The west of Rwanda is the hidden treasure of Rwanda and Kibuye is its brightest jewel, it is now called Karongi but for the sake of Nostalgia I will call it by its old name. The wonders I saw were amazing, many are yet to be digested and I will reflect further but I was left with one question. Why is Kibuye a well-kept secret? This place should be the main attraction and not a side act, Gisenyi is its better known cousin and Cyangugu is the other relation but Kibuye has the best potential. Gisenyi has an air of Pompeii, the ancient Roman tourist haven that was eventually destroyed by a volcano. Gisenyi is lucky to be near the Mountain Gorillas so you can slope down to a beach, Kibuye has no beach but that can be easily made.
I took the bus because I didn’t know the road well, sometimes there was a sheer drop of almost a kilometre down into a valley so deep, so deep that they are almost in the earth’s crust. Violent tectonic forces created this land, it pushed the mountains into the valleys, valleys into the mountains, created lakes where there was dry earth and the creation is still going on. You roll into a cove that is ringed with hotels and exclusive houses, the water is turquoise on a perfect day, when the bay is still you can see impressions of the buildings reflected in the water like an impressionist painting. The outcrops of islands that dot the lake are somewhat out of place, as they are hills submerged by the lake.
The story of this place is similar to other tourist destinations in Rwanda, for long they were the exclusive reserve of colonial types and expats. Other places had roots in spiritual solitude, I stayed at the Bethany Lodge, very affordable, very clean, but somewhat austere as befitting its Presbyterian roots. The biggest problem in Kibuye is what to do, there are few activities for tourists apart from boat rides. The boat rides are excellent, but I will never use a motor-powered boat again because it spoils the interaction, we arrived at a bird colony but all the birds flew away before we even got near. It is better to take a fishing canoe with outriggers for stabilisers, that way you can hear, feel, and smell nature. The best thing I saw was using a cow to power your boat, a man tied a cow to the front of his boat and it swam pulling him along as he steered it. When he arrived at the island the cow ran off into the fields to graze.
Kibuye has nothing to do, so much to see but no way to see it, then the biggest problem which is symptomatic of Rwanda. When you arrive at Bethany you are met with despondency, it is on the faces of all the employees, smiles cost extra. Despondency from the guard dozing half-asleep picking his nose for hours on end and never finding what was looking for, to the receptionists, to the bar, it is just misery writ on all their faces. Go to any other lodge or hotel it is the same, we need enthusiasm in our service industry, the person who discovers how to inject that “oomph” or “Umwete” into Rwandans will add billions to our GDP. I saw a T-shirt saying “Quality is P.r.i.d.e – Personal Responsibility In Delivering Excellence.” Our tourism industry employs the wrong people, the interview should ask “Can you smile, can you be enthusiastic, can you take personal responsibility to deliver the best?”
I saw none of that at Bethany, I waited hours for breakfast until I wandered into an empty kitchen and served myself bread and jam but was still charged 3,000rwf. The mostly Dutch tourists were polite but quietly disappointed, but the price is too cheap to complain at 15,000rwf. A taxi for less than a kilometre is 10,000rwf, they charge you to arrive, then to take you where you are going, then the fuel to drive them home. On a rainy Saturday night in the pitch-black I was a hostage to them, the taximan complained that I woke him out of bed “Before you were dreaming of money, now you are making it.” He didn’t laugh. What can we do to change that attitude, I don’t think ORTPN can motivate people who are that despondent. Kibuye is a like a beautiful pickpocket that always wants the quick buck.
Just when you are so angry at the level of service and apathy on show, Kibuye hits you with a miraculous sight, the sun had a rainbow going all the way around it like a sun disk. We just sat in utter amazement, I have never seen such a wonder but it is apparently a common sight in the area. The cormorants were unimpressed as they preened and ducked under the water, emerging with fish which the wiggled down their throats. The pines that cover the hills give it an air of Switzerland, the slight breeze sooths as your eyes wander to the hills which cascade upwards into the mountains like a stairway to heaven. With the emerald green bay, the majestic islands, the quiet coves, and unspoiled beauty with wonderful people, Kibuye is the jewel of Rwanda and our future tourism hub.