Informal Couchsurfing

Right now Im sitting at the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. The lake is so big it looks like Im looking out at the ocean, but I know Im not because there are 5 hippos wading in the freshwater grunting like asses every few minutes. Its 5:17 and the sun is about to go down, directly infront of me. Im at a place called the Touristic Beach, which is a huge restaurant/bar/patio/disco venue with seats for about 300 people, but Im only one of about 11 people, half of them staff, in this whole place. Im the only non-burundian, and alone, so it’s a perfect time to write.

the very lonely touristic beach, except for the wading hippos

Im staying here with a Burundian/Belgian couple, a pair of couchsurfers that live right by the lake. Its such an amazing luxury to be welcomed into someones house with a place to sleep, and in todays case, a hot lunch, when they’ve never even met me before. Couchsurfing truly revolutionizes travel.

Ive only had to stay in paid accommodation 2 nights so far, and my previous two hosts were informal couchsurfers. Elaine, a Tawainese American living in Kampala, offered me to stay with her when a mutual friend of ours wasn’t able to, after knowing eachother all of 15 minutes. I had her spare room, in the company of one playful mouse, who somehow found it entertaining to climb into my mosquito net, scurry up the side of it, hang upside down from the top, and then drop straight down on my shoulder, scaring the hell out of me dead asleep. Elaine lived on campus so it was perfect for attending my conference, and we went out one night for hookah and Ethiopian food before she literally gave me all the information I needed to plan my trip to Rwanda.

me and jon with a big silverback

She connected me with a couple of Belgian guys and one awesome South African guy named Jon in Kigali, where I was headed next, and after intending to only stopover a couple days, spent 3 nights in their house one night in Parc Volcan. There we managed to see the gorillas for an actually affordable price because of a friend of Jon’s, and took the best trek to the Susa group where more than 30, totally habituated gorillas surrounded us on a Dr. Seuss-esque landscape.

From Jon’s expat life I bounced to Ed’s expat life. In Bujumbura I spent half my time with an ex-schoolmate of Jon’s who introduced me to the mini-Europe community living in Bujumbura. On my first night there, we went out in a group for dinner to Belvedere, a patio restaurant on the hillside overlooking the city. None of us actually knew it at the time but we had the best seats to the lunar eclipse, so we watched the moon turn yellow, then orange, then almost deep red before totally blacking out. As eerily as it disappeared, it starting growing, fading to yellow again, until it returned to its normal white glow despite the apocalyptic feeling of it all.