Monday, October 21, 2013

Latest book review from Canoe and Kayak

Valhalla Bound: Coetzee
African river explorer Hendri Coetzee’s posthumous memoir is now available for pre-order. Living the Best Day Ever is compiled from Coetzee’s extensive journals and blogs, written in the explorer’s distinctive, no-holds-barred style. It seems certain to shed new light on Coetzee’s extraordinary life and philosophy.
Coetzee died as he lived, dramatically. On December 7, 2010, as he was exploring the Lukuga River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a crocodile pulled Coetzee and his creekboat under the surface. His body was never found.
Coetzee famously spent his life in search of what he called the best day ever. This wasn’t some unattainable superlative; for Coetzee it was a moving benchmark, a goal that he frequently achieved and sought always to better. The quest focused on the disciplines of paddling, exploration and partying, often rolled into one.
The search led him from the guide quarters on the Zambezi River, north to Uganda and, in 2004, on the first source-to-sea descent of the White Nile. The 4,160-mile trip took four and a half months and crossed two war zones. His best friend and companion on that trip, Pete Meredith, wrote the forward to the book. Another friend, Kara Blackmore, edited the memoir.
Coetzee was the first to run the Nile’s Murchison Falls—a feat he repeated eight times. He remains the only person ever to run it solo. He ran large sections of the upper and lower Congo River and explored rivers throughout Africa. Coetzee’s accomplishments add up to one of the most impressive resumes in the business, but when river-runners invoke his memory they seldom speak of deeds. They talk about the way he ran those rivers and the purity of his purpose. Living the Best Day Ever promises more of that philosophy from the man himself, together with plenty of adventure yarns and deep insights into the chaos and inequity of the African continent that Coetzee loved so well.
Living the Best Day Ever is available now for pre-order at
Read more about Coetzee’s extraordinary life and adventures in these stories from the magazine.

Testing Boundaries Our goal for the week was a first descent of the Ruzizi River, which forms the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. Due to some recent rebel activity, we focused on the prize: 15 kilometers of what could be some of the steepest big-volume creeking in Africa.

He Didn’t Like Baggage by Peter Meredith Hendri had never been rafting or kayaking before I hired him. The Zambezi is pretty full-on, especially in the early season when the water is high. We threw him right in. Within a month he was taking some poor unsuspecting customers down the river, and long before that he kept telling me, ‘I’m ready, I’m ready.’

The Best Day Ever by Seth Warren The fall of 2004 at the Nile Rivers Explorers bar had a Never Never Land feel, and Hendri had that Peter Pan demeanor. I don’t recall the moment we met, but I’ll never forget the first time we paddled together;straight off the ski jump from the bar, and through the center of the ‘Hump,’ a giant Class V rapid right in front of Speke Camp.

Meeting Hendri by Joe Henry I can’t even roll a kayak, but that’s how we met. In 2006, I was on a truck tour through Africa and Hendri was working as a raft guide on the Nile in Jinja. I signed up for a kayak tour.

Hendri’s Way by Gustav Nel The river, according to the locals, was flooded. It was higher than it had ever been, and we reached the first rapids in about three hours. You could only scout from the top, so Hendri got on Joe Henry’s shoulders to try and pick a line.

He Brought Perseverance by Ben Stookesberry Hendri was hard. It was tough to keep up with him. He would push for 12 hours of daylight, wake up first thing in the morning and keep going. He brought so much intelligence, maturity and strength. He brought perseverance.

No Half Measures by Celliers Kruger Hendri walked into my office a couple of years ago, asking for sponsorship. By that time we knew about each other for a while already, but hadn’t met yet. My answer was an obvious yes—his reputation for running the hardest stuff was already growing. Since then a close relationship grew between two paddlers who discussed everything except paddling.

Laughing In The Rain by Chris Korbulic People kept telling me that Hendri is the hardest, toughest, bravest guy anybody’s ever met; and here I am going on an expedition that Hendri is saying is going to be the hardest expedition he’s ever done. I wondered how I would measure up.

Timeline – Remembering Hendri The lifeline and experiences of Johannes Hendrik Coetzee—Kadoma—1975-2010

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Many thanks from all at "Living the Best Day Ever" to those listed below for there support and publicity
and a Huge thank you Nick Harding at Sports Scene for the great review.....

