Tag Archives: Border crossing

Singapore- Gettin In and Bikin’ Around

124.2 kilometers in 3 days

(1 day of futzing around buses and trucks, 1 day of futzing around Singapore)

2,552 kilometers SO FAR

This was what we were working towards- a park full of metaltrees!
This was what we were working towards- a park full of metaltrees!

Getting In:

Day 42- July 16,2015- Gelang Patah to Johor Bahru

85 kilometers (some by bus, some by durian delivery truck…)

Because we were coming from the west (Melakka) we figured it would be easiest to cross into Malaysia via their western border crossing at Tuas. The following is why that was a bad idea, but why we couldn’t have known until we tried.

The meal we thought would be our last in Malaysia. Roti Canai with eggs and iced coffees.
The meal we thought would be our last in Malaysia. Roti Canai with eggs and iced coffees.

We based ourselves outside of Gelang Patah which is collection of empty but hopeful suburbs and strip malls 15 kilometers from the Tuas border into Singapore. Since we were so close we took our time leaving in the morning, spent the last of our Malaysian ringgits on a really good breakfast, and started cycling. Gelang Patah is connected to the rest of Malaysia and Singapore by a massively confusing network of highways which is lined with even emptier, quiet suburbs and strip malls.

The highway that was marked "no bicycles". Surely they couldn't have meant us...
The highway that was marked “no bicycles”. Surely they couldn’t have meant us…

After winding around those highways we finally turned onto an on-ramp that had a pretty clear “no bicycles” sigh, but it was the only highway to the border. There was a good shoulder for us to ride on, and we were only 10 kilometers from the border, we had to push on.

We had read on multiple blogs that it was easy to take bicycles across the border- just follow the motorbikes. So we pulled up to the Malaysia exit window meant for motorbikes and were turned around.

“Bicycles aren’t allowed to cross this border. It’s not safe.”

This seemed ridiculous, we’d already biked 10 kilometers down a really stupid highway to get here, we weren’t about to get turned around. So he suggested we try to go with a bus. Fine. We biked down to the bus section. The bus crossing at that moment wouldn’t take us- this seemed like it was up to the driver’s discretion as the border officials fully approved this idea. At this point the immigration officers said we had two options. Either turn around and bike back into Malaysia or try to fit our bicycles into the back of a lorry. They had no problem letting us bike through, but the Singapore side is supposedly really strict and you can’t cross this border unless you’re in a vehicle.

Just our bikes waiting for  a truck to take us over to Singapore.
Just our bikes waiting for a truck to take us over to Singapore.

So we tried, as a last resort, the lorries. We met an immigration officer named Poo who helped us find a rickety truck full of durians that has agreed to take us and our bicycles in the back of his truck. Poo made it pretty clear that once we were in Singapore we were on our own. But his biggest concern was whether the strong stench of the durian would bother us.

Loading our bikes into the back of that kind durian truck that offered to take us.
Loading our bikes into the back of that kind durian truck that offered to take us.

We loaded everything into the truck and set off across the causeway to Singapore! This actually felt like it was working. And how perfect would it have been to arrive in Singapore in a truck full of its national fruit? Too perfect apparently…

Our bikes inside the durian truck.
Our bikes inside the durian truck.

Just before we finished crossing the bridge into Singapore the truck driver pulled over to the side of the road and opened the back. Apparently this is where we were supposed to get off. And while we appreciated his efforts we couldn’t help but think they’re a little half-assed. Still, at this point there was no way Singapore immigration would turn us around. It’d be less safe for us to cycle back into Malaysia than to just continue on into Singapore. Right?

Maybe not quite as welcoming as it looked...this was taken about 1 minute before we were turned back.
Maybe not quite as welcoming as it looked…this was taken about 1 minute before we were turned back.

Wrong.  A cross looking immigration officer has positioned himself to great us at the bottom of this bridge. And by great I mean promptly turn us away because there was no way they could accept bicycles through this border. He offered to “escort” us to the other side of the highway where he watched us bike back over that bridge to get an entrance stamp to Malaysia only twenty minutes after we got the departure stamp.

We had no more Malaysian money, two new Malaysia stamps in our passport, and no idea how to get into this tiny island of a country. We found a bus that was willing to take us back to Johor Bahru- where the other entrance to Singapore is located. From there we figured we could find a bus that would take us and our bikes into Singapore since apparently we’re not cycling across. Johor Bahru is just as confusing as the town we started in. We cycle to the border crossing from Johor Bahru which seems identical to the other one we already failed at that day. It’s 5pm, there’s a ton of traffic, it was very hilly, and we don’t know if the border is even still open and have no reason to believe this is going to go any better than our last attempt to get into Singapore.

