Battleship

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The greatest movie ever made was the 2012 blockbuster Battleship. I love this movie un-ironically. It is amazing. It is fantastic. It exceeds everything else that has ever hit the silver screen, and quite possibly any other form of art or self-expression that has been hoisted into the human consciousness. I will be having a totally normal day, and I am not joking here, but suddenly this absolute cinematic masterpiece will pop into my head and I can’t think of anything else. This happened today and I spent a few hours clipping out some of my favorite scenes and creating the gifset below with the hopes that magnificent triumph of storytelling will reach a greater appreciation throughout the world.

Let’s start with the basics of this movie. I am not so blinded with love that I don’t notice the movie’s flaws. The movie spends the first ten or fifteen minutes attempting, for some reason, to set up a love story or something. If I was director I would have skipped this and gone straight to fighting aliens. It features Taylor Kitsh as an undisciplined bad boy, forced into the Navy by his older brother (played by Alexander Skarsgård!) after he steals a burrito. The love interest is Brooklyn Decker, who’s admiral father is played by Liam Neeson! The cast this movie puts together! An absolute powerhouse collection of movie stars assembled so that the real stars of the movie, the ships, don’t too far outshine these bit characters. Other significant players include Tadanobu Asano as the captain of a Japanese destroyer inserted to play the straight man, and Gregory D. Gadson as an Army double amputee inserted to provide a message of overcoming setbacks, or something, and also beat the shit out of some aliens. And I haven’t even mentioned that this movie includes freakin’ Rihanna, who is an absolute badass in the role of Petty Officer Cora Raikes.

After the movie sets up this love story/bad boy plot, aliens land. Frankly the Navy handled the first encounter kinda poorly but who gives a shit because now we’ve set up the thrust of the movie: aliens have landed and it is them versus the finest goddamned Navy the world has ever seen. Due to that first encounter our bad boy Taylor Kitsh is in charge of the small fighting force left to actually fight the aliens, with a ragtag crew at his side. The rest of the movie is them kicking some serious alien ass.

So let’s discuss Battleship as it compares to some other examples of the Navy movie genre. The most famous Navy movie of all time is Top GunTop Gun is okay. Launching planes to “Danger Zone” is a great thing to do, but because of that scene the movie peaks right at the start and it’s all downhill from there. Then the rest of the movie you get like what? One and a half dogfights? Psh lame. Plus as a general rule aircraft carriers are pretty uncool; they have Starbucks onboard. Movies like the recent Hunter Killer have a special place in my heart for being submarine movies, but even that action-packed thriller suffers for featuring a Virginia-class; fast attacks are supposed to be nuclear-powered sports cars and any boat with bilge keels is more like a minivan. But what does the movie Battleship offer you?

Mahalo Motherf

Battleship offers you RIHANNA SHOOTING AN ALIEN IN THE FACE WITH A FIVE INCH CANNON. Citizen Kane parades itself around as the greatest movie ever made, but at no point in Citizen Kane does an absolute fantastic piece of naval hardware get used to obliterate an alien at point blank range by one of the most versatile women of the modern era.

Fire Everything

The whole movie (except for the love story portions) is just badass nautical action after badass nautical action. It doesn’t hold back. In the above scene they think they’re down to a one-on-one battle, and they decide to throw literally everything their destroyer has at the alien ship. They launch every missile, they got all the dudes on machine guns, and our bad boy and his Japanese buddy are on the bow with 50 cal rifles for absolutely no good reason except for that it is fucking awesome.

Approach

But the real star of this movie, the real reason you came to see it, is the titular battleship, the USS Missouri, BB-63, the Mighty Mo’ herself. Here is another sincere, deeply held belief of mine: the Iowa-class battleships are the most beautiful thing mankind has ever created. The four sister ships are the largest and most powerful warships to ever float (that survived the war anyways) and represent the pinnacle of warship design in the final glorious age of that artform. Those babies got curves. Left without other options, our ragtag crew decide to try to bring her back to life and go head to head with the aliens once again.