‘Living the Best Day Ever’, Hendri Coetzee – memoirs of the Nile source-to-sea expedition

canoe kayak rafting hendri coetzee expedition nile south africa explorer sportscene book memoirs biography
Nick Harding | @HardingNicolaas - Sportscene was given exclusive access to the pre-published draft of Hendri Coetzee's autobiography; the South African was one of the most-respected explorers and paddlers in African history who navigated, by raft, the source of the Nile to its sea-mouth, Coetzee was sadly presumed dead in 2010 following an attack on his kayak by a crocodile. 
Hendri Coetzee relives his wayward ways as a youth prior to military service as well as his drunken days that lead him and fellow rafter / best friend Pete to undertake a voyage of epic proportions paddling approximately 6700km from the Nile Basin in Lake Victoria to its Mediterranean-mouth at Rosetta through 3 politically-heated countries at the time (Uganda, Sudan, Eqypt). Weaving his life-tapestry Coetzee, also an exceptional kayaker, makes reference to his descents on the Zambezi River, the Congo and his first ascents on the last expedition of the Great Lakes, Central Africa.
“I would never live a better day.”

canoe kayak rafting hendri coetzee expedition nile south africa explorer sportscene book memoirs biographyReview
Sitting outside a café in a traditional Swiss square I find myself fully-absorbed, addicted and several hours later, many coffees down wanting to finish the book in a day – this rarely happens!
If you enjoyed watching Steve Fisher's film Congo: The Grand Inga Project (2010) or really got into Claire O'Hara's article about her Ugandan trip earlier this year, then you'll really get your teeth into this soon-to-be released book written by ex-military turned raft-guide Hendri Coetzee himself and then, following his death, edited by Kara Blackmore.
Originally thinking this story would be merely a macho testicle-driven account of an incredible and near-unrepeatable river descent, of which part of it is because Coetzee is one tough cookie with a relentless hunger to party, it far exceeded all expectations – his writing is beautiful scratching deep below the surface of many controversial issues affecting life in Africa as well as the banality of everyday life using dark humour and some unbelievable comparisons:
“Rafting on this section is like being lost without a map while driving in a foreign city at rush hour. Scattered islands mean we have to change intersections a few times to find the right turnoff, taking great care to give the hippopotamus traffic as much space as possible.”
It doesn't matter whether you are a die-hard paddler or a casual one, you will be just as captivated by Coetzee's description of the river features and scares he encountered during his expeditions; get ready for speechlessness and a lump in your throat (this one was taken from his extract kayaking the Congo):
Waterfalls sixty meters high, drift serenely alongside frenzied rapids that burst through patches of green vegetation. Eventually, tired and complacent, I make a mistake. The penalty is a few moments of dread as I paddle uphill from a section that might just kill me. It is a nice reminder. I should focus. I should know better than to give in to an inclination to rush.
Like any excursion-travelogue you want to follow the trip from beginning to end because of passing time, in this case I was drawn to: one; the Nile-trip was an unusually long-winded raft adventure and two; his personal complexes from his youth remained through his later adult years.
Part of the book's charm is that it's littered with reoccurring themes, many a professional athlete can identify with them: drinking as the ultimate goal to celebrate successfully nailing a hard-river section, drinking as dystopian escapism, chasing something (women, an adrenaline rush, a dream unshared by others), conquering and fearing death, losing and gaining faith, as he puts it sub-culture 'freaks' attracting 'freaks' and those who are all about 'the image' not the sport, the difficulty of getting sponsorship (especially when Pete is involved), macho-ism amongst your mates and what makes a 'real' man, physical strength as a benefit and lack of it a potential death-risk, wanting and getting fame, power, the deadly-rewarding sides of nature and post-high syndrome to name a few.
canoe kayak rafting hendri coetzee expedition nile south africa explorer sportscene book memoirs biography
His writing isn't just for athletes though, anyone can really identify with what he says about having your leadership undermined because you are young or as others are close-minded, how to function in the real world, the randomness of reality, the outrageousness of daily life, not trusting people, managing your anger, doing something full-throttle, the attraction of illegality with after-drug paranoia, plus creating your own destiny.
Coetzee essentially writes about two worlds colliding whether it be being a white South African in a black world, paddling-existence fusing to become normal life and how to survive a world without structure; what do you do when you leave the military? what do you do when do complete your expedition?
He is a wizard at comparing these worlds with nature and his writing is satirically very funny too! He manages to balance the seriousness of his real-life experiences of impoverished and war-torn Africa with the strangeness of his own life; comedy and swearing aplenty!
Pete will end up buying everyone drinks and spending all our money, while using his on-board freak magnet to attract and befriend the weirdest characters in a hundred-mile radius. He will no doubt send us into worlds so strange that we will look like the normal ones!
However, beware there are parts of his life-story that are graphic because he ultimately writes openly reciting the horrors he has seen.
I hadn't seen the accompanying images of his raft-journey with Pete before I finished this section, yet I didn't need to – so visual and accurate his writing was that I was sitting there with brown shorts on the “action raft”, as he called it, or feeling like I was grimacing too when 'suicide' tequila shots were being downed!
I won't give away any spoilers but do read on.