So instead of trying to cross that night and having to arrive in Singapore after dark we find a cheap dirty hotel, which was made even more miserable by the fact that we weren’t supposed to be sleeping in Malaysia that night. We were only 30 kilometers away from where we had started that day.

We fell asleep to the sounds of fireworks going off all over the city to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Day 43- July 17, 2015- Johor Bahru to Singapore (finally)

39.2 kilometers

We spent our night doing research on how to cycle into Singapore. We had obviously done this research before but clearly we had missed something. There were blogs of cyclists who had done it, even a video of what the crossing on a bicycle. All of this was from Johor Bahru. But the official Singapore immigration site made no distinction between the Tuas and Johor Bahru border. The point is- yesterday was not entirely our fault and we will continue to blame Singapore just a little bit.

Kiri sitting on a bus on the way to another Singapore border.
Kiri sitting on a bus on the way to another Singapore border.

We found a bus that would take us to the border. And it dropped us off almost exactly where we had turned around the day before. Only this time an immigration officer met us, and pointed us towards the motorbike section, assuring us that we could cycle into Singapore. Just to make sure we asked him a couple of times.

The lovely causeway connecting Malaysia to Singapore that we were allowed to use!
The lovely causeway connecting Malaysia to Singapore that we were allowed to use!

And sure enough after getting a stamp, and cycling across a bridge in a lane that had welcoming signs for motorbikes and bicycles, we were getting our passports stamped into Singapore. So it really was just that easy. But again, how were we supposed to know?

There are a few ironic things about this map:

  1. The route we originally attempted, you know, the one where we were turned back at the border, is actually longer than the alternative route that would have put us at the border we needed to be at to cross via bicycle.
  2. Just to recap- it should have taken no more than 48 kilometers to get into Singapore from Gelang Patah- it took us 124…..

DO NOT TRY TO BIKE THROUGH THE TUAS BORDER TO SINGAPORE!!!

 

DSC06144Cycling into Singapore is easy as long as you stay off the freeway and you really don’t want to be on the freeway. It is actually illegal to cycle on the freeway in Singapore, we found out later.  There are parkways and sidewalks and paths and the traffic is really respectful of cyclists. This is probably because for the first time in over a month we weren’t the only cyclists on the road.

Singapore skyline at dusk.
Singapore skyline at dusk.

We got to our hostel, got moved into our “pods” (read: cozy individual caves with reading lamps), and set out to explore Singapore.

The Merlion spitting into the bay!
The Merlion spitting into the bay!

That night we wandered through a garden full of real beautiful plants and artificial towering metal trees. We visited the Merlion- the symbol of Singapore that has the head of a lion and the body of a fish rendering it the most useless mystical creature I’ve ever heard of.

A free (and romantic) evening of jazz.
A free (and romantic) evening of jazz.

We stumbled upon a free jazz concert over the harbor as the sun was setting, and then ended up finding a good and cheap meal in Chinatown.

The Singapore skyline at night!
The Singapore skyline at night!

Day 43 and 44- July 18 and 19, 2015

Good incentive not to ride where they tell you not to.
Good incentive not to ride where they tell you not to.

Singapore is known for having a great network of cycling and running trails across the country/city. Since we had come here on bicycles we figured it would be a waste to not use them in this city.

Biking around a park on a Saturday- more like amateur hour with everyone out on the paths.
Biking around a park on a Saturday- more like amateur hour with everyone out on the paths.

So we spent an afternoon figuring out some of these trails and park connectors until we found ourselves at the south eastern shore sharing the really well-made trail with roller-bladers, other more serious cyclists, 4-person cycle-buggys, and kids on tricycles. It felt like we were just out for a ride in the park back in the States.

Finishing our day of cycling around Singapore in front of the prettier parts of the skyline.
Finishing our day of cycling around Singapore in front of the prettier parts of the skyline.
Singapore was getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The day we were there  they were putting on a  military show.
Singapore was getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The day we were there they were putting on a military show.

Another thing Singapore is known for is their Zoo. So the next day we had to get out there before we packed up to fly to Cambodia. And it lived up to it’s hype. Probably the highlight was the elephant show where the elephants shot water at the crowd through their trunks, stole their keepers hats, all lay down for a nap together, and then got up and bowed at the end. But all of it was pretty cool.