Old Guys

And thus kicks off the greatest 10 minutes of cinematic history to the tune of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, itself perhaps the finest accompaniment possible to the seagoing splendor of this film. The crew has a problem: they have no idea how to drive the Mighty Mo’. But no worries! Out of the woodwork come the original crew of the battleship. There is a whole scene where old, proud men with even older and prouder mustaches appear in mankind’s greatest moment of need to take the old but gallant girl out of retirement to face battle one more time.

Big Wave

I cannot stress enough that I am being 100% honest here, but the whole scene where they bring the ship back to life gives me tingles every time I watch it. It’s so magnificent. The enginerooms on steamships always get me hot and bothered anyways, but watching, even in CGI, an Iowa-class battleship get the fires in her heart lit once more very nearly brings tears to my eyes. And to watch the bow crash through the waves on her way to her sacred duty one last time would be a sight I would do anything to see for real if I could.

Alien Tackle

A brief interlude here to emphasize this movie has everything. I love the battleship most of all but there is a whole storyline that happens on land, and that storyline is badass. On the ship, they needed a five inch cannon to take out one of the aliens. Our double-amputee friend though, he just straight up tackles one of the dudes. He goes toe to toe with a huge armored alien and he doesn’t even have any toes. He’s an Army dude so that’s points against him but still man, respect.

Power Slide

But back to the battleship. I love the movie Casablanca. Play it Sam, play as “Time Goes By.” We’ll always have Paris. Here’s looking at you kid. Fantastic. But at no point in Casablanca do they powerslide a freakin’ Iowa-class warship and then fire a broadside at an alien spaceship. I mean holy shit. It’s Tokyo Drift but with 57000 long tons. Show me another movie that powerslides an Iowa-class battleship and I’ll show you another movie that has even half a chance at beating this one as the greatest of all time.

Drop Some Lead Small

And just look at that broadside in action. I’m only giving you seconds-long chunks of these scenes, and all silent. It goes on for ten minutes or more, just non-stop battleship action. I could run the thesaurus dry and not have the words to convey it to you. You have to watch it.

Old Dude Shooting

Even the old dudes get in on the action! In Marine Week, we were taught to hold a machine gun burst for the amount of time it takes you say “Die Motherfucker Die.” These old dudes 100% ignore that advice and fuckin’ get some when it comes to shooting aliens. The ship is already launching full broadsides of 16″ rounds at these aliens and they’re still firing 50 cal machine guns I think mostly for funsies. Amazing. Fantastic. World-class.

Stupid Jets

The only major mark against the movie though frankly is right at the end. After all this SWOtivating battle action, after our blackshoe friends do all the hard work and kill 90% of the aliens and knock down the force field that was keeping the rest of the Navy at bay, some freakin’ pilots swoop in and act like they actually contributed. Terrible. Pilots. Ugh.

So that’s the movie Battleship. It’s so fantastic. It’s everything you could possibly want in a movie. It’s got romance. It’s got intrigue. It’s got the Navy’s finest warships going head to head with an advanced alien race and kicking their fucking asses by virtue of being total badasses. I love this movie. Please spread my gospel.

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Pirate Hunting

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The high seas.

Reading this week:

  • China’s Second Continent by Howard W. French

Back over the weekend before the 4th of July, we went pirate hunting. For the holiday my mom went off on a cruise with some of her sisters, and so my dad, my brother, and I went off to go look at pirate stuff enroute to my grandma’s house for the holiday. Specifically, we were looking at Blackbeard stuff. Eddy Teach there, during his illustrious two-year career had made the Outer Banks island of Ocracoke his favorite anchorage. So, three hundred years later, my brother decided that Ocracoke was the land of his swashbuckling dreams.

Ocracoke is a lovely little island much better known for its beaches and touristy vibe. People drive around in golf carts, lifted trucks, and jeeps. We had a two-wheel drive Jetta. To get there we took a ferry from Hatteras, and I am always a fan of any high-seas adventure. I wasn’t in charge of this trip, and was literally just along for the ride, so I hadn’t done any research into where crap actually was on this island. Neither, apparently, had anyone else on this trip. After a brief consultation of a decorative illustration based on a 300-year-old map and a comparison of said map to Google Maps, we set off down a dirt road that quickly turned to sand that quickly turned to us getting stuck.

