My last African country for the year and African country No.50.
Burundi is a small country next to Rwanda with a very similar landscape to its neighbour and the Ugandan Highlands. Its population is made up of two tribes, Hutu and Tutsi, like its neighbour Rwanda.
Tourism is nearly non-existent and most governments warn that travelling to Burundi is high risk due violent crimes, such as grenade attacks and armed robbery which occur regularly.
There are also violent street protests, the shutdown of independent media, torture and arbitrary detentions, mass displacement of citizens and the emergence of rebel groups, as well as a recent failed coup attempt. All these are the result of political tensions due to the President running for an additional third term. Sound familiar?
Bouts of ethnic cleansing and ultimately two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and 1990s have left the country undeveloped and its population as one of the world’s poorest as well as apparently the most unhappy people in the World.
From The Comoros I flew to Dar es Salaam for a night and the following morning flew to Bujumbura via a 40min stop in Kigoma. I really enjoyed the flight seeing some parts of Africa I visited two years ago as well as some new landscape.
From Dar we flew north over the Northern Beaches but I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane to see Zanzibar. We crossed the coast at Bagamoyo where we spent a night last year and followed the road north that we drove along last year on the way to the Usambara’s.
Traveling inland I had my first look at Dodoma and then onwards to Tabora where I followed the road to Kigoma for a while, which we drove in 2017, reminiscing from 25,000ft and eventually crossing the coast of Lake Tanganyika, one of my favourite dive spots, eventually landing in Kigoma.
￼From there we followed the coast flying over Gombe Stream NP where I visited Jane Goodall’s research station three years ago.
Flying down the centre of the lake we had the small Congolese village of Kalisha jutting into the lake and on the other side of the plane the mountains of Burundi.
We flew along the snaking Rusizi River which forms the border, with the DRC ‘Congo’ on the left and Burundi on the right prior to landing in the old capital Bujumbura.
I took the risk of getting a visa on arrival which everyone said I couldn’t do but with the help of a well connected local fixer on the ground he was able to arrange it and entry was easy and efficient.
Not long after landing I was told my planned two days in Kibira NP was not going to happen because of the activities of armed rebels in the area. That was disappointing.
I asked my guide could we go and have a look at the Rusizi River I had just flown over and we were soon on our way. Two hours after landing I was in a boat watching Hippos and Crocs, while cruising the river.
We stopped at a local fishing beach where the fisherman were preparing to head out. The local routine here is fish all night, sell your fish in the morning and then sleep next to your boat in the afternoon.
We finished the first day at a local beach on the side of Lake Tanganyika.
Burundi is a small hilly country, dotted with tiny villages and community farm plots, intersected by countless winding roads spiderwebbing their way across the landscape.
Traveling the countryside its not a whole lot different to the neighbouring regions of Rwanda and Uganda, with lush green patchworked hillsides mainly made up of tea plantations, bananas and pineapples.
Deforestation of the entire country is almost complete due to overpopulation. Burundi has the second highest population density in Sub-saharan Africa.
Despite the roads being surprisingly good, it’s still a slow trip to pretty much everywhere in the country.
Over the next few days we drove out to the Source of the Nile, which is in the mountains about 120km south of Bujumbura and halfway to Tanzania, although technically no one can still agree if the actual ‘source’ is in Rwanda or Burundi. Either way, the locals here are very proud of their ‘source’ and have even built a pyramid nearby as well as a tiled the pool, which kind of makes it more attractive than water bubbling up out of a muddy spring, although I personally prefer the spring.
I also visited the Karera Waterfalls in Rutana Province, which is a set of four waterfalls amongst the rainforest and a nice spot to relax for a while.
During the week we also visited the Livingstone – Stanley monument where explorer and missionary Dr David Livingstone and journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley visited and spent two nights on 25–27 November 1871. The location where Stanley said the famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”, is close by in Kigoma, Tanzania and occurred two weeks prior to their stay in Burundi.
No visit to Burundi is complete without seeing and hearing the Royal Drummers. These guys have toured the World, so I expected them to be fairly good but I was blown away by how awesome they were.
There were about twenty of them and I couldn’t stand closer than 6m from them they generated so much noise. It was hard to comprehend how they could generate the sound they did just from a few drums.
It was fast, rhythmical and with lots of bass they were in a different league than all the other displays of drumming I’ve seen in Africa. Absolutely brilliant and worth coming to Burundi just see them. It took me until the second last day of three years in Africa to see them and it was definitely worth the wait.
On my final day we drove the coast road south of Bujumbura, along the shores of Lake Tanganyika but the weather deteriorated at midday and we abandoned our drive.
At the end of my time in Burundi I’m left confused at what I have just witnessed. I arrived expecting to see bad roads, crumbling buildings, rubbish strewn streets and severe poverty, which in most African countries stems from politicians siphoning the country’s money, while the population suffers and infrastructure is barely existent.
What I saw was completely different. I saw good roads, one of the cleanest countries in Africa, nice houses, markets full of fruit and vegetables and friendly people.
I’ve now been to 19/20 of the World’s poorest nations and spent an average of 12.5 days in each one.
My favourite country this year was the Central African Republic, which is just ahead of Sierra Leone, both have incredible remote untouched rainforest, amazing wildlife, adventure and are light years away from the touristy game safari parks of Eastern and Southern Africa. For a beach break, The Seychelles, São Tomé, Sierra Leone and Rodrigues were standouts. For scenery Cape Verde and Réunion were spectacular. It was a great year of travel.
I still have a couple of African nations to visit and will get to them all eventually. I could have visited every African country over the last three years except Libya but I preferred to set a more casual pace.
I haven’t sat down and worked out all the stats but a few are:
Average of two weeks in each country.
Travelled over 50,000km by road.
Crossed about 30 borders by road.
Travelled East Africa by road from Cape Town to Alexandria.
Travelled the West Coast by road from Cape Town to Morocco.
Drove across the Sahara twice.
Travelled East to West and West to East across the continent by road.
Travelled by boat on Africa’s four great rivers, the Nile, Congo, Niger and Zambezi.
There were also lots of fun things that happened that I decided not to put in the blog like inadvertently entering war zones, having crazies pointing guns at you and being arrested, interviewed and detained a few times.
I visited many seriously remote places that took days to reach and lost count of the times I met people that had never seen a white person before. If you’d told me three years ago that was possible, I wouldn’t have believed you.
The list of amazing people I’ve met and incredible things I’ve seen is endless.
Bye for now……