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Just an orangutan lazin' away the day at the zoo.
Just an orangutan lazin’ away the day at the zoo.
The happiest elephant I've ever seen- just look at that smile!
The happiest elephant I’ve ever seen- just look at that smile!

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And then it was time to leave. Singapore is more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and we didn’t have the money to spend more than two full days there. We had eaten as cheaply as possible in Chinese food courts and had found the cheapest hostel we could. We spent a day riding our bikes around which is free. So we spent as little as we could. Still it was time to go.

Getting out:

Singapore was something of the end of the line for us. We had made it all the way down the peninsula and we still had two weeks of our trip left. Indonesia wasn’t a possibility since Bali’s airport was shut down because a volcano wouldn’t stop spewing ash that was interfering with the airplanes. So we bought plane tickets to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, figuring we could throw together a good 2-week cycling route there before heading back to Bangkok.

Carrying the bike boxes we got back to our hostel.
Carrying the bike boxes we got back to our hostel.

Flying with bicycles was a new thing to both of us. We hadn’t found a bike store in Singapore that could box our bikes in less than a week, and had only found one store that would give us bike boxes to do it ourselves. So for our last night we took over our hostels ground floor to almost entirely take apart our bikes so they could fit into the small bike boxes we had gotten from this store.

Kiri's bike- almost totally disassembled.
Kiri’s bike- almost totally disassembled.

We took handlebars off, kickstand off, rear rack and seat off. We removed the front stem, wheels, tires, and tubes from Kiri’s bike to force it into the smaller of the bike boxes, and even then it was a tight squeeze.

After three hours, covered in grease and sweat, the bikes were boxed, our bags were packed, and we were ready to fly!

Finishing boxing the bikes at 9pm- yes the headlamp was necessary.
Finishing boxing the bikes at 9pm- yes the headlamp was necessary.

Next stop: Cambodia!

Waiting at the Singapore airport with all our boxes!
Waiting at the Singapore airport with all our boxes!
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Deep Southern Thailand- Songkhla to the Tak Bai border (Thailand) into Kota Baru, Malaysia

(once again this map doesn’t show our exact route since google maps can’t be that precise. There were tons of unmarked back roads through this section and they were incredibly enjoyable!)

Distance– 287 kilometers

TOTAL distance of the trip 1,372 kilometers

# of flat tires still only 1 this entire trip (….annnnnd we just jinxed it)

The “deep south” of Thailand is quite a bit different from the areas that we have traveled thus far. For starters it is a more politically charged region. There are a couple of separatist groups that want various degrees of autonomy from the Thai government and law. Over the years this region has seen its share of conflict amongst the Thai authorities and the mostly Muslim population. There have been attacks across the region to create chaos and make it difficult for the Thai authorities to control the region, but these attacks haven’t been targeted at tourists. Still the presence of military tanks and regular police checkpoints gave this area a different vibe than anywhere else we had traveled through in Thailand. In fairness many of these checkpoints were unmanned painted blockades made of old logs.
All of the people that we met along the way were very friendly and very curious about our journey. They were excited to see foreigners traveling to this part of Thailand. Even those who spoke no English were able to express their amusement with our trip. We even got to take part in a couple of photo shoots with women working at our hotels who all  on us wearing our helmets and standing with our bikes  for the full effect.

They're all matching! Mikes photo shoot with the women working at our hotel in Yala.
They’re all matching! Mikes photo shoot with the women working at our hotel in Yala.

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Day 16- June 20, 2015- Songkhla to Sakom

Distance: 49.3 km

Since the real bridge was out we got to use this alternative route instead.
Since the real bridge was out we got to use this alternative route instead.

We woke up this morning to heavy rain storms, which was a great reason to extend our rest day for a few more hours. By the time the storms cleared up it was nearly noon, so we got some delicious sandwiches from a shop as we headed out of town. The ride was unremarkable and uneventful – flat and hot. The sandwiches were the most remarkable thing about this day actually! We knew that we were not going to be able to make it to our intended destination because of the late start, so we started to look for hotels on the side of the highway.
During this ride we started to notice that many of the road signs were now marked with another language in addition to Thai characters and the rough English translation we were now seeing Arabic on many signs.

The welcome sign at Leela Resort- seemed pretty self explanatory
The welcome sign at Leela Resort- seemed pretty self explanatory

We ended up staying at a Muslim resort that was not only welcoming and comfortable but also quite conservative, another reminder that we had entered a new region of Thailand. Our room was discounted because of the Ramadan holiday, which coincidentally started on the day that we started cycling in a Muslim region (more to come on this in Malaysia but suffice it to say that we will be spending ALL of Ramadan cycling in Muslim areas). We shared the empty beach with a lost herd of cows that afternoon as we enjoyed one of our first days on the beach.