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Luckily for us, the beach towing dude happened to be driving by and spotted us in our plight. I mean this is exactly where you’d get stuck if you were dumb enough to get stuck so I assume he just hangs out here all day. He was very nice though and gave us some directions. Personally, I had been pushing to visit the lighthouse first because Google Maps said it closed at 1700 and it was around 1500 by the time we got to the island and got some lunch. Our tow-line enabled friend told us in the midst of rescuing us that Teach’s Hole, which is where Blackbeard liked to anchor, was near the lighthouse and nowhere near our fateful sandtrap. So finally off to the lighthouse we went.

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The lighthouse is pretty nice! The worry about it closing at 1700 was silly because you can’t go into it (I guess you can go into the bottom sometimes), so all you can do is stand nearby and look at it. It proclaims itself at the second oldest still-operating lighthouse in America and well um. Sure. Besides the above picture I took another picture from somewhat closer and both depict a 75′ tall brick tower.

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But finally we set off down a trail in a little miniature state park and we came upon Teach’s Hole! There is of course nothing much to look at because by definition an anchorage is just a stretch of water and stretches of water look much like any other stretch of water. There were people swimming. We did not swim.

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There is also on the site the above boarded-over well. This well was apparently used by Blackbeard. So that’s neat.

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Ocracoke also takes advantage of its pirate history for some good ole-fashioned tourist stuff. One of these things is “Teach’s Hole,” which is mostly a pirate-themed gift shop with a small set of Blackbeard-themed displays. The entry fee for the displays is $4 (free with $15 purchase in the gift shop) and the displays were probably worth about $4. They’re very nicely done but my favorite was a diorama depicting “Blackbeard’s Beach Party” because they used Duplos to put it together. All the rest of the displays are well-done replicas and models and things but then out of nowhere they use kid’s toys to display a party so legendary we’re still talking about it three centuries later.

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After a night on the island we set off the next day on the ferry back to the mainland, landing on Ceder Island and driving on down to Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum and that place is really nice! First off the admission is free and let me tell ya it is worth every penny. We got there only 45 minutes before it closed so we didn’t have a long time to look around, but we got the gist of it.

The museum is most famous for hosting artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge. The QAR, as the museum referred to it, was of course Blackbeard’s ship. They found it a few years back and brought up a bunch of artifacts and stuck them in the Maritime Museum. The QAR section of the museum is the largest section, but they also have a lot of displays on other watercraft from the region, the local marine life, and maritime history. They also have a library that is decorated exactly how I would like a library in my own dream house decorated, so always nice to get some #DesignInspo along with my #nautical.

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Our final pirate-related adventure was a block away to the Old Burying Ground which contained the grave of Captain Burns, an American privateer during the War of 1812. Mostly I wanted to go because it was on Atlas Obscura, but I got to find out his ship was called the “Snapdragon.” This is funny to me because on the submarine we had these exercises called Snapdragon and we hated them (maybe that was just me) so we called them “Snatchdragon” and this dude’s got a whole boat named that. Poor guy.

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And so with that we were off to grandma’s house. Far fewer pirates at grandma’s house.

Rwanda Day 4 & 5: End of the Trip

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Kandt House.

Reading this week:

  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
  • The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis

After milking my COS for literally months of blog posts, my trip is complete!

Leaving Kibuye I got a little adventurous. After waking up early to watch the clouds change color as the sun rose, I wanted to explore some of the peninsulas that jut out into the lake. I was driving around and eventually I went down a road that was just someone’s driveway, and which ended at a gate with no way to turn around. I had to back some ways down a bumpy dirt road where if I went too far I’d fall of a cliff. I’m still alive, but decided to call it after that. The road to Kigali was perhaps the scariest so far for being a little pot-holed and right up against the tallest cliffs I’d seen in Rwanda. The weirdest sight (out of context) was a dude by the side of the road just holding up a catfish he was trying to sell. It looked like the only one he had and there he was standing near a bend holding up a catfish, staring at people driving by.

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On the way to Kigali.

