While in Burundi, the tiny East African nation squeezed between the giants of Tanzania and DR Congo, it takes a while before I find a bus to visit Karera waterfalls, the country’s top tourist attraction.
Ten kilometers before reaching the town of Rutana there is a signpost pointing to the falls, a 14-kilometer journey on another motorcycle taxi. It is cool here; we are at an altitude of over 2,000 meters. I pass a fragrant eucalyptus forest and the old bike struggles to climb up the steep hills.
Four falls make up Karera, a Unesco-listed World Heritage Site where two streams of the Karera River plunge into a pool before falling in two more stages to the valley floor. I ask the young guide how high they are, normally the first thing any tourist might want to know, but the poor boy does not have a clue. “Fifty meters,” he says, after we have descended to the bottom in under five minutes. I doubt that and say it is a maximum of 30. “That is too little, sir!” he says, nearly begging.
I have so far seen no other foreign tourist and it will stay like this for another day. Many times on this trip, people ask “Can we help you?” or “Have you come to buy our products?” as I take photos of drying fish along the lake. The idea of a foreigner with no objective other than tourism is simply alien.
The motorcycle driver is in a bad mood when his bike breaks down on our way back. Together we push the heavy machine uphill. “This thing cost me $1,400,” he says. I wonder how many years and how many passengers it will take to earn back his investment.
After connecting twice I reach the village of Rutovu, the other top destination in Burundi. Here, people say, is the source of the mighty River Nile. Uganda normally claims that the point where Lake Victoria flows into the Nile is the source but, in Burundi, they reason that all streams flowing into the lake are sources, and this one is the furthest of all.
“Germans discovered this place in 1938,” says the tour guide, Gerard. “From here this water will flow 6,737 kilometers to Egypt.” The Germans built a symbolic small scale Egyptian pyramid on top of the hill to mark the site. The stream itself does not look very impressive or even natural as it comes from a pipe. Construction work is under way to dig a swimming pool. That could work as a tourist attraction.
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