! We sat on our parked bikes savoring the hot coffee and the street scene as bus passengers and locals mingled. Pete befriended a young Israeli couple on an old Kawasaki who were also out on the road for a good ride. Some of the local boys gathered around our motorbikes with admiring smiles chatting in their native language. It would be safe to say that they approved of the KTM machinery. After a rest stop that lasted about twenty-five minutes, we mounted up and sped off down the road towards Musanze.
We entered to the city limits of the busy city of Musanze slightly after 11:00 AM. Musanze is a moderately large city but it has a more subdued and slower moving character than Kigali. It is a pleasant and safe destination for many visitors that are on gorilla trekking safaris. We stopped in Musanze just long enough to buy snacks and bagged lunches. We continued our GPS routing that would deliver us to the famous Twin Lakes area of Rwanda. We motored along roads that had pedestrian traffic, so we reduced our speed accordingly and kept an eye out for children. The children in Rwanda are happy and beautiful little beings but they are disposed to all kinds of mischief and unexpected movements. They also appear to exhibit little fear of motorized traffic. They often ignore the cars and trucks speeding by them just like their adult brethren. Operating a motorized vehicle anywhere in the world demands caution and common sense, but these requirements are especially important in Africa. You do not want to have an accident of any magnitude and you especially do not want to hurt people. Even if the Locals appear indifferent to the sometimes-crowded roads, you as a visitor must accept the extreme disadvantage as a Foreigner in the sad event of an accident. Besides the language gap and unknown legal landscape, dealing with Police and an excited crowd on the road will not be a pleasant occasion.
Off Road in Rwanda
Right after passing the town of Muhoza we veered off the main road onto an unpaved minor road that was fun to negotiate. The elevations in that area were slightly higher than the lakes which we could see in the distance. We managed to find single track paths that took through the bush and past small farm holdings. Although many areas on these trails were muddy with small rain puddles, we did manage to find a grassy clearing about five kilometers from the closest Lake. We stopped our bikes and ate lunch while enjoying the breeze off the Lake and the ticking noises coming from our cooling engines. There were a variety of trees and cultivated land around us. The banana trees, avocado trees and mango trees were the easiest to identify. In Rwanda there are food crops growing everywhere. Soil conditions and the agrarian skills of the local farmers make for good food security. At least this is my impression. The knowledge, skill and hard work needed to feed millions of people are beyond the imagination of the average First World visitor to this lush and fertile Country. No, food does not come from the Supermarket. Food comes from farms both large and small. After lunch and rechecking our bearings, we picked up the pace a bit and headed down the hillside in the direction of the lake.
The Twin Lakes – Majesty of Rwanda
Lakes Ruhondo and Burera are the two bodies of water that make this area of Rwanda so very special. From the mountainsides looking out towards the lake the vistas will keep you transfixed and entertained. If it is a misty morning or sunny afternoon, the lakes are enchanting. I suppose that many travelers that arrive in Rwanda to go gorilla trekking will be tempted to experience these water masses up close. After a short ride, we were able to find an approach road that took us to the waterfront area of Lake Ruhondo. There was a travel lodge nearby and a landing area where a fleet of wooden tour boats were docked ready to take on paying passenger. Sadly, there were no tourist in the area except us and we continued down a grass path that snaked along Lake Ruhondo’s shoreline. The scenery was extraordinarily gratifying. There was a healthy abundance of bird life flittering about in the tall trees. There were village people washing and drying their clothing on the shores of the lake. There were young boys here and there collecting grass for animal feed which they balanced on their heads. Lake Ruhondo glistened in the distance as catspaws rippled the otherwise still surface of this huge lake. The puffy white clouds overhead added to the majesty of it all. The view into the distance could easily be mistaken for a Caribbean seascape. The fields and small farms in the expanse of land gave way to towering volcanic mountains with cloud-covered peaks. We could see the trailing smoke from cooking and charcoal pit fires up on the hills. Every now and then I would get a whiff of the most delicious meats and sauces being prepared. Rwandan cuisine is cooked using mostly organic victuals and I can tell you that it is rich and mouth-watering food. Riding our high-tech motorcycles through the bush on the shores of Lake Ruhondo aroused our senses in so many ways. Sights, sounds and smell. These and other senses kept busy as we abandoned our usually swarming minds and surrendered to this powerful place on our planet. By late afternoon we drove up to a small farm. The Madam of the house came out into her yard to see what all the noise was about. From the look on her face, she was stunned and amazed at the same time. We attempted a greeting with an explanation as to why we had invaded her private spaces, but it was impossible. Within one minute of our arrival her husband appeared from under the banana trees. He approached us in a friendly manner and greeted us in French. Luckily Pete speaks French and became our impromptu Ambassador. We asked for permission to camp overnight on the farmer’s land and for a small supply of fresh water. Pete negotiated the terms and conditions. We would set up camp on the lower edges of his farm, build a fire and be gone by 07:00 AM in the morning. The farmer accepted 20,000 Rwf as compensation. We were far enough away from the village areas and did not have the usual crowd of children and onlookers flocking to our camp. The tents were erected, we dug latrine holes down by the tree line and built a fire. We had a killer view of Lake Ruhondo, meat and rice for our pots and four bottles of warm Virunga beer. In the morning we would continue our travels to capture the highlights of Lake Burera. The weather remained pleasant throughout the night. It was a very good day to ride and the night was just as rewarding.