Silver

The land of milk and beer
Sunday 8
th October 2011

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We were up early having both had a good night sleep. It was refreshing to be thousands of miles away from home with our body clocks still intact. Travelling more or less straight down South we hadn't crossed many time zones and were only a two hour difference from GMT.

It took us over half an hour to re-pack this morning. For some inexplicable reason yesterday we had completely scattered the contents of our suitcases to the four corners of our room.

Eric wasn't picking us up until 9am so we had plenty of time for breakfast which was of course a buffet. I couldn't bring myself to eat much but I did make use of the "egg chef".  She cooked me a fresh omelette with red pepper and onions. Julie also avoided the meats choosing a plateful of roasted veg instead, which was a strange choice for breakfast!?

Even stranger was that we were both actually disappointed there wasn't any chips available!

I picked up a bread roll each but Julie couldn't eat hers. She noticed it had a crusty crown. "I can't eat that" she said "it looks like dried up spit." After that I couldn't eat mine either.

We shared a bottle of mineral water. It was called Source du Nil which caught my attention. The source of the Nile had been an obsession for explorers during the late 19th century and now I was drinking bottled water claiming to be from there.

Actually, as the (White) Nile flows out of Lake Victoria there's no one true "source" but there are several claims to the longest source of the Nile. The current accepted title holder flows out of the Nyungwe Forest in the South Western corner of Rwanda which coincidentally was our destination today.

We waited for Eric in the hotel lobby. He phoned the hotel to say he was running a bit late due to a visiting dignitary causing gridlock in the city centre.

Killing time we read the review for the Umubano hotel in Bradt travel guide where they said the patisserie in the foyer did the "best coffee in Rwanda". Well, it was news to the staff who worked there as they said they didn't serve coffee!

They suggested I try the Cafe Jardin but the bland and feeble coffee impostor we had with breakfast wasn't worth a return visit.

We didn't have to wait too long before Eric arrived all big smiles and apologies for being late.

With our luggage safely loaded into the back of the Land Cruiser we set off, rolling down Boulevard de l'Umuganda and around a roundabout in a district known as Kimihurura where in its centre stood an imposing white marble statue of a mother and child.

It looked a bit like a cake stand. It certainly looked like it should have been a water feature. I expected water to be pouring from the mouths of the lion heads positioned below the middle cake tier. It would have made a very striking fountain.

We continued along well tarmac, paved and impeccably clean roads towards Nyarugenge Hill where we came across another large roundabout of note, Place de l'Unite Nationale. This one did have an ornate fountain gushing from its centre.

All this development added to Kigali's ambitions of becoming an attractive and modern African city. On the surface it was succeeding to impress.

Before we headed out of the city Eric wanted to visit a garage to check the brakes on his Toyota. "It's very important that the vehicle is a 100%" he said "there will be some roads where we will really need good brakes!"

All that we saw was new and exciting, even mundane everyday sights were totally captivating. People waiting at a bus stop was a wonderful vibrant slice of daily Kigali life.

The mode of transport we saw most were motorbike taxis. They were everywhere. We didn't know what they were at first, it just seemed that all the motorcyclists were wearing the same colour helmet but we noticed telephone numbers on the back of their heads. Julie worked out that they were for hire.

"Yes, they are taxis" said Eric "they are cheap but not very safe! Phone the number and a rider will turn up with a spare helmet for you to jump on the back and hold on as they take you to your destination."

We drove through Nyabugogo district where at a large transport hub was a huge gathering of green helmets at the Taxi Park.

We were now on the road to Gitarama and gradually leaving the developed areas of the city behind, passing through the more ramshackle suburbs.

This was more like the Kigali I had imagined. Nothing more than mud huts with tin roofs studded amongst the lush green hillsides.

We crossed over a meandering muddy brown river. "That's is the Nyabarongo," explained Eric "It flows all the way from Nyungwe and it ends up in ... oh ... "

His mind went blank.

