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Published: November 15th 2010
Bujumbura is the capital of Burundi and according to the British Foreign Office, the only safe place to visit in Burundi and then only if you have to! It's actually very westernised and one of the nicest capitals I've visited in Africa so far. Our hotel is on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in the Saga Beach area 5km outside of the city centre. A great setting with a real beach and western facilities.
To extend our visa with visit the PAFE office and have to fill in 2 forms, provide a photo and photocopy of the important pages of our passport. We are told we can pick up our passports later that day but of course this turns out to be nonsense and after 3 return visits it's finally ready the day after. It's the day before our tour but we have the guide and driver to help us so we can get a few admin tasks done. There is intermittent internet access in the city and it ranges drastically in speed.
Bujumbura is extremely busy, the streets are filled with hundreds of people and the traffic is often at a standstill. The main roundabout has a traffic policeman in
the centre, he directs the policemen at each junction who actually direct the traffic. These often takes breaks though so then it's each to their own... The taxis and minibuses are much more formal here, each are sign written with official locations and registration numbers, the minibuses also give tickets. The city is full of white people, often driving around in 4WD for either the UN, Red Cross or any other NGO. The road to the beach is mainly UN buildings, so it's easy to notice that a civil war has recently taken place.
In the evening we visit Havana Club with our guide, this bar/club could easily be in Europe with it's leather sofas and padded bench seating. At 10000 francs a drink too!! Turns out to be a late night so our guide arrives 2 hours late on the first day of the tour. There are no other clients, and we aided him in getting drunk, so we can't really complain. We visit a zoo type place which has a few animals in cages from the surrounding area. It looks like a basic place, therefore quite dull but as animal welfare standards are different here we get more
than we bargained for... The first cage has a leopard, which is an amazing creature but is sat quite quiet. Suddenly the girl showing us round runs off and the leopard leaps to his feet and starts darting about, then we hear a high pitched screaming and the girl returns clutching a squealing guinea pig. I am already shocked about what is about to happen. She throws the guinea pig on top of the cage, the leopard leaps and pulls it through the bars, it then scraps about killing it and the squealing stops. It then pulls the fur off with its teeth and starts feeding. I am stood in shock after screaming at the sight, amazing, yet terrifying! Next we see a huge crocodile, which is happily standing still, relaxing as crocodiles do. But once again the girl gets off and returns with another screaming guinea pig, she throws it in the pen and it literally runs for its life! The croc turns and nearly gets it but it leaps into the water pit which slows the croc down. It clambers down into the water and then splashes about trying to turn round, it finds the guinea pig and
eats it in one bite, urgh! Luckily there is no more feeding to be done, the cayman and antelope can be watched in peace. Next is the serpent house. Here there are many cages or glass boxes with different snakes from the area, once again it's not like at home with signs saying don't touch the glass etc, here we have the girl to provoke the snakes by any means; hitting cages, kicking the bases, tipping them out of wherever they are resting. First the girl darts about in front of a cobra, it raises its head and flares to twice the width, then it darts at her hissing, scary! Next she kicks the base of another cage to provoke a viper, it inflates its body to twice the size while hissing, very odd to watch. Many of the other snakes are woken from their nap with a poke or a bang on the cage. Some are highly poisonous, especially one that looks like a branch as there is no known antidote! Overall an adrenaline experience. Afterwards we get to watch the famous tambourine dancers, these are men who play huge drums which dancing. The beats are strong and hard,
so it must be exhausting. They then take it in turns to dance solo, often jumping as high as they can in the air and adding moves with their drumsticks such as winding it round their head. The harder routine is playing the drum while it's balanced on their head, one of them even plays it by kicking over his head! We then get a turn to join in and even after only 5 minutes playing we both have blisters on our hands!
The next day is a public holiday in Burundi so the country is supposed to be closed for cleaning... We start at 6am to try and get out of the city early but still encounter many road blocks. No-one is supposed to travel so our driver and guide alternate our excuses. First they say we are guests of the government, then that we have special passes to allow us but that they aren't allowed to speak to us so the army guard must ask us themselves, they of course can't speak English so that also gets us through easy. After each stop the driver and guide giggle to each other like school boys, they love their mischief.
We ride up into the mountains to reach Gitega, it seems to be a day for running, we pass hundreds of joggers. Most other people are carrying food on their heads up and down the hills. The scenery is stunning, Burundi is much more lush that the previous countries I've visited so the land is covered in crops, trees and palms. Unfortunately the national museum is closed so we continue to Chutes de la Kagera (Kagera waterfalls). This has a ticket collector, which must be an easy job as they can only get one or two visitors a week. There is also an armed guard on the site to ensure we don't get kidnapped which is reassuring... It's a short walk to the waterfalls, which are impressive, but difficult to get excited about after seeing Victoria Falls 6 weeks ago.
To finish the day we visit the mausoleum of Prince Louis Rwagasore who helped Burundi get independence from Belgium in 1962, this is also a good viewing point of the city. Then on to the other supposed meeting point of Livingstone and Stanley, this one is dated 15 days later than the Tanzanian one and is only an engraved rock,
no museum or information.
Burundi has been a great experience, very different to the other African countries I've visited. The people are very friendly and often speak English as well as French. The countryside is still very poor but the people seem to have better access to food and water with so much growing everywhere. The women wear the colourful fabrics as in other African countries but they carry their babies by tying the fabric under their arms rather than over one shoulder. The women of the city seem to have had a lot of influence from the west in their fashion and in their lifestyles. Next stop Rwanda!
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