Special Report: MTB in Rwanda

Walking down a narrow path, we soon found another omganda gang, this time to replace a bridge that had been swept away by storm waters five months earlier. Tall eucalyptus poles were placed to keep a five-meter-deep stream cutting off the road. We peddle the newly laid logs, bikes on our shoulders, to the cheers of the villagers, while a woman, who turns out to be the village chief, records the scene on her phone. “Thank you for visiting us”He tells me in almost perfect English with a wide smile.

We leave the second Umuganda meeting and leave the locals in high spirits (Ludo enjoyed some pamphlets and bunny hops) and have a new perception of the paths to follow. Umuganda manifests itself in a variety of societal actions across the country, from building homes to collecting trash (Rwanda is clearly the cleanest country I’ve ever visited).

The fact that the country has inadvertently formed the world’s largest group of bike path builders may be of little relevance to its residents when it comes to mountain biking at the moment, but it does make its hills a cycling destination. An ideal mountain pass for visitors and a source of income for locals when the Olivier (Ntakibazo-Tours) guide business takes off, which it will.

If you look at the rolling mountains of Rwanda, you will see countless Umuganda trails. They weave between hill settlements, climb to forest tops, and plunge into steep valleys swirling with mist and wood smoke. There are so many trails here that it’s hard to know where to start, at least without local knowledge, where Oliver is coming from.

Our guide’s appetite for singletrack and its role in helping us understand the ins and outs of Rwandan life is certainly invaluable, but the last trails we explore in Burera, a remote region that sees almost no tourism, are new to even Oliver. The closest tourist accommodation to these trails is on the paradisiacal little island of Cyuza, located north of Lake Burera and accessible by boat. There we camped for four nights, sleeping in comfortable safari tents erected under thatched roofs.

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