"Oh, what is its name? What is it?" he asked himself. You could see that it was on the tip of his tongue but it was just escaping him. It was really annoying him.

It then came to him, "Ah, yes, of course, Lake Victoria" He was slightly embarrassed and apologised for his lapse.

We were making slow progress, often stuck behind heavy lorries struggling up the steep hills. No sooner had we got around one, there was another. Thankfully the traffic soon thinned out the further away from Kigali we got.

We drove through some amazing countryside where almost every piece of land was used to grow crops.

The hillsides were a patchwork of vegetable plots and banana trees, sometimes the slopes were terraced where it got too steep. On the flat lower ground rice paddies and fish farms were unexpected sights.

No one was idle. Almost everyone we saw were working the fields or carrying branches, water or food (usually on their heads) back to the villages.

Even in the villages they were all busy in the garden. None had pretty flowers, they were instead allotments filled with vegetables. Rwanda should not go hungry!

The only livestock we saw were a few tethered goats and a small pig. There were certainly no pets. "Most people can not afford to keep dogs" said Eric.

It was always a delight to drive through the small villages. Children, as soon as they noticed us, would wave and smile. The more excitable ones would run towards the road shouting 'Muzunghu' (white person or foreigner in Swahili) to catch our attention. They danced with joy when we waved back.

Their mothers would keep a watchful eye as we passed through. Those adults who hadn't lost their inner child would also join with a wave.

It had taken us an hour and a quarter to reach Gitarama, Rwanda's second largest city. It was located at the junction where the road from Kigali either continued West to Kibuyie and Lake Kivu or turned South towards Butare.

Many of the country's larger towns have been renamed recently and the districts re-mapped. For example Gitarama is also known as Muhanga; our lunchtime destination of Butare is also known as Huye. Most travel guides still refer to them under their old names, as did the road signs, so I'll also stick to that.

We had no plans to stop at Gitarama but Eric did point out the Kabgayi Cathedral. "It was built in 1925 and is the oldest church in Rwanda" he informed.

From the main road we could see that Basilica of Our Lady at Kabgayi was wrapped in scaffolding. After an earthquake in 2008 the roof collapse and it was still being restored.

We headed South through more glorious scenery, through the villages and towns of Tambwe, Ruhango and Kigoma.

After about an hour from Gitarama we pulled off the main road for a detour to the town of Nyanza. It wasn't on our itinerary but I had asked Eric yesterday if we could stop here. Fortunately the detour was only a few kilometres from the main road, so it wasn't a problem at all.

The King's Palace at Nyanza was the one place I really really wanted to visit in Rwanda, other than the Chimps and Gorillas of course.

My imagination had been ignited by two photographs in a book called Lands & Peoples, published in 1915. Images of Mwami Musinga holding court in a land and time so far removed from mine were utterly beguiling. My inner adventurer shouted out “I want to go there”

The first photo was the incredible scene of a traditional welcoming party with ceremonial Intore dancers.

"The Watusi men look their best when dressed for dance" described the author.

They wore a long white headdress and carried their shields and spears to entertain the King's honoured guests. In the background behind a crowd of loyal subjects was the modest royal residence, a large dome reed hut.

The second photograph was of a court in session with King Musinga sitting outside his palatial hut as the judge and jury. These scenes would have been a just shy of a hundred years ago and were absolutely fascinating.

Now known as the Rukali Palace Museum the hut has been faithfully recreated and the nearby modern 1930s home of the Rwandan King is also opened to the public.

We parked up and followed Eric to the ticket office where we paid 6000 RwFr each to get in and an extra 2000 Rfr to be allowed to take photographs.

Included in the price was an English speaking guide to escort us around both traditional and modern palaces. Her name was Jovia. She was softly spoken and very charming.

We followed her up the hill catching a glimpse of the main hut. "We shall return here" she said "but first we will see the modern palace"

The large white bungalow, built for Mwami (King) Rudahigwa Mutara III in 1932 was very plain and straightforward in style. We followed Jovia's lead and took our shoes off before entering the building.

