Burundi: A Lush and Winding Road Leads to a Pool Championship.

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Africa » Burundi » North » Ngozi
November 21st 2013
Published: March 25th 2014
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After being taken to lunch by a Burundian customs officer we rode west towards the top of Lake Tanganyika and the capital of Bujumbura. Lush hillsides swept past us covered in an intricate patchwork of crops. People were everywhere. Bicycles passed loaded high with produce, other cyclists held on to trucks as they were pulled up hills, roadside stalls and brick kilns lined the road. At one point I passed two guys hand-sawing a massive log into planks with a saw that looked like it was from the 1800s. Each minute included moments of eye contact with half a dozen people. Sometimes I received wide mouthed stares, sometimes a friendly wave, and on more than one occasion a spontaneous dance. The corners kept coming and coming as we wound through the fertile hills. Ahead of me Jaap would shake his head, or nod his head, or raise a fist in the air. We were both loving the ride.

Burundi felt like what I imagined west African countries to be like. The lush landscape, French colonial influence, and subsistence lifestyle felt like significant departures from Kenya and Tanzania. When we stopped to find accommodation in Ngozi, we were swamped by locals in the main street but the vibe was a friendly and curious one. Jaap entertained the kids (and a few adults) by letting them rev his bike. The prevalence of NGOs meant that accommodation in the town's nicer guesthouses and hotels was expensive, but we finally tracked down a local place for $US5 each. Excitement turned to disappoint as we found the Primus beer at our guesthouse was warmer than the inside of my boot. Sensing our angst, one of the locals whisked four of the beers away, and returned about ten minutes later with ice-cold replacements. Cheers man. As we were enjoying these (the standard bottle is over 700mL) a guy arrived on a beaten up KTM from the 80s. He was a mechanic and enduro enthusiast, but was unable to source any parts of the bike. He had fashioned a head gasket out of what looked like a sheet of tin and silicone, which meant he could ride the bike for a couple of minutes before it overheated and promptly lost all power. We unfortunately had to dash his hopes that we were a KTM parts delivery service from Europe, but at least gave him the details of the KTM guys in Nairobi.

The next day while riding we crested a hill and the landscape opened up before us. Bujumbura could be seen ahead of us, and the hills of the Congo came into view for the first time. For some reason the Congo holds a real attraction for me. Heart of Darkness, Blood River by Tim Butcher, and a couple of blogs I have read of people travelling through the DRC have given it an air of mystery, danger, and chaos that is compelling. I admit that this is probably only because I'm a naive western white boy with no real sense of the misery a war-torn failed state like the Congo holds for real people. However to see the massive mist covered hills of the Congo rising from the plain below was a thrill.

We stopped in Bujumbura for lunch before following the east shore of Lake Tanganyika south. By the end of the day we had almost reached the border with Tanzania, and stayed in the small town of Mabanda. We popped in to the immigration office to check what time they opened the next day. The officials were super friendly, and pretty
much said that they would open when we wanted them to! They also recognised the name of the customs official who had taken us to lunch when we entered the country as he had been stationed in Mabanda for a year or so previously. We bumped in to them later drinking soda water at the "bar" we went to for barbequed goat skewers and a Primus. As we were chatting, a group of 40 guys can jogging up the road, chanting and stepping in unison. They looked happy, but the whole thing had an air of lynch mob about it. The border officials however set our minds at rest when they told us it was just the local lads heading to watch a football match on TV.

To finish the night we wandered down to a local pool hall, where a sizeable group of men were watching a theatrical battle between the guy that had been holding the table for many games and his challengers. Jaap stepped up to the plate, and started off by sinking most of his balls in quick succession to the cheers of the half-drunken throng. However the Champ rallied, Jaap faltered, and the win
slipped through his grasp. He remained gutted about squandering his chance of glory for days afterwards!

We returned to our accommodation, which was pretty grotty even by African standards. Recently I had been enjoying the incongruity of watching Downton Abbey on the laptop in my tent or African guesthouse, and tonight was no exception. As Lord Grantham was being dressed by his valet, I enjoyed the attentions of a horde of bedbugs.

Additional photos below
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26th March 2014

good pics! What an adventure!
How are the roads for riding?
26th March 2014

Hi Jeremy, the roads were in reasonable condition, no problem at all. :) Mat
27th June 2014

Great to see new news of Burundi - look out for my posts on Burundi over the next couple of weeks at http://alanpmillsuk.wordpress.com/

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