A certainly worthwhile brilliantly-written read, time it well when to go onto the more solemn and graphic sections though. You won't be disappointed by its realistic buttock-clenching action and the humanism behind Coetzee's rendition of his expedition.
The autobiography, once published, is a eulogy, a hommage to the life and soul of an incredible adventurer who loved his continent, a man who loved the freedom paddling gave him, a man who lived for each day and celebrated his existence hard, a man who pursued and lived his dreams.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

living the best day ever - by hendri coetzee

I met Hendri in 2006 when I arrived in Jinja, Uganda. Fresh off a Kampala coach and fairly new to rivers I was excited by the stories I had been hearing about the Nile and the funky folk that lived along it.

I had spent the previous 3 weeks rafting the Omo River in Ethiopia with Hendri’s best friend and partner in crime Pete Meredith but Hendri’s reputation preceded that moment. I’d seen documentaries he’d starred in, heard tales of madness, bravery and adventure and I was hardly a river chick who hung about in those crowds.

He superceeded his reputation in every way. Smart should have been genius, gorgeous, shockingly so, out spoken – brazenly. Not scared to go against the crowd in fact Hendri thrived on being different.  He was full of ideas, crazy ones, realistic ones, passionate ones. It was his idea to raft the longest river in the world and he did. He hand paddled crazy rapids, opened new lines on waterfalls, took troubled kids out of their comfort zone and into war zones using his psychology degree to show them there was more to life. His ideas and plans got him into mischief, into the depths of the rain forest in DRC and later to the depths of his mind as he began meditating.

Being Petes’s girlfriend meant I had access to this charismatic, cricket loving character who loved me like a sister.

Hendri leaving this earth life brought many of us close together.  His legacy had spread over continents, he had touched a lot of hearts and changed a lot of lives. I was fortunate enough to spend time with him and his family over the years in South Africa and since his death his mother Marie and I have become dear friends. If you ever have the opportunity to meet or connect with her, don’t miss it. She embodies love and is a living inspiration. She has the biggest, gentlest heart, is honest, brave and intelligent. No wonder she made such an epic son.

Marie asked me recently if I would be keen on writing on Hendri’s blog? How could I refuse? So I accepted the offer and then had a mild panic attack – What would I say? Would I be smarty, funny, adventurous and cool enough? Would I do his memory justice? Would I be able to help launch his book through regular blogs? I write now nervously. I wish with all my heart it was Hendri continuing this blog himself – making us laugh out loud and shocking us with fearless exploits – But it’s not, it’s me. Keeping the memories alive and one of a chain of  friends involved with publishing Hendri’s book and fulfilling his dream of getting it to print.

The book  Hendri wrote is not an autobiography it is a memoir. Reflections on his life. It is part adventure, part psychology, part travel. It is captivating, engrossing, funny and un put downable. His writing is smart, lucid and lyrical and through his words he inspires and reminds us all to “live our best day ever” every day.

The book is about to be self published. It will be ready before Christmas. We invite you his friends and peers who were part of his life to purchase a copy (first 1000 limited edition) and help us spread his story globally. Please use your social media contacts and friends to get it out there. If you have a story or a photo you want to share you can email me on And I will add it to my entries. I look forward to sharing this exciting phase with you all.
Watch this space

Friday, November 26, 2010

Feelings, do they make you soft?