Inside we walked through four spacious rooms with simple whitewashed walls and wooden block floor. Some interest was added by black & white photographs hung on the walls. There was a great photograph of the first European to set foot in Rwanda.

Jovia was very informative about him. He was German explorer Gustav Adolf Von Götzen and in 1893 he travelled across the country stopping at Nyanza. She told us the story of how Mwami Rwabugiri Kigeli IV was very wary of meeting his visitor. "He sent his grandson to meet him instead" she said, finding it quite humorous. The King did eventually meet Von Götzen but only once he knew it was safe to do so!

To think that Rwanda had already been part of German East Africa (which included present day Rwanda, Burundi and mainland Tanzania) for nine years before this first meeting, it just highlighted the sheer madness of 19th century colonialism.

We continued through the rooms into the large reception room where much of the original furniture had been restored and laid out as it would have been. It was a shame that my camera pass didn't extend to permit photographing the inside the modern palace.

Next we walked across the inner courtyard and were shown the Royal bath tub and toilet which always brings a smile to my face. "Ah, the throne" I said. I don't think Jovia understood why.

Mwami Rwabugiri Kigeli IV lived here until his death in 1959.

He died under suspicious circumstances being treated for a headache in Burundi by a Belgian doctor.

He was succeeded by his younger brother who became Kigeli V but the monarchy was absolved in 1962 when Rwanda gained its independence and chose to become a republic.

He still lives in exile in the USA but the wife of King Rudahigwa chose to stay in Rwanda. She was sadly killed during the genocide.

We followed our guide Jovia back down the hill to the other royal palace. I was so excited to finally get to see it.

A tall woven grass fence concealed the palace from the outside world. We entered the enclosure through a narrow opening where for luck and protection young saplings of an auspicious tree were planted on either side of the gap.

"This is an exact reproduction" explained Jovia as we walked across the dirt ground towards the hut "the original was 3km away."

It didn't matter to me that this was just a copy. This was as near to the real thing as you could get.

I easily imagined the excitement of a royal audience with the animated Intore dancers jumping around to the beat of the drum and the shrill of female singers.

At the entrance to the hut there was a semi-circle raised platform, painted in a dark red colour with a white rim.

"This is where the King would sit to receive guests" demonstrated Jovia. "The visitors would kneel and address the King. Most would get no further but some were invited to join him."

"They were not allowed to cross the white line however, they must enter from the side. When it was time to leave they were not allowed to turn their backs to the King. It would be a sign of disrespect."

Showing our respect (even though this was only a reproduction) we avoided stepping over the white line moving to the side to get onto the platform.

Again we removed our shoes before entering.

It was quite dark inside and our eyes struggled to adjust but help was at hand as Jovia picked up a torch. She began to talk about the various zigzag designs on wicker panels that created a wall. I think she said they represented the many different tribes within Rwandan society but I wasn't paying enough attention. I was lost in the gorgeous smell of grass. It so reminded me of summer days in the hay.

A little further inside we saw a selection of jars. Earthenware pots with conical wicker lids to keep the milk fresh and larger jugs made from the hollow shell of a huge onion shaped plant to store the beer!

We continued deeper into the palace on a floor covered with raffia mats, all adding to that wonderful aroma.

It was quite an open plan layout with the exception of the King's private quarters which was almost a conventional room with four walls. Although it was probably better described as the extra large super King sized four poster bed. The entire floor was raised several feet up.

"That looks really cosy" said Julie. I agreed.

"I could easily live in something like this" I then wondered "Do you think they would catch on in Wales ? We have plenty of campsites with luxury Yurts. Imagine a field full of African huts! "

Jovia smiled politely but probably thought we were both slightly mad!

Joking aside though, perhaps not in Wales but here in Rwanda, wouldn't the sight of a village of grass huts make for an awesome boutique hotel resort experience. The Mwami Royal Palace & Luxury Spa Resort. I can even picture the brochure!

In the centre of this enormous basket was the communal area where the male courtiers would gather at the end of the day to discuss important matters. We were really surprised to see a fire place here in the midst of this tinder box.

