Jan 172012

When I started planning this trip, my goal was to complete the trifecta of three years with New Years Eve in unusual places. After Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia was the logical choice. No matter how much I played with the flight schedules, however, it just wasn’t going to work. So, I had to settle on Somalia being part of the trip and then building some fun stuff around it. That’s how we ended up in Bujumbura for New Years Eve.

Talking to a few friends and colleagues who had spent lots of time in Buj, it was quickly apparent there wasn’t too much to do. But, with just over 24 hours, we were going to make the most of it. We found a good driver online, hired him, and it turned out to be a great idea. Quite on the expensive side, but the amount of sightseeing we crammed into just over six hours was insanely impressive.

We got to our hotel quickly thanks to the hotel’s complimentary airport pick-up, the “Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika.” We got offered an upgrade to a “junior suite” for very little, and took it for the awesome view onto the beach plus the bigger room:

We soon headed out, to the Rusizi Delta Nature Reserve.  It soon became pretty clear our guides hadn’t been here before either, because they had no idea the procedures to sign in, pay off the park wardens, etc etc.  Soon it was all arranged, we’d “paid” for a “soldier” to guide and guard us…and we were off…through the mud, potholes, and driving to the lakeside to see hippos.  Oh, and get bitten to death by thousands of mozzies.  I’m convinced I’m still a breeding ground for african mosquitos weeks later.

…and finally we were rewarded with an amazing vantage point!

Next it was off to what they called the “museum” but was unfortunately a really sad excuse for a zoo.  I actually felt terrible for all the animals, even though it was flooded with locals who seemed amazed by it.  Dear coworkers et al, please stop funding this place…it’s not good for anyone.

Next stop was the “Livingstone and Stanley Memorial” where Dr Livingstone and Lord Stanley supposedly ran into each other long ago, and the phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume” was uttered.  This has long since been disproven, but doesn’t stop them from having a monument!

View from Livingstone Monument:

Last stop was a monument, and honestly I can’t remember the details.  Was something to do with the independence of Burundi, but we were exhausted from jet lag by this point, so I don’t remember details:


Then…back to the hotel for New Years Eve.  This is where things got fascinating.  When we checked in, they were all excited about the hotel’s New Years Program.  They even gave us the itinerary:

As you can see, at 8pm Natasha and the Band were going to welcome us.  So, we went poolside, grabbed a large Primus beer, and waited…and waited.  8:30 came and went, and no sign at all of Natasha.  We also noticed the banquet hall had absolutely NO chairs in it.  Something was definitely up.

I’ll keep the next part short.  Soon, it was 10pm, and still no sign of Natasha, the band, or the chairs!  We gave up, and ordered pizzas from the pool bar menu.  25% of the price, and we could see the whole thing….so we still got the entertainment.  Around 10:45 finally, folks started screaming about “les chaises” – and yes, the chairs had arrived.  Where they came from remained a mystery, but clearly all of Burundi’s high society was there, mostly in suits and evening gowns.  This was clearly THE place in the entire country to be, and we would have been majorly underdressed.  As fascinating as eating with the group would have been, we definitely made the right decision.  it was just really strange…and nobody seemed to have a clue why the whole program was three hours behind schedule!

We made it to bed, Natasha and her cronies didn’t keep us awake thanks to earplugs, and got a great sleep.  Even got some great entertainment at breakfast the next morning from the local wildlife!

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