The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: La Palisse Gashora - Off the Beaten Track

opinion

ONE could choose to describe La Palisse Gashora as a place in the middle of nowhere. It is not a walking distance to any place. Its entire setting is grand and park-like, blanketed by an ever deafening silence only interrupted by the chirps of birds.

All through the sector of Gashora, Bugesera district in the Northern Province where La Palisse is located, it is Savannah country. The general topography of this area deviates from the national pattern of hills and valleys.

It is flat like a plateau. Perhaps for this reason, the bicycle is an ever present feature of the local culture. No where else in the country will you see as big a concentration of bicycles as here. Even the taxi motor boys at the Bugesera Taxi Park came across as aggressive and haughty as compared to their Kigali counterparts.

Perhaps that is what it means to operate in an area with such a dense population of bicycles. Unlike elsewhere in Rwanda, here almost more women can be seen riding bicycles away, baby strapped at the back and farm produce secured to the bicycle carrier. There does not seem to be any stigma attached to it here.

Subsistence farming and ecotourism seem like the main activities, away from the small grocers at the trading centre. Fields of cassava, beans, maize and sorghum are a central feature of the topography.

The expanse of lawns and recreational fields that form La Palisse Gashora leaves an almost disillusioning effect on the first visitor. In as much as the traditional five-star facilities typically sell ambience to their clients, La Palisse fronts its abundance of echo-friendly space instead. It is the ultimate place to relapse into a seat, relax, unwind, perhaps meditate by the beautiful lake view, read a book or simply be with your self.

I visited on a late Tuesday afternoon, and was greeted to a sedate welcome. Actually, it almost felt like walking in the lawns of a Catholic convent in a far-flung missionary outpost. Through the tree canopies, I could see groups of visitors dotted around the leafy lawns, offloading personal belongings and camping gear from their powerful 4 wheel drives.

It wasn't long before I realised I was the only lone visitor. The rest of the people I saw were huddled in groups of at least four. Unless you're a gifted loner, this would not be the kind of place to think of visiting without company. After a numbing one hour bus ride from Kigali, I was simply looking forward to kicking off everything and plunging into the shower for a cold bath.

At reception, a stiff guard was found to take me around the rooms. Little did I know that this would turn into a mini walking marathon! The cottages are built in a traditional dorm style, with a thick and rugged thatch of grass on top.

The outer walls are soaked in snow white oil paint. In setting them up, management obviously had exclusivity at the top of its mind. The cottages are set conveniently apart from each other, one can only afford a vague glimpse of the next one through the tree canopies.

The ruggedness of the dorms ends on the outside. Stepping in, I was welcomed by hot water, roomy and comfortable beds with mosquito nets that actually function, landline phone, television and internet hotspot. The plumbing was near-perfect. The dorms go for $60, and are a favourite for those on camping and honeymoon expeditions.

There is more accommodation that comes in the shape of semi detached doubles, which go for $100 (bed and breakfast.)

They do have a swimming pool (one of the cleanest in the country) that is well chlorinated and tended by a professional life guard. As a requirement, everyone must wash themselves with soap before taking a plunge. One can go for aerobics classes at the sports centre, which also has a fully fledged gym. In addition, the lawns also house a full-size football field and designated children's play area.

Be sure to run into a conference, workshop, office retreat and many family reunions and picnics when you visit.

In the evening, as I nursed my terrible loneliness with a Primus beer by the lake, I took notice of some obscure objects as they made a slow advance to the beach. I had been told the place is known for its large population of hippo and crocodiles, so I got up to scour for a better vantage point.

To my dismay, the apparitions were not lake creatures but local fishermen rowing their boats! I don't know if the crocs and hippos had just decided to go absent without leave, but I never got to see any.

A buffet breakfast comes with booking a suite, while the lunch and dinner buffets will set you back by Rwf 6, 000.

The service is great but also suspect in almost equal measure. Why a hotel of La Palisse Gashora's repute would want to employ a whole crop of linguistically challenged staff is beyond me. Putting a simple query across to them (as simple as the whereabouts of the manager or toilets) called for real hard work, plus generous doses of patience.

The guard that took me around the rooms was barely adept at Kiswahili, the only other language he knew apart from Kinyarwanda. At reception, every query in English had to be complimented with elaborate gestures. Placing a call over to the reservations desk can not possibly be any easier, I'm afraid.

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