At the back, partitioned by some more decorated screens the women were kept separate. "They would stand here and eavesdrop" said Jovia.

The dome looked stunning from the back. The multitude of wooden poles holding the structure up were casting long shadows down the curving woven ceiling. It was beautifully hypnotic.

We left the (reproduced) ancient palace behind and followed Jovia around the back where there were two similar but much smaller huts.

They served as stores for life's essentials, milk and beer!

"What a great idea" I thought "Can I have a beer hut?"

The first one we entered was the dairy hut where large jugs would store the milk reserves. The caretaker had to be a female.  "She also had to be a virgin" added Jovia.

The other identical hut only a few feet apart was the beer hut. It was looked after by a male who also had to be a virgin. Two virgins and all that alcohol, now that was asking for trouble!

Beyond the stores the stench of cow dung filled the air. Out the back door was a corral filled with the Royal herd of longhorn Watusi cattle or Inyambo.

The Watusi name was of course derived from their close association to the Tutsis. In Rwandan society men were measured by the size of their herd and naturally the king possessed a very big one.

This breed of cow is renowned for their extreme horns. The type owned by Tutsi kings were said to grow giant horns up to an incredible 12ft from one tip to the other!

Our tour ended here and we returned with Jovia to the ticket office. It had taken us just over an hour to be shown around the Rukali Palace Museum and Eric was eager to get a move on as we were now behind schedule.

Back on the main road we continued our journey driving through some lovely countryside and fascinating villages.

Always the professional Eric drove with great care and attention. If I would have been behind the wheel I would have been tempted to stick my foot down to make up some time but he was very aware of the road.

Within 45 minutes we had reached Butare (also known as Huye), Rwanda's third largest city. At one time it rivalled Kigali for the title of capital and is still considered to be the country's intellectual capital, probably because it's home to the National University of Rwanda.

It's also where the National Museum of Rwanda is situated, which was our next stop.

Pulling into the very large car park it appeared as if we were the only visitors.

At the desk in the entrance hall we paid an additional 2000 Rfr to take photographs only to be told, after we had paid, that it only permitted use of the camera in room 5 and anywhere outside. I felt a little robbed but hey, if it all went towards maintaining the museum then I was OK.

They had plenty of staff on duty.

The museum was set on two levels with plenty of natural light flooding into the rooms. We walked through each room looking at artefacts ranging from pre-history to the 20th century. Tools, bowls, baskets, spears, shields, clothes, loin cloths, it was all quite absorbing.

It was impossible to guess from which century a particular item originated. Life hadn't changed much for millennia.

The focus of room 5 was architecture and featured a "reproduction of the royal palace". It made me smile as it was smaller than even the beer hut! We were so glad that we stopped at Nyanza earlier.

In the next room they concentrated mostly on sport and traditional games. There were photographs of Rwandans excelling in the High Jump and other Olympic sports where being tall was an advantage.

They also had a large board game that looked really interesting. Made from wood with 4 rows of 8 hollowed out cups, each filled with dried peas it was a traditional game called Igisoro. It's still played today across East Africa under various guises.

We soon completed the circle and were back in entrance hall well inside half an hour. Eric was surprised to see us back so soon!

Perhaps we didn't give the museum our full attention. Maybe we would have benefited from an audio guide to set a slower pace and better inform us but in hindsight it would have been better to have had our lunch first. I think we were just too hungry to take our time.

The centre of Butare wasn't far, less than a mile away. For a city with an estimated population of 100,000 the wide dusty tree lined boulevard looked very relaxed and low-key.

Examples of its colonial past were evident in the 1930s architecture of several grand buildings along Rue de Kigali.

Lunch was at Hotel Ibis. We turned off the main street. into a heavily fortified area of bashed corrugated steel. "Don't worry" reassured Eric "they are building a new hotel and restaurant. It is a nice place."

Around the back were several quaint stone buildings and al fresco dining in the garden.

