Published: June 27th 2011January 26th 2010
Back in the safety and familiarity of Kigali, we only stayed long enough to grab ridiculously tasty Indian food for dinner with the local Indian ex-pat community, which felt more like a social club who drank and laughed through the night while telling politically incorrect but hilarious jokes about Pakistan. I suppose is what any country with a rival should do while overseas and in the company of your comrades :).
The next morning it was off to Burundi where we would fly out of Bujumbura but now without first spending some time relaxing beachside. Only 2 hours after leaving Rwanda we were in Burundi and back into a less than friendly territory. En route to Bujumbura were several provinces marked by the Canadian embassy with red flags. Thankfully, no problems.
We found a cheap hotel near Lake Kivu and spent the next day relaxing on the beach, people watching and drinking a beer or two (or three). Children splashed in the calm waters using foam flip flops as water wings and playing the same silly games of those played in backyard pools back home. As it started getting late and the sun set, we were only a block
or two from our hotel but we had to collect our things before making our way to the airport. However, we were warned that the streets would become unfriendly after dark and it would be best to take a taxi, even over a short distance. Only a block or two away... what could possibly go wrong? We were ready to walk along the lake shore to our hotel when a taxi driver that we knew turned the corner and instead we hopped in. Well, along our pitch black route we found our first unexpected hazard. A massive hippo stood on the lake shore chewing on grass. I'm pretty sure in the dark, it would have been completely unseen by us and our taxi driver gave it a wide berth as we eventually drove around him. Didn't see that one coming.
We packed our stuff and headed to the airport giving our taxi driver the last of our Burundian schillings and the last of our US dollars to cover the tab. We figured next stop was Brussels and we could get cash there if we needed any more. Well... apparently getting out of Burundi would prove much more challenging than getting in.
As we prepare to check in, a border guard demanded to see our passports which we produced. He then demanded a receipt for our Burundian visa. I showed him my Burundi visa stamp but he was not satisfied. Nope, if I could not produce an official receipt of my visa then I would not be able to leave. Apparently my visa would not suffice. I vaguely remembered being issued a receipt at the visa office but really... who keeps a receipt in Africa??? I kinda figured the stamp was pretty good evidence of payment. We called over our taxi driver and he chatted with the guard in French before getting waved through. We checked in and our bags made it onto the airplane and so should end the trip. Nope.
The guard re-appeared, still enraged and still demanding a receipt. He told us that the taxi driver told us we'd pay him after check in and now he was gone and he still had not seen our receipt. When queried about where and how we could settle the issue if there was not receipt, he simply told us that we would have to buy a new visa. From him. Dollars only. Right. Without any schillings or dollars left and no ATM or other means we were stuck and were told that if we didn't pay him "your plane will leave without you". With only minutes before our plane was to leave with our things and panic fully set in, he left once again to find our taxi driver. We quickly turned to the official issuing exit visas and as I dug around in my bag to find anything to offer, I found a crisp $20 CDN bill that I'd forgotten about and was my emergency YVR taxi money and pleaded with him. Scrunching his face he looked at the peculiar green bill and said, "This isn't a dollar." "It's CANADIAN" I implored. He sighed, shrugged his shoulders and stamped my passport just as the guard retured, irate as we flashed our visas at him, grinned and boarded. Off to Brussels, Denver, Seattle and home.
For those keeping track that is 14 flights in 24 days. Yes, Al Gore would kick my ass. Those fancy lightbulbs and biking in lieu of driving really was killed this trip. I might as well have had a hummer idling in my garage for the past 5 years. In summary:
Vancouver-->Denver-->Chicago-->New Delhi-->Kolkata--> Mumbai-->Kochi-->Dubai-->Addis Ababa-->Nairobi-->Entebbe-->(Bjumubura) to Brussels-->Denver-->Seattle
Ordinarily, I have a no-bribe policy. I had no issue losing all of my bags in New Delhi even for a token sum, but staying a minute more in Bujumbura watching my flight leave with no recourse would have been a disaster. Ahhhh the joys of travel :)