As I licked my dry lips and carefully checked that my spray deck was on properly, I had the feeling I might be doing something I should not. I pushed through the doubt and when I finally shot out the bottom of the rapid I was happy I did. It was just paranoia after all.
Two nights later another doubt surfaced as I lay safely in my sleeping bag. This time about running a proposed ferry above Murchison falls, a move I thought I could do in my sleep. I put it down to too much coffee and ignored it.
The next morning, my mind occupied with logistical issues, I hardy gave the matter anymore thought and was just about to put in when Ben called me over to look at the line again. Either it had changed, or we had all misread it the day before. From a different angle it seemed near impossible. It is doubtful I would have made it and the consequences would have been fatal.
It is hard to know the difference between irrational fear and instinct, but fortunate is he who can . Often there is no clear right or wrong option, only the safest one. And if safe was all I wanted, I would have stayed home in Jinja. Too often when trying something no one has ever done, there are only 3 likely outcome: Success, quitting, or serious injury and beyond. The difference in the three, are often forces outside of your control. But this is the nature of the beast: Risk. 
Anyone who is good at what they do, be it marketing, sports or hairdressing will tell you they trust their instincts. There are rational explanations for people making the right choices based on information they could not have known beforehand but only because we live in a rational world. If you chose this option and believe that all that all there is to know is already known, then that is your boring truth, keep me out of it. Whatever the real reason, I think we all agree that people who can go successfully beyond facts are the ones who excel in any, and all fields.  
There are ways to sharpen these skills, such as practicing to trust your feelings.  Personally I have found meditation extremely helpful but I am yet to find a definite answer on when to choose fact over instinct. But due to necessity I am often forced to choose none the less.
Never has this been more so than over the last week.
Our goal for the week was a first decent of the river that forms the border between the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Due to some recent rebel activity, we cut plans for the last 80km between Burundi and Congo (it was flat water anyway) and focused on the prize, 15km of what we believed could be some of the steepest, big volume creaking in Africa(meaning: more water going over more rocks at a faster speed). About the only thing going for us was that the left side of the river belonged to Rwanda. (African politics 101: Rwanda, size of Wales, densest population in Africa, relative fortress of stability in central Africa, army with lack of humor that kicks serious ass, when and too whom they see fit.)
After a frustrating morning trying to find the exact put in at the second of two hydro stations, we were halted by a soldier who refused to let us proceed without permission. Given where we were, a reasonable request. We would have loved to have had permission, but no one wanted to take responsibility for something they could not grasp. Being possibly the only country in Africa where a US bill can’t negotiate and will offend by trying, we got back in the car.
After trying several avenues, and two days of delay, we were no closer to knowing who was actually qualified to give such permission. Enough reason to walk away from the project, you would think. Unfortunately the goal of advancing river exploration in central Africa was always going to involve some bending of protocol and the line was looking as blurry as ever. With a new dam proposed to be built and the area likely to remain on a political knifes edge, we realized that this might be the last chance anyone gets... That and we really, really wanted to.
I knew as expedition leader that ‘want to’ was probably not enough and after being blown off by the mayor, I started to make alternative plans as I waited for the boys to return from a scouting mission with hired some motorbikes.
They reported that the locals seemed calm enough and after seeing photos taken from the rim of a truly spectacular canyon and monstrous rapids, desire took over common sense again. Ben was keen and Chris undecided.
As leader I would have the final say but for once it was a decision I did not want to take. We still had preciously little info on what we would find down there. Our greatest alley, the all mighty Rwandan army had become an obstacle to be avoided, their reaction to us found in a delicate area with bags full of cameras and no official papers was expected to be less than accommodating. If caught we would be on our own, unable to drag the names of our ‘friends’ into our mess. With all this on the table, and my mind made up, I was surprised that I still wanted to have a crack at it.  
The river and the area would be enough challenge under any circumstances, with the added element of doing it without permission we all knew that we were on the line, possible past it, and we had not even started yet. We promised ourselves that if anymore complications arrived we would back down, pack up and go our way.
The plan was simple, we would go down, nice and slow and as far from the soldier who stopped us as possible. Unfortunately the only put in we could find was within sight of the dam; and as soon as we were on the water, we could see people watching us from there.
This really should have been the end of the trip, but I was again surprised on how easily we decided to run the first drop and then see what happened. The river was beautiful but I have walked away from beauty for a lot less and rationally should have done so again. My mind was spinning with the decision, the repercussions and the consequences but strangely inside it felt right.
So we went.
The first rapid lasted 5 minutes, we stuck around for a few minutes waiting for hell to break lose, when it didn’t, we did another rapid and then another and another. The whitewater was everything we had hoped for and more. The rapids flowing into one another in uninterrupted continuity.

