Monday, 6 February 2012

Beautiful Burundi

It has to be said that Burundi is not generally considered to be a popular holiday destination. Recent civil conflict has ruled out visiting most of the country, but the capital city, Bujumbura, is considered relatively safe by the British foreign office as long as you fly there. So on Friday night, I flew there with vso friends Tammy, Mark, Lindsey, Tricia and Geri. It was dark when we arrived by taxi and we wondered how close our bungalows were to the beach...that is until we pulled back the curtains the next morning...and wow! There it was. One of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, and I have seen many.

 Bujumbura is located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, a really beautiful inland lake which borders the Burundi and the DRC. The white sand was dotted with palm trees and the sea was warm and blue. Lake Kivu in Rwanda is lovely, but it lacks the raw beauty of Lake Tanganyika in my opinion. There is not so much beach and it is not framed on three sides by green mountains like Lake Tanganyika. And what’s even more wonderful is that so few foreigners have discovered it yet! Yes there were a few expat type people around, but not the European winter sun crowd like there was in Zanzibar. And the beach was blissfully free of touts trying to sell you things and smart alecs trying to chat you up. There were a few security guards complete with their guns, but they seemed to spend most of the time playing cards with each other or studying so the atmosphere was relaxed.

So the first day of our weekend away was spent walking along the beach, drinking cocktails at Hotel Du Lac, probably the only posh hotel in the whole of Burundi, and swimming. What a hard life. In the evening we saw some Burundian drummers on the beach. Burundi is rightfully famous for its drummers and they were brilliant. We could feel the pulse of their beat through our feet and I never knew that drumming involved such acrobatics! The lead guy literally performed back flips around his drum. 

The next day we convinced Eric, the guy who had picked us up from the airport, to give us a little taxi tour of the sights of downtown Bujumbura.  Eric spoke very good English, which is unusual is almost exclusively francophone Burundi and he was fiercely proud of his country. He claimed that people in Rwanda speak ‘Kirundi’ (while interestingly those in Rwanda say Burundians speak Kinyarwanda!). In reality both languages are almost the same just with some pronunciation differences, a bit like the difference between British and American English. He said that things had been slowly getting better for Burundians from 2005 when the war ended. There definitely has been some development by all accounts as my edition of lonely planet said that there were no souvenir t-shirts available in Burundi. Yet Eric took us to a small handicrafts place where there was indeed a solitary ‘I love Burundi’ souvenir t-shirt for sale.

Bujumbura town itself seemed quite different from Kigali. It may have been because it was a Sunday, but the town did appear to be quiet and ghost like. It might have been because of the security situation, or perhaps because everyone was at church. People didn’t appear to live so much by the road as they do in Rwanda. There were a lot of big walls everywhere which I think people lived behind. Bujumbura doesn’t have the cobbled streets and neatly manicured lawns of Kigali, but just like Kigali, it is built on a heart attack inducing hill. There is also a general feeling that you have to watch your back here a bit more than in Kigali. While Eric was convinced that Bujumbura was mostly safe, when me and Tricia were sat on the beach watching the sunset, the moment it got dark a security guy came to move us back inside. However as long as you are sensible, keep abreast of the current security situation and follow the advice of local people here, you shouldn’t be put off coming here. In fact far from it. The people in Burundi, like in Rwanda have suffered a lot and it’s good to support them in rebuilding their economy and seeing all the good stuff their country has to offer.

View from the hotel window

The Bujumbura crew

Burundian drummers on the beach

Downtown Bujumbura

Trisha with the Local brew (which we also love in Rwanda) Primus                                       

Me on top of a concrete jetty thing with lake Tanganyika in the background
 I love Burundi!

Palm trees at sunset

The lake at sunset

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