Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gisenyi and Goma

Last week I went to Gisenyi, a town at the north end of Lake Kivu.
It's adjacent to the town of Goma in the Congo. I did go into Goma
and spent a night there. First things first - you want to be very
careful about going into Congo. The seurity situation changes and
it's no joke. I spoke with a number of people and got good information
about the current situation, and it was safe. I did not go outside of
Goma at all.

It was certainly worth going. At the border they told me the one
day visa was $25. I only had a twenty and a ten. I had a little
Rwandan money so I gave them a note worth about $9. She gave me
about $3 back in Congolese money. So I ask for my $10 back and
was told `no, no $10'. So I got ripped off on that. When she put
the money away I saw she had a $5. Great.

It didn't stop there - they insisted on having a friend who worked
at a hotel pick me up and I could stay there. It was a good cheap
place they said. I said I would walk, but they said there was no need,
their friend would pick me up. I figured you don't argue long with
Congolese border authorities who are holding your passport so I
eventually agreed to this. The guy came with the car and in 2
kilometers he had run out of gas. So he gets out his car and starts
shouting. Yeah, I'm thinking, this'll bring gas. Turns out it
does! The picture of the yellow cans above is a Goma gas station.
You see them every 500 meters or so. The guys run up to you and pour
a liter or so into your car, because everyone only keeps a few liters
at a time in the vehicle. As Deepak said, they use the Shashi method.

The hotel itself was ok - not a dump but not nice. I now know
enough to check if the water works in the room. It didn't so I got
one where it did. I forgot to check for hot water in the shower
of the 2nd room, so I got a cold shower the next morning!

The town is both richer and poorer than Kigali. Poorer for
obvious reasons, it's a refugee camp, was buried during an
eruption 7 years ago (check out the volcanic rock next to the gas
station). It's richer because of the huge UN presence. This brings
in people with money so restaurants and hotels are expensive.
Probably comparable to a city in the U.S. or a bit worse. The town is
also just flat out dirty. There's an enormous amount of smog from diesel
trucks. To be indelicate, after about 12 hours there your snot turns black.

Deepak, the picture of the mountains was taken from
the restaurant at the Ihusi hotel - I called you from there.

The next day I went back into Gisenyi. Like all Rwandan towns
there are no touristy things to do. So I walked around town,
took a road up a hill and wandered off onto a trail where people
grow bananas. The picture with the sticks is, I think, a replanting
project for banana trees. People live up there in huts with no
electricity or running water. They certainly don't see many mzungu.
They have to carry their produce into town, generally one bunch of
bananas at a time. Maybe 4 or more kilometers. And you can buy a bunch
for 1000 francs, less than $2.


  1. Certainly sounds like you had quite an experience on many levels going to the congo.
    The banana tree reminds me of India,the stem after you peel is used as a vegetable.
    I like the location of the Ihusi hotel,the novice gas station looks very convenient as anyone can help themselves!!! Great pictures,Thanks!

  2. Amazing!!! I sounds like you are having a sabbatical different from the norm, just as you had hoped!!

  3. Please...IF it had been me there would be no available gas for miles. I'd wind up hiking to search for gas, and by the time I returned the car would be up on blocks and stripped clean.