Sunday, 2 August 2015

Mountain Biking the Congo Nile Trail in Rwanda (03 March 2015)

I had not considered cycling the Congo Nile Trail but when Gabrielle, a work colleague who was visiting DR Congo to help with training some of our new staff, suggested it I was keen. I was a little concerned as she is much fitter than me and I have only been on a bike once in the last two years but she assured me it wouldn’t be a problem.
She found a company called Rwandan Adventures in Gisenyi Rwanda, who hired mountain bikes and negotiated a deal for us to go without a guide. Our route was to take the upper trail of the Congo Nile Trail and then drop down at Kinunu Coffee Washing Station where we would stay the night before returning to Giseni by the main trail of the Congo Nile Trail.

We crossed the border from Goma in DR Congo into Giseni in Rwanda with no issues and drove 7 km along the edge of Lake Kivu to the cycle hire place. The bikes looked good but they had no front suspension. The hire company provided helmets, gloves, water bottle, repair kit and panniers. Gabrielle loaded one pannier and I suggested she should balance her bike and have two, one on each side. I volunteered my load onto her second pannier purely for her sake – and to handicap her extreme fitness advantage.

Ready to go on our solid steel beasts. Note the heavily laden panniers on Gabrielle's bike and my streamlined bike.
Ready to go we were off warming up on a km of flat before heading up the first hill which was steep only to realise that it was the wrong hill. There were some amused looking locals as we freewheeled back down the hill and joined the correct road. This road was not quite as nice a surface and the next hour was sustained uphill on rough rocky and slippery dirt road. I was thankful that I didn’t have the heavy load that Gabrielle did as we ended up doing a lot of pushing up the hill. The views were a great compensation, looking over Giseni and Goma, Lake Kivu and Mt Nyiragongo the active volcano.

We were a curiosity everywhere

Lake Kivu and where we started

Up, up and more up. Muddy and slippery roads

Glad Gabrielle has the heavy panniers!
Once at the top we undulated along a ridge and seemed to be going uphill a lot more than down. I had discovered by this time that my camelback bladder had absorbed the diesel fumes from when my gear was stored for 5 months in a shipping container with diesel jerry cans and the water was undrinkable. We stopped in one of the many villages and I purchased some water expecting to be ripped off and pleasantly surprised not to be. I find the places where they do not get tourists do not tend to rip off westerners. I guess they haven’t had the experience that they could charge triple and the tourists wouldn’t realise so they just treat us like their normal customers.

Still uphill but finally not as steep
Looking at Mount Nyiragongo which is in DR Congo

 Rwanda is a very populated place and it was seldom that we didn’t see any locals. We were a great source of entertainment for them and I imaging they did not see many cyclists as the upper trail of the Congo Nile Trail is not popular or well known. Also it was probably very unusual to see two females by ourselves. The children in particular were hugely amused and every single one was helpful enough to remind us that we were ‘Muzungu’ which is foreigner in Swahili. It was a constant background noise hearing “Muzungu, muzungu good morning”, regardless of what time of the day. There was some variety as this sentence was usually followed up with a request for something. In some villages it was pens, in some presents, others lollies and also for money. It was noticeable that some villages the children did not ask for anything which was a relief.

Children come running for miles when they see us.
This boy managed to keep up with us for over a km
While up on the ridge we were treated to views of coffee plantations and the occasional glimpse of Lake Kivu. There was one patch where we went through jungle and other places it was Eucalyptus plantations.

Not bad views - of course only stopping for a photo, not because I am stuffed.

More hills but hard to feel tired when you see how much weight is on these guys bikes

Coffee Plantations

I had my own follower for a while, these boys have very good endurance - or we were going really slow.


Typical village

Proper paddocks which is a rare sight here. Looking down to Lake Kivu

Almost feel at home at milking time
I was starting to get tired after 3 hours and thankfully the down hill started. It was a long way down and now I realised the disadvantage of no suspension on rough roads. My arms and hands were starting to get very sore from the constant vibration. And the downhill just kept on going. For one part we went off the road and onto some narrower paths which lead to some fantastic mountain biking. Unfortunately I am so used to riding with SPD clip in pedals that I found my feet frequently coming off the pedals as I tried to lift my pedals up. Most of the time this was not too bad an issue but I had a few scary moments trying to lift my bike over rocks like I could when clipped in and ended up stopping very suddenly.

These ladies are incredibly strong

Lunch break now we are starting to head downhill.

Not far to go to get back down to the lake - yeah right!

This is more like it

Thought I was going fast but these kids kept up

And they are still with us

Last uphill for the day

I also discovered that not only is Gabrielle fitter than me she is far superior with more technical riding and seems to lack fear so I held her up a bit on the down hills. I was stronger on the uphills but that was probably due to the packed panniers she had to haul up the hills.

Finally the never ending downhill ended and we arrived at the Kinunu Coffee Washing Station. After checking into our rooms and having a cold shower (not by choice but at least there was water) we asked for a coffee only to be told that the Coffee Washing Station had no coffee.
Finally made it

We went for a walk to look at the Coffee Washing station and to ease the cycling muscles. We walked to the other option for accommodation in town and were happy to try the local coffee. We ordered a fruit salad and the manager apologised that they did not have their normal ingredients and only had orange, pineapple, passion fruit and banana to which we said was fine. After a huge bowel of fruit salad each and a lovely coffee we got the bill and discovered the manager had only charged us a third of the price of the fruit salad. We pointed this out and he explained that because he didn’t have the full range of ingredients he couldn’t possible charge us the full amount. This is a very unusual situation where we were being charged less than we thought we should have so we thanked him and paid a good tip. The huge bowel of fruit salad was fantastic and just what I wanted after a long day of riding.

Back at the lodge we relaxed until dinner. There were now two other people there and we sat together and bowl after bowl after bowl of food arrived. Definitely no shortage and it was good.

We then went to bed early as I was shattered.

The next morning breakfast was provided and it was good. I wasn’t feeling too bad except for my sore arms. We started with a 30 minute uphill grunt before starting the undulating trail back towards Giseni. By undulating I mean big long hills up and bumpy short downhills that were really hurting my arms.

Not a fun way to start the morning - straight up

Gabrielle playing around- need to put more weight in her panniers

Nice to be at lake level even for a short while
We ate lunch by the side of the road and made good time into Giseni where I was very glad to hand my bike back. I loved the trail but would only do it again on a bike with suspension.

These would be pretty waterfalls if it wasn't for the big power pylon

Flat smooth road - not a common sight

I got excited at seeing sheep - though not as most Kiwis would recognise. I call them Geep because they look like a cross between a sheep and a goat.


We then went to a local restaurant for lunch before heading back across the border into DR Congo very satisfied with the adventure we had just had.

1 comment:

  1. These are great tips. My impression has always been that centre parcs is expensive but I might consider it now I've read this! Thanks very much!