The tourism industry in Burundi is underdeveloped. A few years ago, the sector had a marginal share in the nation’s GDP, contributing a dismal 2%. Then came the recent political turmoil which in turn, erased the grim earnings. Despite this unfortunate situation, Burundi has a special place in the hearts of all those who have been there and experienced Burundian hospitality.
The first day of my last visit was a beautiful sunny Sunday. I joined a bunch of middle aged men and tightened my sneaker laces to participate in the veterans’ basketball game. We played basketball under the scorching sun for about an hour at Terrain Parquet. These aging players meet every Sunday for an unofficial game and spend the rest of the day drinking. Their competitive basketball days are way behind them but their passion for the game is as strong as ever. After the game and a few rounds of cold Amstels, I excused myself and went to the hotel to take a shower and get rid of my stinking basketball gear. My day was just getting started. The beach was waiting for me.
Burundi has vast ecotourism attractions including the Kibira National Park, Rurubu River and Rusizi National Reserve but the country’s biggest allure is Lake Tanganyika. Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) posses the biggest chunk of the lake but Burundi seems to be making the most out of its undersized share.
Saga Plage was lively and kicking but the teenage crowd made me feel out of place and pushed me to the exit. My next stop was Borabora which seems to attract more foreigners than Burundians. Finally, I headed to Royal Palm Resort. Unlike Saga and Borabora, Royal Palm is quiet and peaceful. Service is impressive and the chefs are very good at what they do for a living. At Royal Palm, I was reunited with a few old friends and spent the rest of the day catching up.
I love swimming but I don’t think it’s a good idea to swim in Lake Tanganyika. You don’t need to conduct a scientific study to discover scary creatures in the second deepest lake in the world. From the beach, you can occasionally see intimidating aquatic organisms unleashing their fierce noses out of the water.
The ride back to my hotel was bumpier than before. There are many potholes on this old and worn out Chausee D’Uvira tarmac. A friend who offered to drop me was not as cautious as the cab driver who had brought me to the beach earlier. After many years of living abroad, he appeared to have lost his driving skills on severely damaged surfaces. May be the wine he had been drinking at Royal Palm was kicking in and messing his reflexes.
Communication with family and friends back home was not seamless. To avoid high roaming charges, I bought and registered a sim card from a local telecommunication company and purchased abundance of bundles but internet connection was on and off.
I was staying at Waterfront Hotel in the city center. The hotel was still under renovations and a few things were still dysfunctional. Upon arrival, the receptionist was quick to give me a Wi-Fi code but I could not get connected from my room. The shower heater was working but I struggled mightily to adjust temperature of the flowing water. One slight twist would make the water either sizzling hot or shivering cold. I just couldn’t balance the flow and make the temperature moderate enough to enjoy a warm shower. I finally gave up and took a cold shower.
It was almost midnight but I wasn’t ready to go to bed yet. I walked out of the hotel, crossed the road and strolled down the other street to Havana Club. At Havana Club, I found what I was looking for – a yummy late night snack and good internet connection. This was my last trip to Burundi and the year was 2013. Gone are the days when visitors like me used to feel safe enough to walk to the club in the middle of the night. That was when the 2% contribution I mentioned in the beginning of this story was still there.