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Published: March 18th 2009
When I first planned to travel in East Africa on my way home from Ethiopia, I thought I might go to Burundi. Then, various people and the security warnings in my (admittedly old) guide book put me off. However, Barry was heading there and as we were both enjoying the company, I decided to go too. Like Rwanda, Burundi is very green, but imediately seemed less cultivated.
Burundi was a real surprise. Arriving in Bujumbura (the capital) after an easy border crossing, I felt slightly edgy - after all I'd heard so much about the dangers. In reality, the greatest danger we encountered was trying to cross the road. The traffic here is chaotic, especially after Kigali. The Saga Residence Hotel was beautiful and the rooms spacious, but the menu limited, so for the next two nights we ate at the Hotel Botanika - the vegetable lasagna was one of the best meals I had had in ages.
Saturday morning dawned with an eery silence throughout the town. Having felt safe up until now I admit that I immediately (inevitably?) thought there must be a security problem or an attempted coups. Barry asked a UN driver if there was
a problem, but it turns out that every Saturday morning (between 6 and 10am) vehicles are banned from the streets while they are cleaned. There was no evidence of such activity and a driver later on told us that it is just a good excuse for Burundians to stay in bed and (as he quaintly put it) 'make babies'.
We headed out of town to the place where Stanley (allegedly) met Livingstone. How Livingstone was lost when he was next to a major road and less than an hour from Bujumbura is slightly puzzling! We hitched a ride part way with a Belgian (who identified himself as "a diplomat"), then took a minibus with a driver who supports Leicester City Football Club (why?) and walked the last bit. There was no sign from the road, but we were pointed in the right direction and, accompanised by a group of small children, soon found the huge, inscribed, rock that had been placed on the spot.
Returning to Buja, the streets were back to normal and we took a shared taxi for a 2 hour ride out to Gitega, the site of the national museum. Burundians seem to like cheesy
songs laden with heartache and meaning and this journey was no exception (more classic examples including 'Part-time Lover' and 'The Power of Love'). The trip took us up hills; cyclists nonchalantly holding with one hand onto the back of slow moving trucks to get to the top.
We were dropped off at the museum, which was closed - indefinitely it seems - so, after a beer, walked into town, stopping off to peer through an open window to investigate the source of singing and were then invited in to watch the choir rehearsal for a while.
The following day, we moved to Saga Beach on Lake Tanganyika. Golden sands and a seaside feel to the place enticed us to have a dip in the lake. This resulted in quite an audiance, including a man who pretended to take a photo of his companion but was really taking our photo over her shoulder (we know that old trick) and a group of nuns, one of whom waved at us. The afternoon ended with a performance of traditional drumming and dancing. It was marvelous to watch but slightly spoiled by the fact that they were charging ridiculously high prices for
taking just one photo.
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