I made it to Kigali in good time and decided to go to the National Art Museum. I had been using maps.me to get around, and it had been pretty good in Rwanda but failed hard in Kigali. The problem is that it contains a lot of “roads” that are more or less impassible dirt tracks, and also it wants to take you on the absolute shortest route. So first it lead me to the wrong side of the airport, trying to get me to cross over behind the airport via a dirt path. I didn’t go down because there was a motorcyle that wouldn’t move, and almost couldn’t make it back because the path was too steep. When I went on the other side of the airport it had me go down this side road and then up this dirt path that was also impassible, and I spent some time turning around again. Then I found another road, and it lead me to another dirt road, which I felt couldn’t be right because the art museum is in a the former Presidential Palace, but it lead me there. There is a tarmac road that leads straight there but I guess it isn’t the absolute shortest path so maps.me didn’t take me that way.

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Back yard of the art museum, because they don’t allow pictures inside.

The art museum was nice. I had the place to myself and was lead around by a rather nice lady. No pictures though which was disappointing, and being lead by a guide made it a little weird to see the museum. You can’t really stand there and contemplate art when she is explaining stuff and leading you around. There was one piece I liked, but maybe it was just the well-carved boobs. The president had some nice digs, but it was built in 1976 and looks like it. We also went to the Presidential Plane Crash Site, which is just out back. This was where the President’s plane crashed, sparking the Rwandan Genocide. There are parts of the plane strewn about, but more interestingly is the 17 or so crested cranes walking around. Apparently they use the place as a crested crane rehabilitation center, and the cranes are beautiful.

I drove to my B&B with relative ease, but driving through Kigali is a bit of a trip. Cars and motorcycles drive on the same roads and the same time, but they’re not really part of the same system. They both tend to both drive without regards to the other and it was my experience that the system worked best when you in fact drove your car more or less without regard to the motorcycles (I mean, don’t hit them). I had the whole next day in Kigali, so I wasn’t so pressed to fill up all my time, but I spent the evening on a walk around the neighborhood.

The next day, the first place I went was the Genocide Memorial. They search your car and give you a patdown before you go in; I wonder what threats they have had. The genocide memorial has a whole museum that is pretty well done. I have a lot of disparate thoughts here. First off the memorial also has a cafe which, I dunno. “We will never forget the horrible things that happened! Never again! Enjoy our cafe and free wifi!” One bit I found weird was a line in the memorial talking about the some of the benefits white people brought to Rwanda, including Christianity. The very next line notes the role in the Catholic church fostering racial/ethnic divides between the Tutsis and the Hutus, both helping to elevate the Tutsis more and then also telling the Hutus they were being oppressed. Again, there ya go. I exited via the Genocide Gift Shop. I bought a lapel pin.

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Leftover from the Natural History Museum.

From there I went to the Kandt House Museum. The weirdest part of the museum was right before I arrived, because just up the road is a garage or something. As I was driving a bunch of guys jumped out and kinda surrounded the car and I was worried I was going the wrong way or something. Turns out they just had a car wash deal. The museum used to the be the natural history museum so around back they have a single, small crocodile and several snakes. Neat. The house itself is pretty nice and contains displays on the history of Rwanda. Some things I learned: Making a single traditional hoe from the ore requires 300kg of charcoal. This means that around 1907, when a bunch of pictures on display were taken, and presumably before that, the country was largely deforested. This was also beneficial to provide pasture for raising cows. The Kings all had like, one of five names, depending on what they needed to do doing their reign. These names were things like “Warrior,” or “Yari,” which means “Peace.” The museum had two wheels that had been used to transport a steam launch (I thought it was named the “Dampfbarkasse” but turns out that just means “Steam Launch” in German). They had a display on traditional courts, and the two punishments mentioned were making beer to provide to everyone, or death. Quite the delta there. The guide also related a story of how apparently the Rwandan people though the whole world was between the three hills of Kigali. Then the Chief climbed Kigali Hill, and saw, like, the rest of Rwanda, and that’s how they found out there was a whole world out there.

From there, off to the Campaign Against Genocide Museum. This is in the parliament building. Again, you gotta get patted down and have your car searched. The displays are interesting (in a “kinda weird”) sense. The museum focuses on the RPF’s actual military campaign against government forces. The museum is where it is because the 3rd Battalion (I assume that is what “3BN” means) of the RPF forces were stationed in the parliament building as part of the Arusha Peace Accords. So when the genocide began there was an RPF force in Kigali already. What clicked at the museum is that like, Kigali itself was a battlefield. They have a war painting of the RPF attacking the sports stadium. That put a new perspective on things. The interesting/weird part though was it was a bit technical. They had a display that they repeated a few times that looks like a powerpoint slide from some military strategy presentation, talking about phases of operation and arrows for things like “media efforts.”

