After a week in Afghanistan and a sobering day in Kabul, it’s definitely time to get out of harm’s way and return home. There’s no need to exacerbate the situation by lingering during what will be another tense period in Kabul.
On our way back, Evan and I decided to spend 3 days in Rwanda as one of the cheapest itineraries back to NYC.
Why Rwanda? Well, imagine a country to boldly become the first in the world to ban plastic bags, and where the last weekend of every month requires one person from every household to help clean the neighborhood and then use that time to discuss community events. Imagine a country that has reeled from a genocide that killed 70% of an ethnic population to become one of the fastest growing economies in modern history, all the while boasting low corruption compared with its neighbors and becoming one of only two countries with a female majority in the national parliament.
Security and safety are prevalent — every mall, hotel, and restaurant requires airport-level screening — even though there is no active threat like there was in Afghanistan. It may still be a work in progress and its leadership may still have its controversies regarding political suppression but so does Wakanda. But am I talking about Wakanda?
Rwanda comes pretty close!
Look at how clean these streets are. This was everywhere we went:
So from Kabul, Evan D., Amanda and I boarded a 1.5 hour Flydubai flight FZ 306 at 6:15pm, landing in Dubai at 8:45pm where we met back up with our UAE host Sean and Evan K., another friend we met on the Afghanistan trip (who had left a few hours earlier), at a swanky hookah bar in Dubai called QD’s.
There we decompressed about our trip to Afghanistan until Evan D and I said our goodbyes and caught our connecting 6 hour Rwandair flight WB 305 to Kigali at 1:55am, landing at 6:00am.
I even got in a good full night’s rest while on the flight!
At the airport Evan and I debated whether to rent a car, eventually relenting after haggling our agent down to a decent rate.
We then drove over into the city and dropped off our stuff at our lodgings at Mijo Hostel.
Now I don’t usually comment on lodgings, but this has got to be one of the best designed free-standing hostels I’ve ever been to:
I even left a little message there, just like old times back in Punta Cana, DR:
After a lazy coffee at the hostel and breakfast at nearby Java House, we headed northwest to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a sobering tribute to victims of the Rwandan genocide where an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans and up to 70% of the Tutsi population were killed.
Free admission but the introductory 10 minute video is required before entering.
I wrote about this back when I visited Tuong Sleng and the Killing Fields in Cambodia: Conceptualize the notion where 70-80% of the ordinary everyday people you meet in an entire country is a survivor of genocide. This museum puts that very fact into perspective. Everyone here has lost someone close to them.
After an hour here we drove further south, paying our respects at Hôtel des Mille Collines aka the “Hotel Rwanda” famous for sheltering 1268 people during the genocide.
The story of the hotel and its manager at that time, Paul Rusesabagina, was later used as the basis of Terry George’s film Hotel Rwanda in 2004.
Afterwards we drove further south to the highly effective Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial, dedicated to the 10 Belgian soldiers who were captured and hacked to death by the presidential guard during the initial events of the genocide.
If you’re not yet overwhelmed, there’s are 3 more memorial to the genocide south of Kigali. The closest is 20 minutes away at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial Centre. Admission is free.
Ntarama Genocide Memorial is another 20 minutes south of Nyanza. They require that you go on a compulsory 20 minute tour at reception but like all the genocide memorials, there is no admission fee.
It’s the piled up clothing of the dead here that really hits hard for me:
Then finally at the end of the road another 20 minutes away, we visited the Nyamata Genocide Memorial.
As it was not even close to evening yet, we drove the hour up north back towards Kigali, heading to the Rwanda Art Museum by the airport. It’s famous for housing the debris of the plane crash that killed both the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda that sparked the beginning of the 1994 genocide.
It closes at 6pm so we had 20 minutes to spare when we arrived. Entry fee is 10,000 Rwandan Francs and photography is strictly prohibited. They really watch you like hawks.
Then heading west, we stopped by for a wander at Kimironko Market north of the airport.
And finally after sundown, I was recommended to try the roasted goat ribs at Royal Car Wash:
After dinner, we returned to the hostel where we met Tom Karrell, a fellow American visiting Rwanda with friends for the week from his home base in Uganda. After an hour speaking with him and at his suggestion, Evan and I decided the next morning at 8am to drive the 2 hours up north to the Rwanda/Uganda border just to have lunch at scenic Lake Bunyonyi. That post is here: U-“Gone”-Da in 60 Seconds!
When Evan and I floored our back back to Kigali at 3:30pm, we both made it just in time to a well-deserved 1.5 hour massage at Zenora Wellness Center for 50,000 RWF. You can book ahead online on their website here.
Then we drove over 5 minutes to take a peek at the art exhibits at Inema Arts Centre.
While there, we were recommended to come here on Thursday nights as they throw a huge art gallery party featuring the artists along with drinks, BBQ, and a DJ for a crowd of 300-400 locals and expats.
Afterwards we then killed time with some tea and coffee on top of a library at the swanky Innovation Village (aka Shokola Storytellers Café):
After an hour here, we headed to the airport to return our car. On our way back, we finally hailed the thrilling moto-taxis for 1000 RWF for dinner at Sundowners.
Once again, I had the roasted goat. And it was divine.
And to make things even more interesting, we would happen to be in Rwanda on July 4th, their annual liberation day that formally recognized the end of the Genocide when the Rwanda Patriotic Front regained control of the country.
This means nothing would be open so I celebrated by chilling at the hostel and giving myself a well earned rest day before getting on my return itinerary back home to NYC via a free Ethiopian Airlines business class flight that I just redeemed with 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
From Kigali to Addis Ababa (No In-Flight Entertainment systems!):
The Cloud Nine Business Class Lounge at Addis Ababa was also so crowded!
But they do offer special ceremonial Ethiopian coffee here near the entrance, which I thought was a nice touch.
Thank goodness for business class as I was able to skip the lengthy security lines for the USA/Canada/Israel flights (Gates 23-26):
But be forewarned, some people will try to jack the business class line without having their tickets checked so be aggressive in holding your spot on the line.
Flight ET 500 from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Washington DC (IAD) includes a 45 refueling stop in Dublin in the middle (An 8 hour flight and 7 hour flight respectively for each leg), so wherever you sit should be like a home away from home.
I snagged seat 1A (luckily seat 1B next to me was also empty, so I had the whole first row to myself!):
The amenities kit has your standard toiletries set, skimpy eye mask, foam earplugs, socks, a pen, foldable comb, lip balm, and toothpicks:
Where the IFE left much to be desired, they fed me A LOT on both flights: Light snack, dinner, and breakfast for the first leg from ADD to DUB, then a hot canapé and a 3 course lunch on the second leg from DUB to IAD.
My favorite was the local Ethiopian set where you get to choose from a variety of delightful local Ethiopian dishes on a cart complete with their special soft Injera sour flatbread:
After 16 hours in the air and sleeping for 10 hours of it, I landed 10 minutes early in IAD at 8:10am.
With a 9 hour layover before my final leg back to NYC, I messaged everyone I knew who would be free to meet up. Guess who ended up answering the call? Anya Solovyeva whom I first met back at our hostel in Baku, Azerbaijan 10 months ago!
Now I’m waiting on my final leg home where there’s a total ground stop to LGA. I figure of all the delays to experience on this entire trip, it would be the domestic one back home. First world problems.
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- At time of posting in Kigali, Rwanda, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy