I couldn’t get off the bike. The last 90km from hitting the pothole in Tanzania was painful, but sitting straight on the bike and pulling on the handle bars to stand up to dodge or ride over small potholes was tolerable. During that hour and a half of riding the swelling took its toll, and when I arrived at the border I couldn’t twist my torso to get off the bike. My back, stomach and core muscles were all painful, even breathing and talking was an exercise in diaphragm pain management. Eventually I just had to say to myself “Suck it up, cupcake”, and get off the bike. Walking was nothing more than a shuffle. In a wheezy, almost hoarse voice I asked the security guy at the border if there was a doctor or medical facility on site, but I’m sure he didn’t understand me, just watching this mad mzungu struggle away. The border post between Tanzania and Rwanda is a ‘one-stop’ border where officials from both sides of the border share the same building and facility, so getting passports stamped etc. is a simple case of moving from one window to the next. I told the chap at the Tanzania passport window what had happened, and he just stamped my passport, said sorry, and said I could go.
The border post is on the Rwanda side of the line, so it’s probably run by Rwanda and the Tanzania guy just gets to sit there and do his job. That’s at least the impression I got after getting to the Rwanda passport window a few feet away. I told that guy what had happened, he called over another guy, and instantly things started to happen. He introduced himself as the ‘Border Manager’, took my passport and US$30 visa fee, and walked my paperwork through for me. I asked where the closest hospital was and was told there is one 27km away, and they could put me in a car and take me there. At that time I was also introduced to a guy in civilian clothes and told he was the Chief Inspector of Police but currently off duty, and he would take me to the hospital. He said the bike would be safe at the border post, kept in the police station office.
I ride with a Garmin InReach Explorer+ which is a GPS tracker, 2-way messenger, and SOS activation device (different to a PLB; check the Spot vs. InReach blog). It works only via satellite, not via the mobile phone network, and uses the Irridium satellite network to send messages, so has 100% global coverage. I also subscribe to the Search-and-Rescue option, and medical evacuation. Given I was planning to get to a hospital to get checked out, the sensible thing to do was to press the SOS button on the device. I suppose I should admit, that even in the middle of all that pain, there was that part of me that had been wondering for sometime what would happen if you lifted the flap and pressed that off-limits, ‘do-not-press-unless-in-a-real-emergency’ button. I pressed it. A minute later my phone rang and it was the GEOS control centre calling for details. I explained what had happened, and that there is an option available on-the-ground to take a car to the hospital, but I wanted to make sure that any decisions were made in conjunction with them, in case any claims needed to ensue, or if they had other or better options. It was decided between us to leave the bike in the police station offices and take the car to the hospital.
I took my small tank bag and bike key, left everything else on the bike, eased myself in to the car that turned up with a driver, and the Chief of Police hopped in the back. We drove over to the hospital, being stopped a few km in to Rwanda by police on the side of the road. The window was wound down, less than half a sentence uttered, and the police stood back and eagerly waved us through. I’m in the right hands, I thought to myself.
Just before the hospital we picked up another guy who was introduced as someone who works at the hospital. When we got to the hospital he got out, and again judging by people’s reactions to his presence and instructions, I was even more convinced I was in the right hands. They wheeled me in to the A&E ward, and proceeded with getting a description of my injury, and doing an external examination for broken bones etc. The Chief of Police, who I now knew as Aimable, left them to it for a while, only to return with a big bottle of water and a large fruit juice for me! He made absolutely sure I was given the best attention, and we swapped WhatsApp numbers before he left for the night. The doctors and I came to the decision that nothing seemed broken or any internal organs damaged, but we would monitor the pain overnight and decide in the morning if I should be transferred to Kigali for X-rays and further treatment.