Our suspicions of the locals lessened as an ever growing mob cheered and encouraged us down the river. Once they realized what those plastic boats were capable of they even started making suggestions on how to approach future obstacles.
I thought I had been to most of the big gorges in Africa but it turns out only to the known ones. To find myself in something of that scale, almost unknown, was worth every drop of sweat, every public bus ride, every fly infested nowhere border town I have invested time in, ever. Dwarfed by lush green mountains rising up to 3000ft above us, we were drawn in ever deeper with a constant eye on the banks for trouble, by the river with every foot of is relentless gradient.
Only one portage was required on day one, and the three of us quickly fell into our roles, leapfrogging, filming and scouting without instruction. Keeping an eye on each other, but hardly ever talking, the hush of the river static thick and comfortable over us in the narrow valley only occasionally broken by short sentences of appreciation.
We spent the night under a overhanging cliff, waking sporadically to stare at the full moon and the silhouette of the mountains overlapping in the cut behind us rising with the sun that signaled the start of another big day.
Below our camp, I changed my line to accommodate the camera, making the schoolboy error of not scouting around the corner for the variation and paid the price. Ahead of the boys and knowing that swimming was not an option, made the beating easier to handle, but being rag dolled in a fully loaded Creek-boat is an experience I found unpleasant.
More portages appeared on day two and I was struggling to get to grips with the unusual reactions of a heavy boat, being a bit too fast or to slow for the majority of the day, at times I was annoyed, at times I was scared, but most of the time I would be nowhere else.
To avoid detection from possible soldiers downstream, we took out at the last big rapid. An army of impromptu porters were eager to carry our boats out what seemed to me a challenging affair. ¾ up, the storm unleashed, dragging a curtain of water towards us through the warped valley. As hard, warm drops trashed at our little selves and a pair of goats,
we stood precariously on a unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed,
I would never live a better day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

