IMAGINE THIS... You are outdoors and surrounded by nature... you are sitting with friends around a crackling campfire. You smell the fresh burning firewood, and hear tree sap sizzling and popping out of it. Up above, you see a night sky lit with bright stars, a shooting star perhaps.
Just then, you realise sleeping in a tent outdoors is the deal. You feel alive listening to every sound outside at night, nature’s very rhythm! The whole trip comes together just as you pictured it. Everybody is happy. Everything ran smooth because you went prepared, and because you knew what to do early on.
Well, that is what I and a bunch of friends imagined as we set off to Musanze, Northern Province for a sport of camping. Was that what we got? Far from it, I’m afraid! I had taken it upon myself to suggest Musanze because it is one of those few places in Rwanda that give me the feeling of being a tourist once I set foot in it. When I’m in Kigali, the feeling is that I’m just a citizen, and an ordinary one at that.
We headed to Red Rocks Intercultural Exchange Center and Backpackers’ Campsite, located in the quiet Nkosi valley, 7 km South West of the main town of Musanze. Thing with Red Rocks is that it gives you the ultimate nature experience, then more. What’s the point of going camping while laden with packed food from the supermarket? At Red Rocks, all one has to do is wander into the extensive outlying gardens and make a choice of their food, straight from the garden.
In the campfire that we found a group of Italian tourists huddled around, we roasted cob after maize cob, and no sooner had the stock run out, than someone dashed into the gardens, armed with a torch, and jerked a few more cobs. If anything, that was the best part of our overnight camping adventure, for everything after that seemed to go haywire. Our first adversary was the weather.
Need anyone be reminded that Musanze is more like the rain capital of this country? On every single occasion that I have set foot in this district, I have witnessed a downpour-ranging from the light, sporadic drizzle to the really heavy showers complete with thunderstorms. The rain found us around the campfire with the Italian tourists. It was about 9:00 pm. Although we had arrived three hours back, none of us had taken the trouble to inspect our tents in time, settling instead for the cold Primus that is chilled organic style, by burying the drinks under wet sand.
Of course, there was the beauty of the birds and the trees to contend with too. That way, nobody catered to the tents, till it was …well, too late. As the rain intensified, thickening the clouds more in the process, we scampered to the general direction of where our tents had been pitched. Operative words; ‘general direction’, for we could not precisely locate our individual tents. This called for the services of the night watchman who, with the aid of his torch, helped us locate our lodgings. We had initially planned on cramming all three of us in one tent, chiefly for purposes of minimizing costs (there are better things on which to spend on a camping trip).
Marvin, however, proved too tall for his and the rest of our comfort, and the only logical thing to do was locate a separate tent. His height aside, we had heard him protest bitterly when the third guy among us decided to light a cigarette inside the tent. You should have seen the commotion that ensued! What was already a stuffy atmosphere in the tent was made even worse by the cigarette fumes.
Yet still, we had to cut some slack for the culprit, for there were few other options to pursue other than that; the rain beating down hard on the tarpaulin, the breeze in full throttle etc. The chef had promised to deliver our dinner to the tents, but seeing the ferocity with which the rain hit the ground, we knew that it would only be a miracle if our food ever surfaced. We all knew that we were waiting for this food, yet nobody could summon the courage to admit it to the rest. By the time the food arrived, we simply pounced on it. The spaghetti, peas and Irish potatoes did not disappoint as they came piping hot. We ate and slept. We heard the chef try to wake up Marvin, who had relocated into his own tent, and who was by now battling sleep and fatigue. These took the better of him and he skipped dinner. At breakfast the following day, it was clear who had skipped dinner!
But back to the rainy night. After we had had our fill with the spaghetti and peas, we did what people do when they have had their fill; kick and scatter the plates around the tent as evidence. We would soon discover that this was a bad idea, and a very bad one at that. The leftover food had just teamed up with heavy air in the tent to render the very act of breathing a far-fetched luxury.
An hour or so after the rain had ceased, it was back to the maddening heat synonymous with tents. It was as if some one had taken me straight from the icy highlands of Greenland, with their snow and blizzards, and toasted me in the ungodly heat of the Sahara desert. It was that hot in the tent. Grudgingly, we picked up the crumbs, gathered the plates and threw them out, although the damage had already been inflicted on our nostrils. Hence when the day finally broke, we scattered into the fields to suck in the abundance of pure, unadulterated oxygen. For that, precisely, is what had brought us this far.