The anti-inflammatories and pain killers I was given when I arrived didn’t seem to be working late in to the night and early morning. I was told I could only take one every 8 hours, so at 3am it was 8 hours later, and I took the second dose. To my surprise, when I woke at 7am the pain was largely gone! Aimable had been in contact through the night and soon arrived to pick me up and take me back to the border post, this time in full police uniform. There was also the small matter of the hospital bill to pay, and because I had been driven straight there from the border, I didn’t have any local cash. It’s a district hospital so they don’t deal with international insurance, you have to pay and claim back later. I say the small matter, because the entire bill for the A&E, medical services, prescription drugs, and overnight stay in A&E, came to the princely sum of RWF 8,415.28 which is just over 9 US$. Aimable paid that for me and I would get cash at the border and pay him back – once again, above and beyond the call of duty! We got back to the border and I met up with the Border Manager from the previous day, Asiimwe. I thanked everyone, got the bike out of the police station, filled out the station incident log, pumped up my front tyre in the car park with the compressor I carry in my pannier, waved everyone good bye, and left to explore Rwanda, utterly gobsmacked at the care and attention I had received so far.
The ride to Kigali was a bit wet, and a fair amount of road works. Given my encounter with the pothole not too far back, I was taking it very easy, and got to Kigali early afternoon. Despite the road works, the temporary road surface was quite good with hardly any bad sections, unlike Tanzania. I booked in to the Urban by City Blue hotel in Kigali, and decided to stay a few days so the prescription drugs could have a chance to do some good. They only gave me enough tablets at the hospital for a few days, but also a script for some more, which I had filled, and also got a tube of Voltaren gel for my back.
I was going stir crazy in the hotel after 2 days so organised a guide and car through Trip Advisor (first and only time so far) and went for a historic day trip around Kigali. I organised another trip through reception a day later and left for the Golden Monkey trekking and a visit to a traditional coffee plantation for the next two days. The historic day trip was with one company and the 2 day trip with another. The day trip was certainly well worth it, taking in the site where the Belgium peace keeping squad were murdered, the Kandt House museum, a drive around the city sights, and the inevitable visit to the Rwanda Genocide Museum. The Rwanda genocide and the end of apartheid happened at nearly enough the same time, 25 years ago, but the difference I see in the people of Rwanda vs the people of South Africa can only lead to one conclusion – the people of South Africa, and the rest of the world for that matter, can learn a lot from the people of Rwanda!
The first day of the 2 day trip was also well worth it to see the Golden Monkeys and the traditional village staffed by ex-poachers, but the second day to visit the coffee plantation was not worth the US$580 it turned out costing. I base that figure on half of the guide and vehicle and admin costs, the overnight stay in easily the worst hotel I’ve stayed in for the entire trip, and the US$120 for the boat ride and plantation visit. Note to self – get the breakdown of costs before pulling the trigger and wondering how much that bit cost after the disappointment! In case you are wondering who I booked the two day trip with, it was with Wilson Tours, as recommended by the hotel reception.
The night back at the City Blue hotel was by pure co-incidence a ‘South African’ night with loads of local ex-pats at the Bistro on the top floor enjoying an evening together, with live music from Albert Meintjes! He has worked with many famous artists in South Africa and is now making records of his own. His music was very good, and also in the vein of travelling, so I bought his album on a USB card and have been listening to it on the bike Sat Nav a few times since. He is also a bike traveller, and we chatted briefly after the show. Albert – hope to see you at the Horizons Unlimited event in Potch in November.
Rwanda had been a great highlight of my trip so far, but it was time to head on. My back muscles were still not healed, and I was still relying on a daily dose of anti-inflammatories and pain killers to manage the pain. I headed back towards the Volcanoes National Park on my way out of Rwanda to take the spectacular road we had driven a few days earlier in the car, this time by bike. I also wanted to get in to Uganda via the border further west, and in to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest area to see if I could make a plan to go Gorilla trekking. Stay tuned for the next blog to see if I manage to make it happen or not. . .
And by the way, Aimable and I are still in contact via WhatsApp, chatting every few days. I expect, and hope, it will last.