Onward and upward, north to Lake Kivu, where we stopped for lunch at a tropical spot in Gisenyi where Kigalese take a nice weekend away. The temperature was lovely. The palms swayed. And I finally had my ugali. Throughout our posh safari in Tanzania I repeatedly submitted my wish to eat local fare, including ugali, but apparently it is too pedestrian for European tourists. Never saw it. Made with yuca flour (wikipedia says fufu is yuca while ugali is maize, but I’m going with what the man who brought it from the kitchen said), it’s sort of a bread, kind of a dumpling, definitely a starchy substrate for more flavorful sauces and stews eaten out of hand. I really liked it. It was elastic and expanding and seemed to retain its original volume ~a ball, not as big as my head but bigger than a softball~ through at least one additional lunch, then very slowly diminishing with daily depredations when mealtimes fell too far apart for my metabolic needs.
After our leisurely lunch, when I may have even napped for a minute under the palapas, we were on our way to Musanze. Except the car wouldn’t start. There is a funny little ginkle ~that word requires more explanation than I am prepared to give. Suffice it to say, a doohickey that performs a task for which it is not needed~ that must be touched to the after-market security system in order for the ignition to engage. It looked like our ginkle may have been … damaged. How were we going to replace an old ginkle for an even older car, only loosely rented from a man for whom we hadn’t even a phone number? A staff-member of the lodge/restaurant was happy to take a look. That drew a half-dozen other men. Does the sound of a car bonnet lifting make some homing beacon, audible and irresistible to only Y-chromosomes? Several of the men had ladies, obviously dressed in their Sunday best ~gorgeous, traditional dresses and headwear~ standing back, arms crossed but patiently familiar with the ritual. Hmm, might just be a dead battery. We won’t discuss the earlier conversation regarding the increased safety of driving in daylight with the headlights on. A few of the men disappeared and immediately reappeared with … a coat hanger? I stepped back a little farther, with the ladies in waiting. And yes, these guys successfully jump-started our car not with cables and big alligator clips, color-coded with rubber handles and all, but with what looked like nothing so much as an unwound metal coat hanger. Very impressive. I thanked the ladies, in French as they were probably of the pre-English language generation, for their time and their husbands. They lit up in smiles, said it wasn’t anything, and looked distinctly proud that their men had saved the stupid tourists a great deal of trouble and probably money. We drove for a good while before turning that engine off again. It never gave us any more lip.
It was well-after dark when we arrived in Musanze, triangulating a meeting place by phone with our proprietress. The meet-up was successful and absolutely necessary. We never would have found the place, down and around unlit, unpaved, unmarked back streets as it was. After a quick change-a-roo so Jimm could have facilities (I never saw where “down the hall” would have been if he had kept the first room offered), we were soon tucked in under our respective mosquito nets.
In the morning we headed up to Virunga Lodge, the older posh lodge serving Volcanoes National Park, just to see it and take in the view. We didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms, not being guests and definitely looking worse for wear, but figured we could have a drink and be gone before the guests returned from their morning trek. When sad sedan just couldn’t make the final incline toward the mountain-top lodge, we were forced to park it on the side of the road and go it on foot, which would have been alarming enough to the guards who only ever see white people turn up in Land Rovers, but we immediately collected an entourage of raggedy school children for whom we were the most exciting thing to happen all week. About a dozen boys and girls took our hands and a few started chattering away in both Kinyarwanda and English. The boy responsible for the goat tried to carry it in order to keep up with the rest, but not lose his goat, who did not want to be carried. There was shouting… and wrestling… and bleating. All of them were darling. Most of the children went to school in the other part of the day (the blue and khaki are uniforms). When the girls asked me what my job is, I desperately wanted to be able to show them that a woman can be anything. It was an encouraging sign that they assumed I had a job. I don’t. I’m a housewife… and a terrible liar, so I told the truth and said it’s my choice and that by going to school they can choose to be anything they want, too. They escorted us all the way up to the lodge gates where the guards gave them such a frowning that they scampered away quickly.
So we had a coffee, enjoyed the million dollar view, confirmed that Virunga Lodge is a bit of an aging lady compared to Nyungwe Forest Lodge, and took our leave… into the waiting hands of our new young friends. This boded well for the car being where we left it and in approximately the same condition, which it was. As we were attempting to extricate ourselves, a boy of about 6 invited us to his house. When I asked, he swore his mother said it was OK. We met his family… and neighbors… and goats. The patriarch spoke French rather than English and was so tickled when I pulled out a few phrases. He was sorry that Jimm had no more sons than just Craig. Yes, but I just left it at that. We visited a while, then finally made our way back to the car. These folks, living in 2-room mud huts, farming unspeakably steep hillsides, have the same million dollar view as the guests just above them staying in the posh lodge. It was something special to meet those people and see their home, rather than blasting past in an SUV, oblivious.
The next day brought us Golden Monkeys! Another permitted trek with guides, trekkers, and rangers, the ratio of travail to pay-off was still much better than Chimpanzee Day. The Goldens spend time lower in the trees, seeming to mind us not a whit, maybe as much as to turn their backs to our cameras, but no more than that. The troop was on the move, so we followed, and as the sun came out we got some very nice shots at the end of our allotted time with them. As we would have with the gorillas, it’s one hour, no more, then get out of their living room. Fair enough. It was a pleasure to be there, where they live as they should, in the wild, valued and protected.