Day 17- June 21, 2015- Sakom to Yala

Distance: 83.7 km

One of the first roadside tanks we saw outside of Yala
One of the first roadside tanks we saw outside of Yala

Today we made a game-time decision to change our route and head inland for a bit towards the land-locked province of Yala. Coming off of the large highways we were able to stay on back roads almost the entire day. These roads wound over and around farmlands and past the bases of some beautiful hills. The best part was we didn’t have to share them with any other vehicles for most of the day.
We chose one of the first decent looking hotels when we reachedYala. As we began to do some long-overdue maintenance on the bikes, we came across our first big technical challenge of the trip – one of the spokes on Mike’s rear tires had broken!

Finding the broken spoke in Yala
Finding the broken spoke in Yala

We knew that this was an issue that had to be fixed before going on any further. However that evening as we read the recent news in Yala and learned of explosions that had been going off last month in the town we were a little wary of venturing around the town to fix it.

But as we had said before, these smaller attacks weren’t new to the region, we knew what we were getting into, and across the board our experience in the region had been positive. In general world news tends to focus on the negative and scarier aspects of a region, and those stories end up overshadowing the many bright points of a place and the people who live there. That’s not to say one shouldn’t be wary of these reports, as we obviously were. It is to make a point that if you go into a place with a sound knowledge of the recent events, and the underlying tensions with the understanding that events like these are out of your control and shouldn’t control your actions (and don’t stay in the sketchy areas of the city) you could end up coming out with some really wonderful experiences.

Day 18- June 22, 2015- Yala to Narathiwat

Distance: 79.8

A view of downtown Yala from the hotel room
A view of downtown Yala from the hotel room

We identified some good cycle stores in Yala that would hopefully be able to fix Mike’s broken spoke so that we could get back on the road today. Mike rode Kiri’s bike around town with his wheel looking for cycle shops. He passed by people casually opening up their shops as pickup trucks carrying armed policemen whizzed by. Although most of the cycle shops weren’t open at 9 am, he was able to find one later in the morning – and the mechanic did a great job fixing the spoke! Turns out that absolutely no English is needed to get such a job done, cyclists all over the world are always willing to help out.

Our hotel for the night. When we checked in we were asked how many hours we wanted the room for.
Our hotel for the night. When we checked in we were asked how many hours we wanted the room for.

Once this was fixed we were eager and ready to get on the road so even though it was noon we loaded up the bikes, took some pictures with the excited hotel staff, and cranked out 80 km in the afternoon! The ride was scattered with some gentle hills but was absolutely beautiful, minus the military compound that was directly outside of Narathiwat. For our last night in Thailand we stayed in one of the Thai “24 hour” hotels that was on the outskirts of town – clean and cheap!

Day 19- June 23, 2015- Narathiwat to Kota Bharu

Distance 74.4

Our last breakfast in Thailand was yogurt, peanuts, and a pastry on the side of the road- in honor of Ramadan.
Our last breakfast in Thailand was yogurt, peanuts, and a pastry on the side of the road- in honor of Ramadan.

Our last day in Thailand was filled with mixed emotions. We were sad to leave a place that had been so hospitable, friendly, and even forgiving in the most difficult of situations (rainstorms, broken spokes, etc). Regardless, we were excited to experience a new country. The ride to the border brought us through a series of police checkpoints along a highway and was pretty unremarkable, as we were pretty used to seeing these by now. The border town of Tak Bai seemed pretty interesting and we stopped for our last Thai iced coffee 😦

The border at Tak Bai was not only extremely easy and straightforward, but was also lots of fun! But when you get to take a ferry to cross a border and don’t have to pay anything to enter a country, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a great experience.

Exiting Thailand for the first part of what we agreed was the easiest border crossing we've done.
Exiting Thailand for the first part of what we agreed was the easiest border crossing we’ve done.
The ferry border crossing that connects Thailand and Malaysia
The ferry border crossing that connects Thailand and Malaysia
Enjoying the ferry ride
Enjoying the ferry ride
The big buddha statue about 10k in from the Thai-Malaysia border
The big buddha statue about 10k in from the Thai-Malaysia border

During our ride to Kota Baru we found ourselves passing more buddhist temples than we had seen in our last three days in Thailand, which we hadn’t really expected since, you know, Malaysia is known for being a pretty highly Muslim country.