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Gumboots.

The most stunning thing to see was the RPF’s uniforms, which included gumboots as combat boots. That amazed me. I’m not making fun of them for being poor, I am just impressed. I was stunned when all the rangers climbed Virunga in gumboots, and here are these people fighting a war in them. There are apparently some statues and stuff outside, but it was raining so I didn’t bother to look, and I wasn’t feeling great, so I just went back to the B&B. And except for the trip to the airport, that wrapped up my Rwandan vacation and COS trip.

After 24 hours or so of travel and a layover in Qatar, I landed at Dulles airport. Then I stood in the line for customs for 2.5 hours. Frankly if I had known the line for America was that long I might not have come. Me and the customs guy: How are you? I was good two hours ago. Where you coming from? Rwanda. Did you meet anyone there? Nope. Have any business or any friends or relatives? Nope. So you met no one at all? Nope. Why did you choose to go to Rwanda then? Because it is beautiful. What is your profession? Nothing at the moment. What did it used to be? Peace Corps Volunteer. Do you have any food or anything to declare at all? Nope. He let me pass but I don’t think he liked me. And so after 27 months I was back in the US of A. Dad drove me home and I napped.

Rwanda Day 3: Chimpanzees

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Reading this week:

  • American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

The big highlight of this day was chimpanzee tracking. I woke up early early in the morning and met up with the group at the Gisikuru Ranger Station. From there we drove about an hour and a half to an isolated patch of forest where a habituated group of chimpanzees live. The gorillas gave me high expectations for the chimpanzees, despite warnings. We parked our cars at the edge of the forest and set out on foot. The walk was farther than I anticipated, though not actually that far, though the guide kept saying things like “we are close” when our definitions of “close” differed significantly. Eventually we went off the trail, down a slick near-vertical portion of the hill. “Not far!” I was annoyed and the views of the chimpanzees weren’t that good. We kept shifting slightly over the cliff face there to try to get a better view, but it was only faraway glimpses of chimps through trees. Ugh. We eventually went back to the trail and things got better.

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A small group of the chimps (three or four) were walking down the trail and we were basically following them. I got some pictures of chimp butts. Eventually though the chimps climbed a tree to eat some fruit and we scrambled up the hill a short ways and were pretty level with the chimps and got some great photos. One of the dudes on the trek had this huge camera he had a porter carry. It was impressive. We hung out for a while watching the chimps eat and climb around some and then eventually they left and we did too. I was annoyed on the way back because some of the people were super slow and it took forever to get back but we got back.

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From there I set off for Kibuye. The drive is fantastic. Most of it is right along Lake Kivu, hugging the hills that descend into twisty bays all along the coast of the lake. I got to Kibuye and was hungry for lunch. I wound up at Home Saint Jean to get some food. I was trying to find another place but Maps.me lead me there and I was okay with that. It’s this gorgeous castle-looking place perched on a hill that juts out into the bay, maybe 100m up from the lake. I had a rather good lunch and the manager convinced me to get a room because it was only 15000 francs and a pretty nice room with a lake view.

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Continuing my collection of national museums, I darted off to visit the Museum of the Environment. The tour guide showed me around; it is a pretty nice museum though very small. The most interesting thing for me is the Apollo Moon Rock that Reagan gave the country back in 1973. They had a display on energy production and I found out a drill platform looking thing I spotted in the lake from Rubavu is the methane extraction platform so that’s neat. Also that Rwanda produces a good chunk of electricity from peat. The guide told me that the evolution display is kinda contentious in Rwanda, and that he has had trouble convincing people that butterflies come from caterpillars. They have some stuffed animals and I think their star display is of a crocodile found with some shoes undigested in its stomach (the shoes are also displayed). On the roof they have some native plants which were neat to see and then the museum was pretty much over. After that I came back to the hotel and just hung out because frankly I was pretty exhausted from all the traveling. I haven’t been to the Mediterranean but you could have convinced me the view was in the most picturesque chunk of Italy or Greece.

