Crossing into Rwanda – and driving on the right

At the Rusomo crossing Rwanda and Tanzania operate joint one stop border posts. The border itself is the river. If going TZ->RW you cross the river and use that post, if coming the other way you cross the river and use the other post.

We hadn’t had chance to refresh ourselves on what the border process are, but knew this one wasn’t too complicated, so we had to ask for help at times as to what comes next but the officials on both sides were more than happy to help.

As you cross the river the road takes you to the other side of the road in this neat semi-circle that dances with what’s coming the other way, because in Rwanda they drive on the right, in Tanzania the left. Rwanda also has a 1 hour time difference and as we crossed we gained an hour.

We entered the border post area and parked and headed for the building. First we dealt with ourselves, at one window you get stamped out by Tanzania immigration and move to the next window which is Rwandan immigration. We couldn’t get e-visas for Rwanda as the form said we had to get them on arrival. We got asked some questions like we’re are we going, where are we staying, how long we’d be in Rwanda. We just made the answers up. Satisfied, the immigration officer writes on a bit of paper the visa fee. You then take this to the Rwandan Revenue Authority window at the other end of the hall, give it to them and they produce the proper paperwork to pay it. You take this and your cash (payment in USD) to the bank window in the middle and hand them over as well as a USD 1 bank fee. They then give you paperwork to say you have paid the fee. You take this back to the Rwandan immigration window and hand it and your passport over and the immigration office gives you your visa stamp.

Next came the vehicle. We had to ask and it seems the control gate we had driven through and parked next to was the first part of the process and this is the Tanzania customs exit part. The guy running things was super helpful. It really helps sometimes being a novelty and they helped us complete the relevant form. He had then had a cursory look in the vehicle (presumably for contraband or weapons) and stamped the vehicle out of Tanzania. They never mentioned them needing to keep the vehicle log book, we suspect that at this far flung crossing they just don’t bother following that part of the process: which really suited us as it meant we don’t need to negotiate to try to keep it and that we didn’t have to deal with the problem of it being stuck there.

Next it was back to the hall to Rwanda Customs. We handed over the Tanzanian exit form and vehicle registration card (log book), one of the guys then came out to inspect the vehicle. While waiting for Emma to bring it round he asked if we had insurance, Marie showed him our COMESA document so that got the nod. Then we tried to and failed to find the chassis number (this verify the vehicle matches the paperwork) he and we failed to find where it is but he shrugged his shoulders and said it’s fine. On the way back to the hall he asked if we owned the vehicle and we showed him our document that gives us permission from the hire company (as the owner) to take it out of the country, so that got the nod. Back at his desk he filled in an entry form at his computer, printed it and stamped it and handed it over.

Before we looked to leave we changed 100USD into Rwandan Francs at a very scruffy looking Forex booth outside as the rate they offered us was surprisingly very good.

Onto the final part, we missed the control gate (thinking it was just for trucks) and had to reverse when the barrier guard sent us back. A woman inspected the contents of our vehicle which just involved looking in it and saying what’s in here? Once cleared it was back to the barrier, show passports and entry paperwork then we were free to go.

It was all pretty straightforward, it being the hottest part of the day just made it feel tougher than it was.

A couple of hundred metres past the exit we pulled over to try and get local SIM cards. A guy instantly asked for money the moment we stopped, as did a kid. Thinking getting the SIMs would be a quick task Emma went to a phone network booth and left Marie with the vehicle. When it turned out not to be quick task at all Marie close to dying of heat stroke opened the door and hung out the vehicle.

A great deal of time later and there hadn’t been much success. MTN is the best provider according to others that know the country but at the booth they couldn’t get the SIM card to work (and then tried to make Emma pay for it as they’d opened it, she refused). Next she went to a network shop a little lower down. They couldn’t get a SIM to work either in Marie’s iPhone so took her upstairs to the service centre who also failed to get it going and no one understood why (and the same phone has had many different SIM cards without any issue). Bizarrely Emma’s Huawei it registered fine. Still turned out to be crap, we spent most of the time with no connectivity at all.

Finally we were on the road. The right side of the road, in a right hand drive vehicle. Luckily Rwanda having a terrible road toll is now one of the safest countries in the world thanks to all the work it has done on road safely. The roads are perfect and speed limits are low. 80km is the max but mainly it is 60 or 40. Given we were driving on the wrong side this helped to give us confidence. Unlike Tanzania though it was clear that people are not street savvy, cyclists, motorcycles and people don’t seem wary of traffic and don’t move over to the shoulder to let bigger vehicles past. The low road toll seemed to be a contradiction with how road savvy people were.

However, the first thing we noticed about Rwanda was a few people (and all uniformed guards) wearing face masks. No one at all wears a mask in Tanzania (and much fist bumps and shaking of hands goes on as greetings are culturally very important) so it is instantly noticeable.

Rwanda is very pretty. Hilly, you are constantly driving up a hill or down a hill. We were surprised to find it has rice paddies in the bottom of some valleys. It also feels quite civilised after Tanzania and we realised that is because both the roads feels calmer and there is no litter. Tanzania may have banned plastic bags but ingrained in the culture is the habit of just throwing rubbish on the floor.

What detracted from the scenic beauty was kids, and some adults shouting as we drove past “give me money.” Some of the kids jumped into the road to do so, some frenetically shouted “stop, stop” followed by “give me money” and some adults whistled to get attention. Not exactly welcoming anyway it was a really unwelcome distraction when trying to focus on driving. It was harassment for money like we have never experienced in any country before. We want to do some research as to how this has come about as it is endemic, it is more than some kids copying others, so we want to understand how this has become part of their culture. We literally had one woman shout at the top of her lungs as we drove past “give me my money!” Utterly indignant…!

It feels quite bizarre to be demanded of like that for money. Unfortunately it also gives a bitter taste to a beautiful country, we were rapidly sick of it and it stops you from engaging with local people as it almost every interaction that starts off nicely “hello, how are you” then becomes “give me money”. This isn’t the case for every single person, some just genuinely want to engage and practice their English but they are few and far between.

Our plans for Rwanda were to generally pass through and not visit many things. It’s a small country and many of the national parks and things to visit are in the West, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where there is active rebellion fighting. With Rwanda accused of supporting one of the rebel groups in the DRC (supported by the findings of a UN report) there have recently been some incursions over the border into Rwanda and at the start of the month tensions were so high there was speculation they may go to war.

Many people come to here to go gorilla trekking. This is also in the West in do not go areas but costs have also risen in recent years and its now USD$1,500 per person to trek into the jungle and spend an hour with them. For that price it really has to be on your bucket list, and it’s not on ours. (It is cheaper in Uganda but still US$600 per person, which still makes it a bucket list item).

Before we did anything though our first stop was finding somewhere to sleep. We knew there were no campsites and it was going to be some cheap accomodation again. We found a guest house in a town called Kibungo to head to. They had a room and because they don’t do food and know that people who are ‘over landing’ are self sufficient and cool they gave us a room with space outside where we could cook. It also had a washing line and, despite it being a bit cooler than we are used to, we’d arrived at 4pm meaning we were early enough to do all our laundry and have it dry before bed time. It meant our neighbours had to walk under our undies but we were too excited about getting on top of the laundry to care.

We were also excited to have a room that had space and air after the cramped room the night before. We also had a comfy armchair and a desk complete with a bible. All we lacked was hot water, but it wasn’t totally cold and was manageable to wash the day’s sweat and dust off.

One thought on “Crossing into Rwanda – and driving on the right

  1. When you get back I’m going to be waiting at the end of your driveway to ask for money.
    Looks like an awesome trip!!!


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