My trip to Nyungwe Forest had been planned out in my head the previous night. The guys at the house had warned me that buses heading to Rusizi (The border town with Democratic Republic of Congo) that pass smack in the middle of the forest, were hard to find during this season of political campaigning.
It is in light of this that Gatwiri (my travelling companion) and I had decided to arise at 0600 Hrs to try and get to the Huye Taxi Park by at least 0700 Hrs. ‘Twiri and I got to the taxi park at 0900 Hrs.
“The bus full. No buses.” This was the repeated statement at each booking office.
It turns out there was only one bus passing by coming from Kampala heading to Bukavu. The people who had ‘booked’ the bus were just chancing as to whether there were empty seats on it, paying a middle man who would be on the phone all the while, negotiating places for them.
But we woke up so early!
So what do we do? Not ones to waste a day we’d woken up at the crack of dawn, it was 1000 Hrs now, we opted to take the next available bus to Nyanza and visit the King’s Palace; the earliest being 1300 Hrs. We settled ourselves at a first-floor buffet restaurant overlooking the comings and goings of the buses at the park, ate slowly, well, I ate slowly while ‘Twiri prodded me on things that keep me busy while at home. And it’s in this discussion that I open up the possibility for her appreciation of art.
On the bus to Nyanza ‘Twiri spent the first few kilometres fidgeting, trying to look for a good position to rest her head. She says vehicular motion lulls her to sleep. Later, as we headed back, I actually did try it. It works! And instinctively, you’ll wake up with a start when you’ve reached your final destination.
I spent most of the time on Google Maps trying to make sure we don’t get lost. But it’s primarily a straight road, with gentle bends, unlike those in the Northern Province. The shoferi (driver) kept stopping to pick up and drop off passengers along the road…I’m not sure if this is legal though, because I would see the new passengers hand over money to him in lieu of printed tickets.
I felt fatherly, being left to find the way in a foreign country. ‘Twiri’s head next to me was moving to the motions of the gentle bends and abrupt stops, which ironically did not seem to wake her up. The bus stopped at a filling station where most people alighted. Its front was facing the road heading to Kigali and so I figured everyone heading to Nyanza was making their way out of it. I tapped on ‘Twiri to wake her up and we hastily left the bus.
But alas! The bus took a left to the road heading into Nyanza town. And there went the rest of our RWF 670…
We had to take a moto-taxi into Nyanza at RWF 500, a price almost equal to the fare that it cost to get us that close to Nyanza from Huye. This was the price after we requested a guard standing at the filling station to negotiate in Kinyarwanda with the moto man. At this point my Kinyarwanda skills had not taken root yet.
On the ride into Nyanza, I felt a familiarity in the air. The air felt comfortable going up my nostrils. It is Nairobi-like in its easiness. Not dry, not humid, not cold, not warm. The roads were nice, as usual, with readable signs directing you to the King’s Palace.
The palace seemed to be atop a hill in the town’s suburbs. The road up is quiet, clean, winding and breezy. There is a fork on it with the left going to The National Art Museum1 and the right to the palace.
The first few buildings that pop out to a visitor are all grass-thatched, with dry, seemingly-strong grey grass covering them, like an old man’s hat. It’s all about royal residences here.
A guided tour of the hill starts off with the traditional section where replicas of royal huts are. Made of thatched straw, the main hut rises from the ground and bulges out into an enormous structure; it’s almost unbelievable how the structure stands on just a couple of wooden poles.
The geometric patterns characteristic of Rwandans is rife; from the ceiling to the beds of reed mats and hand-decorated curtains of woven reeds, one sees straight-edged shapes stare back at them. They are mostly woven from black-dyed sisal.
A milkmaid’s hut seats modestly behind the main hut; a smaller, less imposing structure. Architectural idiosyncrasies are explained by our guide, such as why the woman who looked after the king’s milk was never able to marry. Churns for handling milk are placed at the entrance. They are made from cleverly curved wood, scrupulously clean and covered by cones of closely woven grasses.
The Rwandan traditional setting is filled with clay toys, royal cows, drying coffee, milk churning – curds, butter, large hollow reeds used as straws, fermented milk and honey.
In my view, the modern palace is not that palatial, nor commanding. The hut is though. I feel he2 was short-changed by the Belgians. The bathtub was too short for a man of his height.
There’s not much to write home about the contemporary part of the museum other than the torn original seats; the picture of how it was and how they’ve tried to recreate it.
1 Transferred to Rwanda Art Museum in Kigali (former Presidential Palace).
2 King Mutara III Rudahigwa was the first mwami (king) to convert to Catholicism. The modern palace was built by Belgium in 1931. Unfortunately, most of the furniture and gifts he received from visiting dignitaries were stolen during the genocide.