[Disclaimer: this post contains profanity but bear with me it’s been a long trip]
On Saturday, after arriving in Kampala, the plan was to catch the Sunday morning bus to Kigali, Rwanda but that would mean I had to get up at 4 am… I set my alarm, it rang, i switched it off, went back to bed and woke up again at 8 am. At this point I was not stressed as I knew there were a few buses leaving in the evening so I decided to use the day to rest, do some laundry and headed out on the 8 pm Jaguar bus to Kigali, Rwanda. The ticket cost 45 000 Ugandan Shillings (R170). Other companies that you can take are Kampala Coaches and Trinity.
We arrived at the Uganda/Rwanda border at 3 am. The Uganda side was simple; you fill in the form and get your exit stamp at the official. After this you walk about a kilometer or 2 over a bridge to the Rwanda side. This is were I found trouble. I walked up to the official to get my stamp and he told me I need a visa to get in. Now I was confused, I was sure that I had checked this and double checked it. So I got my phone out and started opening the sites, one of which is the official website for international relations and cooperation of the Republic of South Africa, where it clearly said that South African citizens do not need a visa for up to 30 days in the country. I showed the official and he informed me that the law changed in November 2014. Upon closer inspection I realized that the government site had last been updated in January 2014 and most of the other sites I was looking at dated back to Sep and October 2014 (excluding thesouthafrican.com which published an article in April 2015 naming Rwanda as a visa free destination for South Africans- LIARS).
Anyway, after some debate I decided to just give into this visa process (which I have now confirmed was true). The official told me I would need to walk up to the bank to get money so I can pay the $30 fee. When he said “walk up to the bank” he meant exit the border post, walk about 2km uphill in the dark until you might just bump into someone who can point out this practically invisible bank that is hidden somewhere in a building. Lucky for me, a lady on my bus had decided she would assist me and walked with me to find the bank. When we returned I took the money to the official who had my passport. Now he tells me that they do not accept Rwandan Franc, only dollar… “Like WHAT THE FUCK GUY… you are the Rwandan immigration office how do you NOT accept your own fucking money”… That is what I was thinking but instead I politely asked what I can do. He sent me to the Forex place, which is basically a couple of guys with a couple of bills exchanging for a negotiable rate.
Great! I got the dollars at a good rate and return to my new best friend. At this point he takes my passport to some window, return to me and says, “Now we have to wait for advise from the customs office.”… “Ooooooooh K so you didn’t think it was a good idea to get this advice while I was running around for the past 45 minutes… can I cut you now or later!”… Again, this is what I was thinking but deep down in my heart I know he was only doing his job so I politely smiled and said thank you. The lady that had been assisting me had now returned from asking the bus driver to wait for me and then she spoke to the official to explain that we need to go. I was sent to customs to collect my passport; Here, I was given a form that I had to take to a window somewhere close to the exit of the border. I was told that the man at the window will take the paper and my payment, give me a receipt that I would then have to return to my best friend border official guy who will stamp in my visa. What I wasn’t told was that I would be walking in the dark, trying not to walk into fences or trip over loose rocks but anyway I made it anyway. Best friend official asked me a few questions about where I will be staying and for how long and then proceeded to give me the stamp that I had worked so hard for. After all of that I then had to find my big luggage, which had basically been sitting in the middle of the road, and take it for inspection. Rwanda has a very strict no plastic policy so they search all luggage before it goes back on the bus. Just my luck, in the first zip I have two plastics, one holding my shampoo and the other my lotion. I gave a dramatic sigh, wiped away invisible tears and slowly looked up at the lady who was checking my bag. After a little ‘inter-soul exchange’ she sympathized with me and let me through (I really think I was just lucky because some other people were getting their luggage ripped apart).
We finally arrived and, OF COURSE, my phone is not working so I cannot call the cab driver I had arranged. The lady who had helped me at the border came and helped me find a cab to my backpackers and asked the driver if he can call her when we arrive so she can speak to me. As arranged, the cab driver gave me his phone upon arrival and I assured her that I had arrived safely. Again, I caught a lucky break and crossed paths with some really honest people.
I’m sure in a few days, weeks, months.. oh k probably a year… I will be able to laugh about this but for now I have calculated all my expenses for the next few days and used what money was left to by a flight back to Tanzania. No more long buses and no more border crossing at night, until further notice. The idea of being left at the border waiting for the next bus back to Kampala was enough scar for me thanks.