Later that evening once we had arrived in the conservative Muslim city of Kota Baru we found ourselves at a night bazaar that, despite the different food, looked suspiciously like the night markets in Thailand. Starving from a long day of cycling where we hadn’t been able to find too much food we bought all the new treats we could find-  murtabak (a malaysian stuffed pancake), fried noodles, blended drinks, grilled fish, stuffed squid- all ours for the buying! But unlike in Thailand, people just seemed to be sitting down and staring at their food. So we settled in and joined them in the countdown to sundown when this Ramadan fast-breaking session could finally begin. No we certainly weren’t in Thailand anymore.

Some Malaysian treats at the Bazaar
Some Malaysian treats at the Bazaar
Counting down the minutes until we can break the fast
Counting down the minutes until we can break the fast

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Rwanda and Burundi- the route

From Bwindi Impenetrable Forest our driver drove us through Kisoro to the Uganda-Rwanda border where he let us off at the Uganda side.

Getting into Rwanda from Uganda:

A cow crossing from Uganda to Rwanda- he didn't even stop to get his passport stamped
A cow crossing from Uganda to Rwanda- he didn’t even stop to get his passport stamped

Crossing this land border was very easy. You visit the police station and present your passport, get a receipt from them, walk to the “exit” window in Uganda- present your passport and that receipt, it all gets stamped and you are free to go.

Walk about 100 yards through no-mans-land and you will find yourself in Rwanda. Go to the immigration window, pay your visa fee (I believe it was $30 as of January, 2014).

You’ll be surrounded by people trying to change money for you- make sure you check the exchange rate before you go so these guys dont rip you off. There is a bureau de change next to the immigration office so you can always use that if you’re not confident going through this transaction at the side of the road. (You will need to change some money to pay for your buses)

Kinigi, Rwanda:

The volcanoes of Volcanoes National Park that you can see from the guest house (even if you don't trek em)
The volcanoes of Volcanoes National Park that you can see from the guest house (even if you don’t trek em)

What to do here– trek some volcanoes in Volcans National Park- you can also gorilla trek here but it is about $100 more expensive here than it is in Uganda. Other side trips- visit Lake Kivu- take an hour bus ride from Musanze to Gisenyi where you can hang out on the shore of Lake Kivu- a lake that has a very spring-break-Rwanda feel to it. As with all lakes in East Africa you need to worry about shistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia- a parasite that lives in freshwaster snails spread from contact with contaminated water that includes the stagnant water found in almost every lake in East Africa). We still went swimming in it and we are ok, we also didn’t really consider this particular risk, a couple of Primus beers will have that impact on your judgement I guess. Still, a good day trip!

Swan boats on Lake Kivu!
Swan boats on Lake Kivu!

Where to stay: The Kinigi Guest House is a great low cost option located a 10 minutes walk outside of the entrance to Volcans National Park. It is a 5 minute motorbike ride outside of Kinigi, or an uncomfortable half hour walk (if you are shlepping backpacking packs with you). It’s got great food, comfy rooms, and a nice overall atmosphere.

Cost– If you want to trek these volcanos you will need to hire a car to drive you to your trekking point. This was where we decided we did not want to trek because we stubbornly did not want to pay $80 for a car for a day (this does not include the cost of a guide or the park fees). You can’t use public transportation to get into the park, so unless you find a fellow traveler with a vehicle this is a hard activity to do on your own. Visiting Lake Kivu didn’t cost more than $15 per person including transport there and the food and drink we enjoyed on the lake shore.

Getting there: from the border grab a bus headed to Musanze- there is a big bus terminal here so there will be tons of buses! From Musanze you can grab another bus to Kinigi, and once in Kinigi I highly recommend getting a motor bike to carry you and your stuff to the guest house because it is a far walk and its slightly uphill.

Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali City
Kigali City

What to do: Kigali is a great city, impressively developed and modern considering Rwanda’s traumatic recent history that almost destroyed this city only 20 years ago. Walk around and explore the city for a day, there are malls with movie theaters and cafe’s with delicious iced coffee. Definitely take an afternoon to visit the Genocide Memorial- it is a heartbreaking yet necessary stop that will allow you to begin to attempt to wrap your mind around the atrocities that happened in this city so recently. You will definitely view the city in a new light after making your way through these powerful exhibits  (get the audio guide!!). Hike up Mt. Kigali for great city views. Visit the Hotel Des Milles Collines (the hotel from Hotel Rwanda) which is now a 5-star hotel that has the only draft beer I have found in East Africa and had live music the night we went. There wasn’t a ton of nightlife the four nights we were there, but we also weren’t there on a weekend.