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Rwanda Day 2: Nyungwe

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The whole country is picturesque valleys like this.

After sitting in the car for a bit writing down all my thoughts to process them, I drove to Nyungwe. Nyungwe National Park is gorgeous. Most of Rwanda is cultivated. I kept stopped today before the memorial to take pictures of valleys, and they’re all amazing with these patches of farm and different terraces. But then you get to Nyungwe and it is just forest so it is very different (except for the national parks, Rwanda is almost entirely under cultivation). Plus I kept gaining altitude as I went west (or at least the hills are taller and so I guess the valleys deeper) and on top of a lot of the hills the clouds were touching them and seeming to rise from the forest itself. I kept wanting to take pictures but I was trying to get to Uwinka Reception Center before 1300 to make the Canopy Walk on time. It’s a pretty and fun slash scary drive because of all the curves and hills. Later on I passed a truck that had crashed right into the wall of the hill because it didn’t turn fast enough. Better than barreling over the side. The driver was cooking some food as I passed so he’s okay.

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Nyungwe.

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Jean D’Amour

I arrived at the visitor’s center there and arranged to go on the canopy walk tour. It’s overpriced frankly at $60, but I also arranged to see chimpanzees the next day for $90, and what I am telling myself is that chimps is actually a bargain at $150. Anyways. My guide was Jean D’Amour and he was very nice. I was alone; it isn’t exactly tourist high season here. We went down the trail and he told me some stuff about plants and things. He showed me a plant people use as toilet paper because it is soft, and a vine that is taking over the park because only elephant and buffalo eat it and both are extinct in the park. Plus a medicinal tree. Neat. But trouble was brewing. First he ran into a guide that told him the bridge was broken. But, he said, a Canadian was fixing it. Then we ran into said Canadian. He said he was off to get tools and it would be 1-2 hours. Jean suggested we just wait at the bridge. We kept going and then ran into more Canadians. One was named Ian and was very friendly. He told me about cool bridges like this one in Vancouver, and that he had installed a zipline going from the Foxwoods Casino in CT to the Foxwoods Museum, and also that the museum wasn’t doing so hot and only got 50,000 visitors a year despite the casino getting 1,000,000, and the zipline was a ploy to get more. He also said that the bridge cost $800,000 to build and the park gets $500,000/year from it, which is like 8000 something Non-Resident Foreigners. But he also highly doubted the 1-2 hour time estimate to fix it. So Jean made some phone calls and arranged for me to see the bridge the next day, provided it was fixed.

Canopy Walk

Sex appeal.

But we went to the bridge anyways because I could go to the first platform (there are actually two platforms and three bridges, with the big center bridge between the two platforms out of commission) and check it out. It was in fact pretty neat. Jean insisted on a like, full on photo shoot so I have 20 pictures of me on and around the bridge.

After the bridge I had a nice little lunch at the place. I was heading out and the receptionist guy asked for a lift to Gisikoro and I was happy to oblige. That was pretty neat because he answered some questions in the car. Along the road in the forest there is an army guy stationed every few hundred meters. I figured they were for poachers but he said they were also there because the forest is on the border with Burundi and there is fighting there. So that’s kinda scary? We saw a monkey along the way, and he told me that the name of the swamp in Kinyarwanda means “Swallows Elephants” because back when there were forest elephants in the park I guess they would get stuck in the swamp.

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The tea process.

I dropped him in Gisikoro and then went to the Gisikoro Tea Factory for a tour. That was very informative! It cost $10 and I was again alone so I had what I think was the foreman leading me around. The tour was of the processing facility. We went to the loading dock where the tea leaves are delivered from the fields. They are first tested for the proper ratio of good and bad leaves. “Good leaves” are the new tea leaf shoots, so the end of the branch plus one or two leaves. They require 65% of the incoming leaves to be “good” leaves. The other 35% are the “bad” leaves, which are any leaves other than the apical portion. Once they verify the ratio, they go on “withering” beds, which are large beds with screens on the bottom through which warm air is blown. This happens for 12 hours and the leaves lose 30% of their mass from water evaporation. After that they are loaded into bags and onto a hoist system, and then taken to a chopper. They are chopped very finely using first a regular looking cutter and then like shredder wheels. These wheels go so fast they make steam come out of the leaves. The smell in this portion of the process is a lot like fresh cut grass.

