A guest post by @abbyqoey
Getting There: We did not take a direct flight to Bukavu. We flew with Kenya Airways to Kigali (Rwanda) then took a taxi to Rusizi the border town between Rwanda and DRC (South Kivu).
On Arrival: The Kigali International Airport is pretty fast and efficient. As an East African citizen, I did not have to pay any taxes or get visa to go through Rwanda. However, for non-East Africans you have to make a visa application online otherwise even the authorities from the point of origin (Nairobi) won’t let you fly to Rwanda (it happened to my Canadian colleague and he missed his flight from Nairobi to Kigali. They also do not allow visa payments at the airport – which differs from the information on their website)
The taxi ride takes about 5 hours one way, and it’s a scenic route through the forest on a really good road. The border crossing was not too hectic. It took about 10 minutes on the Rwandan side and about 15 minutes on the DRC side. People have to be wary of the moneychangers on the Rwandan side. The guy at the border office warned me that they sometimes give people fake currency and it’s safer to just stick to the legit bureaus.
Getting Around: We has a personal driver to take us round and this was mostly because we were working in a village that was about 1.5 hours out of Bukavu city. I did notice that locals took either small saloon cars or what appeared to be 14-seater vans to get round the city. These vehicles were mostly in a sorry state, but there were quite a number of taxis in a much better state. We took one once at night and it turned out okay. Out in the village we saw quite a few lorries transporting cargo and people, and we were told this is a popular form of public transport out there.
The locals speak French and Swahili. The Swahili dialect was quite different to what we speak in Kenya. Some people do speak English but they are few and so we had a local translator helping us for our time there. Our host client hired the driver and translator for us.
During the day we felt pretty secure walking around. We would sometimes walk around 7:00 pm to a restaurant near our hotel but we were a bit antsy doing it as we had been warned about doing so at a security briefing given by our host client. We also had to make sure we were out of the field by 3:00 pm so as to get to Bukavu by 5:00 pm. We noticed the streets emptied out really early in the night (compared to Nairobi).
Staying in Touch: We were able to use our personal mobile phones. We got new phones and local SIM cards too. We chose Tigo as our carrier, over other available carriers like Airtel, Orange and Vodacom. But sometimes we had problems making local and international calls via the network. Our friends and family also reported having problems while trying to call us from Nairobi. That said, the quality of calls when they worked was good.
We also had access to Wi-Fi at the hotel we stayed at, at some places we frequented for dinner and also at the office we sometimes worked out from.
Where to Stay: We paid $60 USD per night for B&B at the Horizon Hotel, which was for a simple standard room. The lights kept going off a lot of the times and most places in the city seemed to have generators.
We didn’t use any credit cards. We ‘d use both the USD and Congolese Franc. You can pay for something in USD and get the change back in Francs, dollars or both. On average I spent about $22 per day, usually on food.
Eating Out: There was a lot of plantain and different types of fish in the local hotel we frequented. There was also cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, rice, ugali, pork and a kind of eggplant stew. Lunch was always buffet style so I couldn’t really tell what was the staple dish. Also, mayonnaise was served with meals at almost all the hotels.
Beer is mostly in one-litre bottles and goes for around $5. A double tot of rum, whisky and other spirits is an upward of $10 and a red wine carafe was about $20.
Shopping & Sightseeing There is an area that has a lot of colorful Congolese fabric. My colleague got some for his aunt and friend.
Gorilla trekking is something I would recommend for those who are fit. This is because it entails about an hour’s drive out of the city and then walking through a hilly forest to get to where the gorillas chill J in the Kahuzi-Biega park area
You can also chose to take a ferry ride to Goma in North Kivu and go see some volcano. We heard it’s awesome but we couldn’t manage the logistics given the limited time we had. (You need to book for an excursion online, go across Lake Kivu to Goma, get a vehicle to get you to Mt. Nyiragongo which you then scale and then spend a night at the top – as it’s best to view the volcano at night).
Odd Points: The country uses two currencies, the US dollar and the Congolese Franc. The Franc notes were quite old, like really old and tattered. The Congolese would happily trade in these notes but if you gave someone a dollar with even the slightest of rips or dent they wouldn’t take it. They’d tell you stuff like, “This is not money here.”