Eric joined us as we sat in the shade and browsed the menu. I was a little concerned what veggie options I would have but to be honest I was so hungry I would have happily grazed on the lawn.

To my surprise I had plenty of choices.

I plumped for the "Pasta with garlic and vegetables" which whilst it had spaghetti tasted more like a Chow Mein. Having said that it was nice enough and certainly better than chewing grass!

Julie was looking forward to her grilled Tilapia but after her first mouthful was full of nasty little fish bones she spent the next twenty minutes painstakingly dissecting and sucking the remaining fish through her teeth. A fear of choking is another one of her many phobias.

With the fillet cautiously chewed she couldn't believe that she found not one other bone!

Eric had the fish kebabs which he liberally doused in a yellow piri piri sauce. He encouraged Julie to try some with her fish but one little drop of the lava hot chilli oil almost burnt a hole in her mouth.

"Pili is the Swahili word for pepper" said Eric possibly trying to explain to Julie why her nose was melting.

Being a hot blooded male I of course had to try some and dropped a little onto my finger. As soon as it touched the tip of my tongue I could feel the ferocious heat spreading all over.

I'm not a big fan of super-hot chili. I even get this debilitating hiccup reaction when it hits the spot.

Back in the van we left Butare at 4pm, still ahead of us a long journey to the Nyungwe Forest.

With hindsight it would probably have been better to have stayed the night at Hotel Ibis. With a little more time on our hands we could have visited the largest cathedral in Rwanda, gone for a early evening stroll down the tree lined streets and generally relaxed a bit.

It would also have given us time to stop at the Murambi Genocide Memorial, just north of Gikongoro.

By all accounts it's a very moving and chilling reminder of the horrors of the genocide where an estimated 60,000 were slaughtered.

As it was, time was against us. We had no time for another detour today.

We drove through more lush landscapes even more beautiful than before. The hills just seemed even more impressive.

Not far from Mudasomwa we stopped briefly to watch a long procession of people dressed in their Sunday Best snaking their way along the road, down into the fields and beyond. The whole village had turned out for a wedding celebration.

"Woah, they have a lot of friends" said Eric.

Julie and I have recently made a habit of gate crashing weddings but we thought against it here. "We may find it difficult blending in." I thought. So after a few minutes of watching the congregation make their way to the party we set off back on the road.

The other side of Mudasomwa we came to another stop. "I just need to ...uh ... stretch my legs" said Eric as he got out the car and walked behind some bushes.

Within seconds we had been surrounded by a gang of inquisitive boys peering in through the window. "Muzunghu, Muzunghu" they all chanted as well as "Amazi" which was Kinyarwandan for water.

Julie and I kicked ourselves as we had nothing to give them. Rummaging in our bags we found some snacks that we handed over.

The group were joined by two young girls who happened to be walking by. I got my camera out and asked them if I could take their photographs. The two girls were reluctant and shook their heads. Some of the others were a little shy but didn't move away.

One of them however was larking about in the front and was more than happy to have his photo taken.

After taking the shot I turned the camera around so that they could see themselves on the screen. They found their little pal gurning absolutely hilarious.

I took a couple more photographs for their amusement and even one of the shy girls gave in and wanted to see herself on the screen.

Eric eventually returned from behind the bushes and we waved goodbye to the kids. They all waved back, the joker still pulling tongues as we set off.

It wasn't long before we stopped again. This time Eric stopped to have a word with this guy who was busy digging his allotment.

"I told him to keep hid children under control" he said. He was rightly annoyed because as we past through the village one child had shoved another in front of our jeep.

"He said that they are not his children" he continued "but I told him 'Never mind that, you should have been keeping an eye on them.' "

We left the scene with Eric muttering to himself. It could have turned out so different. We had avoided running the child over because Eric was driving at a safe speed and was alert enough to swerve.

After a while the landscape changed a little as we entered an area of tea plantations. The patchwork of fields was replaced by terracing of a light green shade.

