Sunday, February 28, 2016

Les Chutes de Karera

Any tourism trip to the interior of Burundi is incomplete without a visit to the Waterfalls of Karera. Located not too far from the Failles des Allemands, the Chutes de Karera are Burundi's tourist cash cow. Foreign tourists are charged $20 to enter, which is a small fortune in Burundian francs.

With these international admission prices, however, come a better tourism experience that you probably wouldn't be able to get if you were to wander in on your own.

The Chutes de Karera are a set of four magnificent waterfalls that seem to explode out of the surrounding foliage. When we arrived at the first one, a church was there baptizing people in its waters!

The second waterfall involves a short but strenuous hike, down a steep muddy slippery slope. We were led there by our guide and an accompanying policemen contracted to keep away petty criminals.

It is ridiculous how beautiful this country is.

The third waterfall is up a steep hill. After breaking a sweat climbing up stairs carved into the stone, you step into a glen that is filled with mist created by the fall.

The fourth waterfall requires a walk across a wooden bridge with no handrails and minimal foot space. It doesn't look impressive, but the fact that none of us fell in the rushing stream below is a great accomplishment.

Four beautiful waterfalls, hidden away in a verdant valley deep in Burundi's interior. Certainly worth the $20.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The German Cliffs

An hour's drive down a dirt road off of National Route 7 is a sleepy town called Kihugu. It is here that we searched for the German Cliffs or Fault of the Germans (Faille des Alemmands). Being Burundi, there was only a small sign pointing to an even smaller road indicating that we had found this beautiful site. We pulled off and started walking toward a small stone gazebo, where we met a young Burundian student named Andre.

Andre offered to be our guide to the three dramatic gashes in the earth caused by tectonic forces and bearing the name of Burundi's first colonizer, the Germans.

 I couldn't say enough positive things about the German Cliffs. In my opinion this is hands-down, the most beautiful sight to see in Burundi. The largest has a a majestic waterfall plunging down into the depths, and the cracks in the plateau allow the viewer to look down across the border and into Tanzania.

You can see the Maragarazi River in the distance.

A funny aside - we slowly collected a following of children during our time at the cliffs. There is no doubt that Anthony's bag of candy had something to do with that.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Source of the Nile

Even the greatest of wonders have humble beginnings.

Exhibit A: the Nile River, which gave succor to one of humanity's greatest ancient civilizations, whose basin collects the rains of eleven nations, a striking dash of green and blue snaking through a great desert.

My adopted country Burundi makes its contribution to one of the world's great river systems in a small way. It boasts the southernmost source of the Nile River.*

I had a chance to drive out to Source du Nil last weekend, and that beginning is humble indeed. The Source is located in Bururi province, about a 3.5 hour drive outside of Bujumbura. Starting early in the morning, my two colleagues and I pulled up to an empty parking lot where eight youths were loitering, waiting for lost tourists. We were brought down some steps to what looked like a bathroom fountain. This, my friends, is the source of that storied river.

 We then followed a guide up a nearby hill, where a pyramid has been built to mark the dividing line between the Nile River Basin and the Congo River Basin. It is cool to imagine how a slight gust of wind can change a single raindrop's destiny. Fall on one side of the pyramid and be sent into a stream which feeds into Lake Tanganyika and eventually past Kalemie, Kisangani, Brazzaville and Kinshasa before rushing into the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the mighty Congo. Drop off the other side of the pyramid and that drop could flow in the Ruvyironza River through Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania into Lake Victoria, through Uganda into war-torn South Sudan, and then north through Sudan and Egypt into the ancient Mediterranean.

Our guide told us of the search for this spot and of the pyramid erected in honor of those explorers who had tried and failed to find it. We sat and reflected on this history until the government-licensed guide came up the hill, chased away the impostor, and proceeded to tell us the exact same story. We tipped them both and piled back into the car.

*The true source of the Nile is a controversial subject and there are more than a handful of tourist traps in eastern Africa (including this one) that claim to be the "true" source of the Nile, on account of distance, length, or volume. Maybe some day I'll make it to the real source of the Nile in Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania as well.

Monday, February 8, 2016

That Time I Flew to Another Country to See Star Wars

Due to some issues at work, last weekend was the last weekend I could leave Burundi for a long while. If I was going to see Star Wars in the theaters, it was now or never. Although I've mentioned it previously, I want to restate that I'm not some crazy Star Wars fanatic (although some people at work think so now, after my multiple attempts to cross international borders to see it). I was just really inspired by the trailer.

When I found out that my friend Zach from grad school was going to be passing through Nairobi, I knew I had to pull the trigger. I cashed in an unused Rwandair ticket to make the trip more financially justifiable and hitched a Saturday morning flight to Kenya.

Nairobi traffic is crazy, so although my flight from Burundi to Kenya was only 1.5 hours, my drive from Jomo Kenyatta Airport to the movie theater took 2 hours. With 15 minutes until the movie started and traffic at a standstill, I got out of my taxi and walked the remaining 400 meters to the theater, duffle bag slung over my shoulder.

The inside of Century Cinemax Theaters in Nairobi felt like walking into a movie theater in the United States, although I guess moviegoing experiences are pretty standard worldwide. Apparently part of that experience now involves 3-D glasses. I'm obviously starting to get behinds the times! Anyway, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was wonderful! The movie gave me all the feels and told a compelling story while still being fantastic enough to force me to suspend my disbelief. And John Williams is the man. Again.

I was joined by Zach and our good buddy Marcus, who lives two blocks from the theater. After the movie we caught up over beers, inquiring about jobs and old friends and maybe speculating just a bit over some of the finer mysteries of a galxay far, far away...

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Death Squad: Burundi Beach Volleyball Champions

Last weekend, the Fitness Factory sponsored a beach volleyball tournament. A bevy of teams competed for the bragging rights of being the best amateur team in Bujumbura, if not Burundi. To make things more interesting, the organizers recruited the Burundian national volleyball team to play as ringers, adding a professional volleyball player to each team for the tournament!

The competition was fierce, the sand was hot, but at the end of the day, the Death Squad, made up of some friends from our weekly Sunday volleyball games, won the day. We came back to beat a team in the final that had beat us in our first game of the tournament. It felt like the plot of the Mighty Ducks or something.

My big congratulations to my wonderful, talented teammates, Eliane and Julia, and the Burundian national volleyball team, which gave us just a *bit* of help.