06.07.2009 - 07.07.2009
Burundi is absolutely stunning. In a way, i kind of wish that I had never come. That way at least, I would not have known what i was missing. As it was I was having to make do with barely 48hours and the promise to myself that I had to come back soon for a longer visit.
Oh, and i've also somehow picked up a book of Burundian proverbs, mostly from the Remesha women, so I intend to sprinkle a few in here as padding. You have been warned. Umugani ugana akariho (Proverb are used to tell the truth)
After the party I had petty much expected to spend the rest of my time in Bujumbura dealing with tiresome officials and trying not to pay any more in bribes than was absolutely necessary. But in a stunning break with tradition, my visa problem was solved in less than 20minutes. It would have been 2minutes if my French had been better. On arrival at the border at Kayanza Hut, I had been told that they didn't have any receipts left so couldn't give me a visa (or more accurately, accept payment). I had said that i didn't mind not getting a receipt, but the official had looked at me aghast and said that in the fight against corruption, he couldn't take my money without issuing a receipt. But he would stamp me in and I could pay and get a visa at the immigration office in Buj. At the time, part of me though 'wow, this is great' and part of me – probably the part used to dealing with Soviet style bureaucracy – thought 'oh sh1t'. But I was all fixed and sorted, and even had my bus ticket back to Kigali by 10am. And was then slightly at a loss as to what to do with myself.
Wanka kugarura impene ikiri hafi yamara kurenga imirambi ukabira nkayo (If you do not stop a goat at the proper time, you will bleat like it when it has gone beyond the mountain)
So i wandered around Buj. Whilst not containing any major landmarks or tourist attractions, Buj was not a bad city. It was quite small, stiflingly hot, and somewhat dusty, but with a glorious mountain backdrop and the lake just down the road, and although there were more beggars than i'd seen in a while, the general population seemed very relaxed and friendly: everybody i spoke to from the head of the Tourist Bureau** (who wished i could stay a week, and drove me to the immigration office as a personal favour) and the head of Immigration, to the hotel staff, waiters and assorted strangers in restaurants was extremely friendly. It seemed to simultaneously remind me of lots of places: a couple of French towns, parts of north Africa and Namibia, Lao and Vietnam. It was most odd, but definitely not unpleasant.
Uburo bwinshi ntibugira umusururu. (Much wheat does not make good mush)
The two real places of tourist interest in Burundi (the rock where Stanley and Livingston met – disputed with Tanzania – and the source of the Nile, for which both Uganda and Rwanda also have valid claims) are both outside of town and i decided not to waste time and money trying to visit them. Instead I just wandered and took in as much of the atmosphere as I could. I wandered down to the Lake side, heading for a restaurant that turned out to be closed, but gave me the unexpected bonus of watching 2hippos play in the water barely 20metres away: I doubt there are many other Capital cities that have wild hippos in the city centre. Apart from that, i just relaxed in some of the small cafes in town and took amusement at some of the remaining Belgian influences in the shops: The food, the bakery/coffee culture and the availability in local supermarkets of Leffe and Hoegarden beers, for example, at prices cheaper than would be found in the UK whilst a box of Weetabix cost over 9gbp.
Akari mu nda y'umugabo gasohorwa n'akari mu uda y'umubindi (If you hide words in your stomach, don't drink from the beer mug). Oddly, a lot of the proverbs mention beer, but i've omitted the rest out here
None of that may sound particularly exciting. And in fairness, it really isn't. But what Buj lacks, the rest of the country makes up for it. Although I have only seen a very small portion of this country, what I have seen – beaches and bits of tropical paradise along the coast of Lake Tanganyika, and the absolutely glorious mountain vistas along with the brilliantly coloured local dress and Kanga's of the villagers from the road from Rwandan border – instantly move Burundi near the top of the most beautiful countries that i have ever been to. In fact, with it's setting and the rest of the country, if Buj had been a colonial or architecturally masterful city, it would have gone straight to the very top. And by all accounts, the bits of countryside that I have seen pale in comparison to other parts of this small mountainous country and the lakeside coat further south.
I can't wait to come back here.
Imbwa irinze itoboka ubuhnza ntiba yamenye inzugi nke. (A bald dog has broken many doors)
- Which is a good travelers proverb and, of course, means 'It is good to know where you are going and better to know where you will stay'. You can read whatever you want into the fact that I rarely have the foggiest idea about either one.
- * Yup, there are probably significantly less than 50 tourists currently in the country, and virtually all of them are just slightly adventurous backpackers on short 3day transit visas on their way between Rwanda and Tanzania. And yet Burundi has a fully functioning and very useful tourist office, albeit without much in the way of leaflets to take away.