another statistic

Instead of leaving Goma a big old ferry, we packed into a bathtub toy with 16 other people, all substantially bigger than anyone of us and dressed a whole lot lauder in Congolese fashion. Once wedged in, we skipped across the lake, bouncing from wave to wave and bombarded with Lingala music for two hours until we reached Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu. From first impression it seemed more of a functional city than Goma, with vehicles other than NGO and UN zig zagging the crumbling roads and muddy strips.
It is unbelievable but entirely possible that Bukavu has seen even more misery than Goma, in 2006 it was overrun by rebel forces, who proceed to try and rape every woman in the city, giving it the dubious distinction of ‘rape capital of the world’. Security has improved but remains fragile. Rumors suggest that 3 weeks ago, the same rebel group, now incorporated into the Congolese army, took the airport from DRC and UN soldiers, in a effect show of power
Our indispensible partner in this ambitious project is the International Rescue Committee, they are the largest NGO in Congo and this is their biggest base. They run 4 programs from here, the largest of which is a community driven reconstruction project(helping communities to help themselves) that has a budget of 160m $ and is estimated to benefit 1.8m people. In most communities, villagers have chosen accessible drinking water as their second highest need after education. Clean water is a real crisis, only 15% in rural areas and 42% in urban centers have access to clean drinking water and the fact that they still chose education as their top priority says a lot about Congolese desire to improve their lot.
Before you, like me ignore this statistic, you should realize the following. Waterborne diseases are the biggest killer of children under 5, and half of the world’s hospital beds at any given time is occupied with its victims. In the countries on our route, clean drinking water sounds harmless compared to say, civil war, but as I am fast learning the struggle to obtain clean drinking water is one of the mayor obstacles that prevent the development that could lead to more stable societies.
To see firsthand what the crisis is about, we drove for hours through rolling green hills with many little streams trickling into the valley below. Water seemed the least of anyone’s problems. The area’s outside Bukavu remain in danger from the many rebels armies hiding here, but superficially everything seemed rather idyllic, apart from woman my mother’s age carrying loads I would struggle under. Noticeable hardly man could be seen carrying anything at all.
Our destination was a few neat huts build on the side of yet another hill. Once we stepped out of the car we were cheered until we sat down in the town hall/ church, a dark building with holes for window and  well worn wooden benches. We had come to witness the opening of a simple water system, the project had cost only 50 000$ and being gravity fed means it has little maintenance. It should be supplying water to 3000 people for the foreseeable future. Another useless statistic, if you like me don’t know what life is like without water at you every convenience.
At first I was puzzled by the passion with which the village sang the national anthem and their allegiance to a government that has not changed a water pipe since the Belgium’s left 50 years ago but Congolese are proud to be Congolese, and I assume that the passion was for mans believe in ideas and his need to belong to something larger, instead of to their nonexistent leaders.
The speeches were above my struggling Swahili, but touching because of the people who stood up and spoke. The pride of the very poor, perhaps victims for most of their lives to forces out of their control, for the first time had a hand in accomplishing something concrete.
What drew my attention most was the woman. It is disturbing how vulnerable I know or believe them to be. My thought kept going back to the security briefing we had earlier in the day. Fresh social unrest has broken out just South from here, full military operations, that will no doubt lead to the scattering of militia and the pillaging of every local community in their path. Our own trip down the border river, the Ruzizi, is in jeopardy because of the new development but we get to chose whether we would like to be brave, they just have to pray another storm will pass.
There can be few places worse to be a female. The fact that perhaps points this out best is that in Bakavu there is a hospital that is the world leader in vaginal reconstruction for rape victims. Try to forget that statistic. By all rights woman here should be quivering in the corner and not be organizing committees to improve their daily lives. Clean water is fundamentally a woman’s crises, because it is them that have to expend the physical effort to carry 40lt, spending a minimum of an hour a day fetching water from often unclean sources, or even more draining, caring for their sick children due to waterborne diseases.
By allowing them to chose water as a priority and giving them the opportunity to participate in the realization of the project, not only does it free up hours in every day to spend on income generated activities but you empower a very important part of society and perhaps start to address the very reason this place is in such a mess in the first place.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