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Tour guide and fermentation beds.

So the leaves come out into very fine chunks and then go onto these conveyors that use paddles (and speed I assume) to control the heat and there the leaves ferment. They go from green to brown in this step. What makes black tea black is fermentation; green tea is just dried with no fermentation. After fermentation the leaves are dried using a steam drier. Then they are sorted and graded. Apparently tea bag tea is lower quality and contains stems. He showed me a tray with different grades of tea and you could really see the difference. It was pretty neat. We went out back to check out the machine shop which was very nice and used to maintain equipment like the cutting rollers. We also saw the wood-fired boilers that provide the drying steam. They are very large and there were dudes tossing in logs. They made sure I got some good pics. The boilers were made in England and have been operating since 1974.

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Tea grades.

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ATTENTION TO BURN. I always brake for boilers.

After that I set off and found a lodge. That involved me driving some places I shouldn’t have, and I very nearly got stuck in a bad spot of road where the necessary wheels of the car were not on the ground. At the lodge I ran into some people that knew a friend of mine, and some other people that climbed Nyiragongo the day after I did, which goes to show that Rwanda is I guess a small country. I spent some time reflecting on how one day could involve seeing genocide victims and then hiking through the most stunning natural beauty of Rwanda, and finish with a tour of a tea factory. Africa is a great deal more complex than most people give it credit for.

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Tea fields.

Rwanda Day 2: Murambi Genocide Memorial

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Murambi Genocide Memorial. They ask visitors not to take pictures at the site.

Reading this week:

  • Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

My first major observation on my second full day in Rwanda was that if you don’t like passion fruit, you should just leave. They serve it for breakfast and dessert and all the time. After my passionate breakfast, it was some errands and souvenir shopping. I stopped by a Huye coffee to buy some souvenir coffee for friends, and as happened often to me in Africa there was a dude “sneakily” taking selfies where I just so happened to be in the background. After I said to him “you could just ask, you know” (I did a whole photoshoot with two dudes while I was at Great Zimbabwe because they asked) he sheepishly put away his phone and walked off.

The major destination for the day was the Murambi Genocide Memorial. I got a little turned around, but eventually came across it. I had the place to myself, tourist-wise. I could have parked closer but I didn’t know that and it felt more appropriate to walk up to the memorial. The memorial, which was going to be a technical school, is perched on top of a picturesque mountain surrounded by other picturesque mountains and farms. It’s really stunningly beautiful and the grounds and so peaceful and serene. I walked in the front door and the lady working there gave a short explanation and I was off into the exhibits.

The first part is an explanation of the history of the genocide. It’s really well done though a little abrupt (I feel like they skip some details), but then again they do it in three languages so every time you add anything you add triple. The biggest thing I learned I think was about the participation of the French. The French troops were supporting the government which was initiating the genocide. At Murambi specifically they repeatedly gang raped the girls there and played volleyball pretty much on top of a mass grave. They fought to repel the RPF, who are credited with ending the genocide. At the end of these exhibits there are two “burial chambers” where bodies were supposed to be on display. I knew they had bodies at Murambi and so I steeled myself but when you go into the rooms the chambers are empty. So I was somewhat relieved, frankly. That was the end of this part and for the next part the lady took you around the outside.

Outside, they have an uncovered (and empty) mass grave to give you a sense of the scale of the killing (as numbers go, approximately 50,000 people were murdered, which makes it 5% of the total victims of the genocide). Then you go back into the former dormitories. In the first few rooms they have clothing that was removed from some of the bodies and used for identification by the families. She took me to the location of the former volleyball court and where the French had installed rockets to repel the RPF.