I am quite partial to a cup of tea but I had never before seen a tea plant. I'd seen photographs of tea pickers but never paid the tea much attention.

I imagined them being similar to a hemp plant so I was surprised to see it was more of a short thick shrub. As in every other part of the country everyone we saw were busy working hard. Tea pickers carried large baskets or sacks filled to the top from the fields to a central collection point where they would be paid per kilogram.

Drinking my cup of tea will no longer be the same after seeing all the effort that goes into its harvesting.

An hour and a bit after leaving Butare we entered the Nyungwe Forest, driving through a gate welcoming us to the National Park.

Despite having reached the boundary we still had another two hour drive ahead of us! The reserve covers a vast area, over a thousand square kilometres.

Through thick impenetrable jungle the road gradually climbed. The sun was now low in the sky and we could feel the temperature dropping rapidly. It was time to wind up the windows and put another layer of clothing on.

We stopped briefly at a sign that celebrated the Nyungwe as the source of both the Congo and the Nile.

A spring trickles down the slopes of Mount Bigugu and flows across the country and beyond into Lake Victoria and the Nile. Another trickle flows west into the Ruha river which eventually flows out into the Congo.

I have to admit I didn't find the photo op all that exciting. I photographed the sign nonetheless as not to upset Eric.

We had stopped earlier at the welcome gate where we pulled up so that I could take a photo of a plastic chimpanzee. Which again I politely complied.

I was far more interested in trying to get a decent picture of this incredible primeval rainforest. I was glad we had stopped however. Standing by the roadside in the middle of it all was making my hairs stand on end. It was awe inspiring.

The Nyungwe forest has a dazzling cast of wildlife, 278 different birds, 85 mammals including 13 primates, 70 reptile and amphibian species, 120 types of butterflies. We didn't see any creatures though, not one!

There were some spectacular scenery. The road snaked up steep hillsides giving us views above the canopy and across the vast jungle towards Burundi.

It was a great dense tangle of trees, some ancient looking tall and twisted, others young and fresh. There's a bewildering amount of over 200 tree species in Nyungwe, African Mahogany, Mulanje Cedar, Water-Berry, Newtonia and the smooth-barked Albizia to name but a few.

Now we felt like we were in the heart of Africa. If there ever was a Tarzan this is where we would find him!

The light was now fading and we still hadn't reached our lodge for the night.

The driving conditions were also slowly deteriorating as the decent tarmac road became a bumpy gravel road and at times a very potholed dirt track.

We past a troop of labourers working on the road preparing it (I guess) to have tarmac laid. In another year or so there should be a tarmac road all the way to Cyangugu on the Congo border.

Our progress was further hampered by the convoys of trucks leaving at the end of the shift, loaded with labourers huddled in the back.

Eric was patient as he overtook only when it was clearly appropriate. "It's better to arrive late than not to arrive at all" said Julie.

The landscape began to change again as we emerged out of the jungle and into an area of tea plantations. The roadside was again busy with people walking home at the end of their days work.

Eventually after passing the Gisakura tea estate (which Eric said unfortunately was shut tomorrow with it being a Sunday otherwise we could have arranged a tour) we came to a sign for the Nyungew Forest Lodge.

We turned off the main road and drove along a narrow track through the middle of a tea plantation for over a mile.

"In one way I'm glad you're arriving in the dark" said Eric "It will look beautiful all lit up with lights"

He was right, as we came over the hill the lodge looked heavenly. After such a long journey Julie and I were overwhelmed with excitement.

We both wearily flopped out of the jeep and floated towards the light. Ten hours after leaving Kigali we had finally arrived.

We were warmly welcomed and offered a glass of delicious fruit juice. He introduced himself as David and we followed him inside the stunning main lodge building.

It was beautifully decorated to a very high standard with wood and stone features, traditional Rwandan crafts and lovely log fires in the tea lounge. As we sank into the incredibly comfortable chairs we purred with delight.