nobody panic

On every mission there are moments that have the potential to stop it in its tracks, moments with consequences so monumental even a spoon of Nutella won’t cheer you up. Sometimes they are associated with danger, more often they are logistical. When the immigration officer in Goma handed us back our passports with visa’s annulled and entry denied, we were looking at such  moment.
Expeditions should not have many rules, but since there is nothing common about sense, some have. Our only rule is jokingly quoted but of the utmost importance. “ Nobody panic” Our visas from the embassy in Kampala were worthless to anyone apart from the Congolese embassy who made 550$ from the ink squares. The new regulation, unbeknown to all but the border post, was that you had to get your visa’s issued in your country of origin. As the official told us to return to Rwanda, we instead stood around in the rain. What she did not know, was that we were going to get into the Congo, I just wasn’t sure how.
We threw ideas around to minimize the damage and were just about to cut our losses in Kivu province, with the hope of trying another border post further south,15minutes
later the door to the Congo opened slightly wider as we pushed 850$ through the crack. Apparently we could get a Special passes, granting us the pleasure of 7 days in the not so Democratic republic of the Congo. When asked about the chance for an extension once inside, we were told that” There is always a chance”
We thanked them for the opportunity but a verbal thanks was not what they were looking for. Another 100$ and we had our Special passes issued.
In an effort to help us get our budget back on track Bryce offered us accommodation at the IRC. It was close, but we made it their in time to watch the second half of the Springboks, Wales rugby match. Finishing of our day in the unexpected surrounding of a beautiful house overlooking lake Kivu.
Goma is special, apart from having possible the worst political mess in the world and being surrounded by some of the most unpleasant armed group you could imagine, it sits on the banks of a lake filled with poisonous gas, capable of killing every living thing in the vicinity if triggered to bubble to the surface. A lake in Cameroon, 2000 times smaller, filled with the same methane, was triggered by a landslide and wiped out the entire neighborhood. Goma has landslides but that is nothing to worry about compared to the volcano. Goma is built on the slopes of Niyarongo, in 2002, She spilled into the city, leaving 120 000 people homeless but thankfully did not turn the lake over.
I had been wanting to see it since I first visited in 2001, but security in the outskirts of town changes like the weather. This time round, the line to the top seemed open and under armed escort we made for the 3000m cone. Getting to the top, we could hear the lava churning down below but the cloud of CO2 (its releases as much as the entire USA) obscured the actually pool. After eating the 200th can of tuna on the trip with some crumpled bread, it finally opened up, at first just a slash of red, but as night settled visibility grew. Feet dangling over the very edge of a crater 3km wide and 2000m deep, we looked into a pool of Molten lava( love the world molten) perhaps 700m in circumference. Everyone can watch a camp fire for hours and some find equal pleasure in watching water run, for hours we watched the combination of the two, imploding and exploding on itself. The venue was breathtaking and the view unbelievable, as we watched the earth’s core bubbling up.
We set our bivey’s set up meters from the rim, on the only flat spot available and possible the windiest place in Africa. With wind gust of up to 1ookm/p(entirely made it figure) it was possible the coldest I have been for quite some time, since I had just come of a glacier last week, I mean it was freezing but that mattered little, somehow it might even have added to the experience. The guards tents was flattened repeatedly until they eventually gave up and simple rolled themselves up in it. I admit to moments when I felt I might be blow of the mountain but for the most part I loved being wind blasted on the side of a crater boiling  with a power I cant comprehend.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I would not have thought it possible to start a day with a genocide museum and having hope for mankind by sunset. But such a day it was.
Rwanda 1994 stands us a low point in human history. Over a million people killed by their neighbors, family’s, and friends in a 3 month orgy of horror. 20 people per minute, slaughtered up close and personal.
Here every grown up has a story, either as a hunter or as the hunted. The museum sates that 5% chose not to take part and 5 % chose to act heroically. For some reason this statistic stands out more than any others. Perhaps because of what it tells us about our specie and its obedience to the statuesque and authority. If you think your society will behave differently I suggest you read the Migram experiments and then ask yourself if you can still be sure.
I tried my best to absorb every story, every quote and every picture inside that dark building, not because I wanted to but because I felt I had to, to at least see what we are capable of, even if I could not understand it.
In the afternoon we had interviews scheduled that I would rather have cancelled. One of the reason we came to Rwanda was because it is one of the success stories of the continent, but miraculously as the turnaround appears it seemed to matter little in the face of where they came.
Hiowever, with every interview, my admiration for the people and the country grew, not despite of the Genocide but because of their reaction to it. Rwanda is a society in a hurry. They have experienced rock bottom and have vowed never again. Rwanda has risen from the asses, to become a regional leader, more importantly it has done so by being realistic. Government strategies are built on the best of African culture and not Western Ideology. Politicians are held responsible to their voters by contracts and corruption is almost unheard of.
This is no utopia, this is not even a free society, there are soldiers on every corner, and party politics, inevitable based on tribal allegiances, are suppressed. It was hate propaganda that sparked 1994 and free speech today is not allowed. The first stage in oppression is a division of ‘us and them’. Once we believe that they are not like us, we can look down on others, next we can believe that they don’t feel like us, once we cross this bridge we can we start to hurt others. Here the party line is: There is no more Tutsi and no more Hutsi, only Rwandans. The hope is that the very real divide can be suppressed long enough that the new generation might forget about it or realize its true insignificance.
The measures can be classed as oppressive. It would be easy to look for faults in the new government, there are many. At our core we are all the victims of like and dislikes based on marketing/ propaganda. If more governments would stand up for the right thing instead of playing on emotions, Africa could be a better place. I don’t know if this could work anywhere else and under any other leader.
President Paul Kagami is no Nelson Mandela, as far as world leaders go he probable has more blood on his hands than most. My opinion is a murky reflection in a mess I will never understand, but it seems to me, no one else could have resurrected the corpse of a society he freed from the greatest horror of our time and rebuilt it in such short time.
How you judge’s improvement is a matter of opinion, I use a simple measure. Is it a better place to live under the current regime that it was before? In Africa this can normally be measured on the most basic of human needs. Security, when you don’t have it, it is all that matters. It is impressive that Rwanda is now one of the safest countries in Africa, but to measure Rwanda by this is inadequate; anything apart from total annihilation of the population would be an improvement. In a country with just about every challenge that could face a nation, perhaps the best measure that can be used is that it is a place where everyday people can be optimistic.