Friday, April 8, 2011

The Unplanned Weekend

In general, I don’t like to plan my adventures. Most successfully, this has resulted in me hanging out with Cory Hoeferlin on an island off the coast of Malaysia. Most unsuccessfully, I missed a NASCAR race last summer because we didn’t know what time it started…so we ended up touring Harpoon brewery and I ended up drunkenly breaking my vegetarian vows. Essentially, not planning always leads to success and happy stories. If you take the time to plan, you are only setting yourself up for failure…something will inevitably go wrong and botch all your plans…especially if your plans consist of making hotel reservations in a cash-based not-planning country like Rwanda.

Which is why I’ve had difficulty recently, spending my weekends travelling with the planner of all planners. If it was possible to reserve moto drivers ahead of time for a 10 minute ride, this kid would do it. Our core difference in beliefs has led to friction and some unhappiness in travels. So when a group of us was thinking about going to Nyungwe National Forest last weekend, and I got an email from him detailing the times that we would arrive places on public transportation (refer to last post for why this is so funny) and exactly how long each hike would take, I decided that all the planning was making the weekend too stressful and, therefore, not worth it to go.

I changed my mind around 11pm on Friday night. Along with another partner-in-spontaneity.

We learned that Alex and Jared were taking the 6:30am bus.


“Because it’s a five and a half hour bus ride.”


“It’s in the Western Province. Two hours past Butare. It’s practically on the border of Congo and Goma and the roads to get to it go through the mountains. We have to be there by noon if we want to go on the Waterfall Hike which costs $70 for non-residents but $60 for residents and is reviewed to be the most beautiful of all the hikes available in the park. It will take 2.5 hours to reach the falls but only 1 hour to return because the return comes out at a different trailhead, which is where the Nyungwe Lodge is. We will then order drinks at the Lodge, which will cost $3 each, and enjoy the relaxing sunset from there before returning back to our guest house using the public transportation provided at the Lodge. How have you not read up on this? How have you not prepared? How do you not know where we’re going? How can you enjoy your life without always knowing what exactly you’re going to be doing in ten minutes, ten days, ten years?!?!” This rant actually went on to the point where I was told that the only reason I’ve ever had successful “unplanned” trips is because I have always relied on somebody else to do the planning and then tagged along, pretending that I was being adventurous.

Although I was offended, disgusted and annoyed, I decided the philosophical discussion was not worth the drunken effort. But I did resolve to make no use of all the preparation that had gone into the planning of the Nyungwe weekend. It would simply be a coincidence that the one weekend I felt I could go just happened to fall on the same weekend as everybody else.

So the next morning I pulled myself out of bed two hours after I got into it to get on the 6:30am bus, along with Alex, Jared, and my new friend/partner-in-spontaneity. There was only one ticket left by the time me and my new friend arrived. (Alex and Jared had reserved/paid for theirs days in advance.) We bought the remaining ticket and one for the next bus (9:30…too late for the waterfall hike), and then my new friend got on the 6:30am bus, made a big speech about how I was his wife and he needed to travel with me, and offered to exchange tickets with somebody. People cheered…and then suggested that I get on the 9:30 bus. The bus started to pull away with him running along it. Then a lot of Kinyrwanda happened and suddenly, he had a seat! Success!

I didn’t go on the waterfall hike. Not only did a $60 waterfall not appeal to me after a $200 active volcano, but I was hung over and needed to sleep. So, begrudgingly, I took advantage of the guest house reservation and napped. Then I decided that I just really wanted to prove how little I needed to plan in advance, and decided to spend the night in the big city, Cyangugu. I called up a Peace Corps friend I knew the area and informed her that I’d be in the city that night and we should hang out. I texted Alex telling him I was leaving, and then I went about trying to figure out how to get to the big city…apparently another 2 hours away. Some hitchhiking and public transportation later, I arrived.

Just to clarify by “called up” a friend…I really meant “texted.” This proved to be an important difference when I arrived in Cyangugu and still had not heard back from her. Which might not have been such a problem if I had had more than 15,000 francs (~$25)…and if my phone was not beeping low battery. I refused to panic and, as I waited almost patiently for my friend to call me – hoping it would happen before my phone completely died, I decided that maybe this was a test. A test to see if, after 8 months in Rwanda, I could handle myself in an unknown place with only 15,000 francs for the evening. (It was already past dark when I arrived.) I found a cheap hotel and decided that I could handle myself…to the point that I was a little disappointed when the street children who had been making bar suggestions to me informed me that in some other part of town, a muzungu had arrived. I was impressed and gave them 100 francs of my preciously depleting stash. But it was worth it…when I met up with AJ I already had bar suggestions in mind.