Jerry the manager came over to personally welcome us to the lodge and he couldn't have been nicer with a "your every wish is our command" greeting. The welcome could not have been any warmer although perhaps he was a little over friendly. At one point I honestly thought he was going to kiss me he was so eager to please us!

With our checking in formalities done we said goodnight to Eric and arranged our ridiculously early pick-up tomorrow. "You need to be up before the chimpanzees wake up!" he explained after he saw our shock at the 5am start!

David then took us to our lodge (No.7) in a golf buggy which was a little silly as it was only a twenty seconds scoot away.

Our room was absolutely gorgeous, as luxuriously decorated as the main lodge. We sat on the super comfy bed drinking our complimentary half bottle of chilled South African Chardonnay. It all felt most sumptuous.

The romantic moment was spoiled however when bloated by the day's travel I erupted and felt some lava flow out of Mount Bigugu!

How ironic that it was Julie who was shitting herself in coming to Rwanda but it was I who literally shat myself. Having suffered the indignity of it all the real trauma was trying to dispose of the evidence. I couldn't just throw my soiled boxers in the bin. "I can't leave them there for the poor cleaner to find." I said. It was really stressing me out. I eventually sacrificed a pair of socks, shoved in my stained CKs and rolled them inside each other and then in a paper bag which I finally placed in the bin.

We could have had room service delivered but with the wi-fi and TV not working in the lodge we decided to walk back up to the main building.

Along the way, a short distance away there was a party in full swing with plenty of loud music and laughter. We briefly thought about going there first for a beer but it sounded a little too rowdy for us at the end of our long tiring day.

Instead we sat in the tea lounge with our iPad for a while trying to e-mail my Dad, (We frustratingly could receive but not send!?!.) We also updated our facebook pages with some photos and our hotel details.

Before we moved through into the dining room we had a drink and browsed through the small library of coffee table books on the coffee tables.

Each one was fabulous, filled with amazing photography and not too many words, our favourite type of book! One called the African Kings was incredibly interesting. So much so I wanted to take it home with me! (of course I didn't!!)

Through in the dining room we sat in the far corner. There was only one other couple in there, sat in the opposite corner. We did say hello as we passed but they looked at me as if I was going to steal their cutlery.

Within a minute the waiter brought out two bowls of soup. We didn't seem to have a choice, there wasn't a menu. After checking there wasn't any meat stock in the carrot soup we tucked in. It was desperately lacking in seasoning but after adding our own salt & pepper it was fine.

"I bet he's gone back to the kitchen, waved his arms about in panic and screamed at the chef 'Oh no! we have a vegetarian, we have a vegetarian!!' " joked Julie.

Minutes later Ephrahim appeared (we knew his name as all staff wore name badges). He stood next to us, took a deep breath and said "Um ... we had a plan"

He continued rather tentatively "The chef ... he has prepared a barbecue for the party tonight and ... uh ... he was planning on serving it in the restaurant"

Julie had got it spot on, he had gone back to the kitchen waving his arms in state of panic. He offered me all the non-meat alternatives they were serving this evening like fried banana, potatoes and side salad.

He return with a big grin on his face and produced a bowl of Arrabiatta pasta. The chef had made an extra effort to make me something different.

"It's pasta twirls!!" said Julie "Tyler would love them!"

We had a good giggle at when we went to great effort to cook pasta for our grandsons Rory & Tyler. We made the schoolboy error of getting the wrong shapes! Rory ate all the garlic bread and tolerated the linguine but Tyler was distraught, as if we were force feeding him worms. "That's not pasta, it's not twirly!"

Anyway, Julie's plate of barbecued meats arrived, a trio of chargrilled chicken, pork and a very large lamb chop. "I bet that's goat" I teased Julie.

"It all tastes the same" she said "a bit like David's BBQ, all burnt to a cinder!"

After I finished our third course of chocolate gateaux we made our way back to our lodge. The party down the hill was even more raucous now with howling laughter, shouting and other sounds of general drunkenness.

"Shall we gate crash?" Obviously I was joking, our alarm was set for 4am. It was time for bed.

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