After a 4 and half hour, bumpy and cramped bus ride from Kigali, we’re finally there…. Banda!
The site where our colleagues from DHE implemented two pico-hydro sites.Population: 7000 – local partners: KAGENO – zero grid implementation plans till 2050.
We get off the bus, all excited to see a new typical Rwandan village… But wait… WHERE ARE ALL THE HOUSES?? We’re in the middle of a jungle! Exotic trees, huge worms, insane amounts of insects, weird bird noises all over, a bunch of monkeys crossing the road. We’re actually very close to the Nyungwe national reserve. But no sign of any human being…
To my surprise, they tell us the village is actually around one hour and 45min from the road! There’s no ‘road’ per say, just a laid out curvy (and very rocky) downwards path, which they tell me is 11km! But thankfully, there are shortcuts apparently…
Did I say shortcuts? I meant extremely steep passageways through the forest… but hey, at least there’s monkeys right?
After the third ‘shortcut’ I start regretting all those times I bailed out on hiking back home… It was such a pain! Dodging tree roots, tripping over rocks… I’m already dreading the way back up!
But after an hour and 15 min, NOW I can say it: Banda!
We can finally see it, and boy what a view! All the way down in a valley, surrounded by hundreds of hills, is a small t-shaped arrangement of houses – that’s apparently the town centre – with a handful of houses spread out along the valley… Talk about isolated! It’s incredible how anyone can even find such a place! We wasted a couple of minutes debating how the 1st settler got here… Ted from DHE thinks he was drunk on banana beer (a local speciality) and got lost in the woods, to then give up and decide to just settle here.
But jokes aside, the view is actually breathtaking! The top of surrounding hills touch on the clouds, clear blue mountains further away, birds flying over our heads, green fields as far as the eye can see, and a bunch of banana trees popping out here and there.
We make our way down only to be greeted by kids calling us ‘muzugus’ (white people), following us everywhere and saying ‘good morning teacher’ (seemingly the only English sentence they learned at school)… An adorable little girl just stood there at one point with her arms wide open, and went towards us to hug us! While other kids just wanted to hold our hands for some reason… Apparently we’re the most exciting thing that happened in the area for quite some time.
We make our way towards the place where we were staying, still followed by kids, and greeted ‘mwiriwe’ by the friendly local village people. In the house we find Jeremiah, a 28-year old public health student that works with Kageno, very nice guy, friendly, and gets excited over anything! We then sample some bananas, which we all agree are the best we ever had – by far.
Afterwards, we make our way to the 1st site,which had broken down and was being repaired. The 1st person I see there, is a member of DHE with a massive beard ‘à la Robinson Crusoé’ and hair bands on his heads that made it seem like he had palm trees growing on his head! At first I thought solitude drove the guys here crazy! Nice 1st impression! Lol
We spent the biggest part of the day doing technical stuff (fixing the intake filter, arranging the turbine misalignment etc.), which I won’t bore you with. We then had some talks with local people about what future prospects could be, and about bringing up some second-hand battery boxes to the area.
Unfortunately, our time was up! I would have loved to stay longer in the place, it was genuinely a great experience… But a potential site for next year was calling… Hopefully I’ll be in the team that comes back to Banda in the following weeks.
Then came the walk up… What a hike! And of course, it HAD to rain… perfect! I quickly realised my boots didn’t deserve that title; I was slipping every two steps I made, and struggled to keep balance even while standing still! My teammates who were doing better than me, rather that helping me out, decided it would me more useful to film me slipping and getting all covered in mud… Eh Lukas? But I can’t complain – at least we got great footage for the fresher’s video! Lol
If the walk down was a pain, the walk back up was torture! The path was so steep!! Around 30deg. easily (but I still believe it’s at least 45deg. Mikolaj ). One of the most tiring experiences of my life…. Best part was seeing kids barefoot carrying a huge basket on their heads overtaking us! Pretty embarrassing…
An hour… two hours… we still can’t see the top of the hill (more like a mountain if you ask me)… It’s a miracle how Bandan’s can make this hike more than once a week! The only other option is a 3000RWF ($5) moto-taxi ride, a sum that’s a worth a whole two weeks’ income for some farmers here!
Two and half hours, and we’re finally back on the road, back to ‘regular’ civilisation, so to speak… Only to be greeted this time by the badly-cramped out-lengthy-bus-ride back.
Regardless of the all the trouble hiking, Banda was way worth all the effort! I really hope I’ll get to go one more time before I come back to London!
Abdalla Abou Jaoude