The next morning, I found myself on another bus (for free this time – thanks to AJ’s bargaining!), headed back to the guest house where I had left a few things to lighten my load for hitchhiking. My room was locked, and whoever locked it did not think ahead to leave the key at reception. (This is a classic move in Rwanda because there is often only one copy of each key for hotel rooms…so whenever you’re sharing a room, you have to leave the key at reception.) I cursed my new friend/partner-in-spontaneity for his lack of foresight and went about figuring out how to do the Canopy Walk, essentially the only Nyungwe tourist attraction that attracted me.

“Oh, you should have stayed on your bus,” the guide told me.

Given that there was no benefit for me to stop by the guest house (could not access my room), this was an unfortunate realization. It turned out the next bus wouldn’t be there for 2 hours and I was headed to a place 20km away. Given the success of my hitching the night before, I started walking. After about an hour with no cars passing in either direction, I heard a moto behind me. At this point, I would have been willing to pay for the moto ride. But…alas! It turned out to be Max, the crazy Frenchman from Musanze, driving his BMW moto without a helmet and smoking a cigarette…of course. He appeared to be a French saint to my weary legs and blistered feet.

I flagged him down and hopped on, without saying much. After ten glorious minutes of going SO FAST, he stopped and asked me where I was going. I told him…and he asked if Lyndsey was there.

“Of course” I said.

He pulled out his phone to call her. I wondered where he was going before he saw me. It started to rain. I put on my raincoat. Lyndsey was in the opposite direction. He said sorry and asked me to get off his moto. I cursed Lyndsey for not being where it would be convenient for her to be and started walking away in the rain, waiting for a bus to arrive and take me the rest of the way for a grossly inflated price.

I crossed paths with the rest of the group at the trailhead. This gave me an opportunity to both curse out my new friend for locking the room and impress everybody with stories of my independence. I was happy. And then I rented a pair of hiking boots (3 sizes too big) – to make up for my lack of sneakers – and reserved a guide for the Canopy Walk. Another reason that I had originally not been interested in the Nyungwe weekend was because nobody else wanted to do the Canopy Walk. Actually, oddly, they were all more interested in seeing colobus monkeys than anything else. My mom and I stayed in a colobus monkey colony while in Kenya, so I really didn’t understand the attraction of paying money to hike somewhere and see them. I wanted to go high up in the trees! (In confusion about my excitement for the Canopy Walk, somebody asked me why I didn’t just go to South America to do one…varying levels of disposable incomes really makes you see the world differently.)

So, because nobody else understood how a canopy walk in Rwanda could excite me, I went off to do it by myself, in my rented hiking boots. And I enjoyed it!
Enjoying the Nyungwe Canopy Walk BY MYSELF and in rented mountain boots!
Then I hitched a ride back, learned that the boys had already reserved bus tickets for the next morning. I appreciated that they didn’t think to reserve a ticket for me (my phone was dead at this point…maybe they had tried to call me…who knows) because it further supported my attempts to not make use of their planning. The next morning, I slept in, ate breakfast, read my book, got on a bus…and met up with the boys in Butare, just in time to miss their visit to the museum (I am not yet mature enough to appreciate museums), but before they indulged in the best cheeseburgers and ice cream in Rwanda. Perfect.

At this point, me and my new friend decided that we’d prefer to head back to Musanze that night...a real shower and bed would be nice. I called Elie, who was in Kigali, and asked if he could reserve us bus tickets at 7pm so we would be able to get back to Musanze. He called me back to say that no tickets were available. This was not a good sign from a Rwandan and our team’s “Logistical Coordinator”…I didn’t have much faith in any bus tickets being available. I sighed and figured that we would figure it out when we got there.

As we were pulling into Kigali at 6:30pm, I made a plan with my new friend: he would run straight to Belvedere bus and I would run to Virunga bus to see if we could still get on the 6:30 or if there were any later buses. Five minutes and two texts later it looked like we were stuck in Kigali for the evening. I then remembered a flicker of a “Kigali Safaris” bus sign that I had once seen in Musanze…”they must go there!” I thought. I ran, actually ran, down the hill to the Kigali Safaris bus stop. This time I successfully elbowed my way to the front of the line and explained my need in a mixture of English, French and Kinyrwanda. There were tickets! I didn’t have any money to pay for them! Oh wait – I had the emergency 5,000 francs in my secret money belt! I frantically pulled my belt out of the bottom of my backpack and worked to get the zipper open and money out without tearing it all while elbowing all other bills out of the way for fear of somebody reserving the 2 remaining seats on the last bus out of Kigali that evening. And I did it!

Tickets in hand, I went prancing up the road to my new friend. I actually was so excited that I did a little dance in the middle of the road. I felt that I had successfully passed a test to prove how fabulously one can enjoy oneself on an unplanned weekend. This is when I got side-swiped by a car. 
Because a lot of place names were thrown around in this blog entry, I decided it would be useful to have a little reference map. Forget about scale...these distances are looong drives.

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