Also doubles as a traffic circle
Also doubles as a traffic circle

Where to stay: This was our biggest struggle, we couldn’t find any good hotel recommendations that were in our price range online (we were also struggling to adjust to the fact that Rwanda is significantly more expensive than Uganda). Popular guest houses like the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel looked a little too far out of the town center for us. Another one that was advertised was the One Love club- which was almost totally abandoned and far away from anything and very creepy. We ended up staying in the Muhima neighborhood where there were a couple of poorly marked guest houses that averaged $15 a night per person (I’m not mentioning names here partially because I forget what they were and partially because guest house turnover is high in this region). The hotel we stayed at we lovingly named “the dungeoun” because our room was half-underground, but it was central. We were an easy walking distance from the downtown business district and it was never hard for us to find motorbikes or taxis to drive us around.

Pictures of the victims were used to essentially wallpaper this room.
Pictures of the victims were used to essentially wallpaper this room.

How to get here: Much like in Uganda where all buses lead to Kampala, all buses in Rwanda lead to Kigali, so if you can’t find a bus you are not trying hard enough. The bus rides here are really spectacular too, they take you through the massive hills that make up almost all of Rwanda.

Getting into Burundi from Rwanda:

Our ride for 8 hours
Our ride for 8 hours

Get a bus to Bujumbura from Kigali. I would recommend buying your tickets for this bus a day in advance if you are on a tight schedule which we were at this point. I would then recommend getting to that bus at least half an hour before it leaves because it does leave on time. Before you are allowed on the bus your conductor will take your passport- I guess to photocopy it- but follow him while your passport is in his posession and not yours. Getting there this early will also let you pick a comfortable seat- a luxury that we did not enjoy as we stumbled onto the bus in a hungover haze five minutes before the bus departed.

The border- the border is kind of a mess, but your buss conductor will help you out, because you are obviously a foreigner and if you take a long time to cross then his bus will be held up. You need to go to an exit window on the Rwanda side, then to a visa window on the Burundi side (where your visa is actually just a printed piece of paper rather than a stamp in your passport that costs US citizens $40). Then you return to the Rwanda side to present this paper, are permitted to officially cross the border (even though you already did this once to get that visa), present the paper once again, and are finally in.

A transit visa is only good for three days. We didn’t do any research on getting any other visas because we only had a 2 day window to be there but if you are interested in staying longer I would venture the visas are probably a bit more of a hassle to obtain.

Bujumbura, Burundi:

I've never seen more barbed wire in any any other counry.
I’ve never seen more barbed wire in any any other counry.

What to do: wander around the city, get some drinks in the evenings, spend some time lounging (or partying) on the coast of Lake Tanganika. We only had 1 full day in the city so we spent the day wandering around looking for Burundi soccer jerseys (which don’t exist) and just exploring the city that is still rebuilding from a devastating civil war in 2007. Theres a big central market, a stadium that is closed off and probably should be condemned because it looks like it was bombed yesterday. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and most of the areas seemed relatively safe. We spent an evening at the Bora Bora beach club where we walked along the shore of Lake Tanganika and hired a guy with a wooden rowboat to take us out and paddle us around the lake a bit- we asked him to paddle us over to the Democratic Republic of Congo because it looked so close, he declined (a week after some fishermen were killed because they got caught in the middle of the Lake during a massive storm so he was probably smart to deny us). The coolest thing about Bujumbura was that local people actually went out and partied at night also- it wasn’t just a tourist scene. Friday and Saturady night the bars that we went to were happening and it was a lot of fun feeling like we were doing exactly what local Bujumburans would do on their weekends. They definitely know how to party here.

Shooting for the DRC!
Shooting for the DRC!

Where to stay: accomodation is expensive here if you want to stay in a place that is really safe which should be a priority because the country still isnt 100% stable. It also seemed like a good idea to make reservations before we arrived, so we did that. We stayed at the Shammah Hotel which was right in the center of the city. $50 per night for 2 people. This hotel does not let men and women share a hotel room unless they are married, so for 2 nights I got to be Mrs. Albertini- which is where all of Mike’s absurdly cutesy nicknames originated. The room was nice, the satellite TV kind of worked, it was a short walk down the road from some good restaurants and bars- short enough that we felt comfortable walking it at night, although I would advise against walking around the city at all after dark.