Then she took me to the bodies. I thought I had “gotten out of” seeing the bodies, but before you know it she is showing you the rooms. It was not what I expected. I kinda figured they would be behind glass or something because I had glimpsed glass cases through some windows. But you turn the corner and you are just in the room with the bodies, with nothing between you and them. You can smell them. Some of the people still have hair and some still have clothes. They are laid out on platforms and are skeletal. On some the skin has broken and ribs are exposed. There are adults and children and babies. I went into all the rooms in the first block because I felt I had to. There were maybe 20 people per room. I think there were four or five rooms. After those rooms were the rooms I had seen with the glass cases. In the first two rooms the cases were filled with just femurs, sorted by age and sex. “Female over 30,” “Male under 30.” I tried counting but couldn’t. I think each case represented something like 30 people. Then the next few rooms had skulls, neatly laid out in rows and again sorted by age and sex. Some of the skulls were smashed or had whole chunks missing. Somehow to me the femurs were more impactful than the skulls because skulls are people but femurs are just kind of the anonymous tolling of death.

In that block I think there were the remains of 200 or so people, which is such a tiny fragment. There were two more blocks but I couldn’t bring myself to go look. The last stop was the mass grave where the people were re-interred. She said that there were 50,000 people in it. It’s just a white tiled platform on the top with flowers laid on it, but it’s where 50,000 people are. And then with that tour is over and you are walking down the driveway of the memorial looking at those picturesque mountains again.

Rwanda Day 1

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The Rock of Kamegeri. I don’t know why I made this expression.

The rest of my COS trip I spent driving around Rwanda and looking at stuff. To drive around Rwanda I of course rented a car. This was fantastically simple. I called up this car rental agency and 30 minutes later they showed up to my hotel with a car. They didn’t even look at my driver’s license or anything. We drove together to an ATM so I could get cash to pay them, and then they left on a motorcycle taxi. So there I was in the middle of an African city in charge of a car when I hadn’t driven in 27 months. I can happily report that I never crashed and only got pulled over once. I did several times find myself driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, but thankfully there was no one else around.

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Some lumps of clay that will be pottery someday. I took this picture just to justify my trip to this pottery place.

My first destination was the Rock of Kamegeri. I stopped in town first to get some lunch. Due to my lack of French I only got fries and a salad, but it was pretty good and I went off for the rock. I blew past it at first because it didn’t have the promised sign, but went back, took a picture, and I was on my way to Gatagara Pottery. My usual shtick when left to my own devices on vacation is to look at as much stuff as possible, and in Rwanda I was going hard and fast. Gatagara is supposed to feature local artisans you can see at work. When I arrived no one was there, but the guard at the next door hospital called a dude for me. No one was potting that day, and the dude just opened up the gift shop for me. I bought a bowl and a cup (they both look pretty cool) mostly out of guilt for dragging the guy out there, but it was only about $6.

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Outside of the King’s Palace.

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The roof of the palace. The place was fantastically sturdy for being grass.

After that I was bound for the King’s Palace Museum. I went to three of Rwanda’s eight national museums that day. The King’s Palace Museum was pretty amazing. So the king (and according to the guy at the Ethnographic Museum, most Rwandans) lived in a giant hut made of grass. It’s woven like a giant basket and seems pretty darn sturdy no matter what the three little pigs taught me. It was amazing just to see the structure. We also met the small herd of royal cows with gigantic horns. The cows are just decorative though; they don’t eat them, and bury the cows when they die. They also had the “palace” built for the king by the Germans (It’s a rather nice and airy house) which was neat.

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Royal cows.

Then I was off to the nearby Museum of Rwesero, which is housed in the new palace the King was having built after a tour of Europe and seeing the other king’s digs (he died before it was finished). The museum used to be the art museum, but is now kinda nothing, and housed on the ground floor some iron smelting products (kinda neat actually) and upstairs an exhibit on fashion, but that was only bad pictures. I didn’t spend long, though I admired the banisters made out of spears. After this it was off to Huye.

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The Rwandans were big into spears, the king especially so. I asked the lady working there and she confirmed the spears were original to the new palace and thus at the King’s own behest. I liked his decorating style.

I arrived at Huye at about 1630 and wavered as to go to the Ethnographic Museum, since it closed at 1800. I decided to go and it was enough time. I got a guided tour by an extremely knowledgeable tour guide who was able to answer some random esoteric questions I had about the artifacts. There’s nothing too crazy in the museum (by which I mean I’m not new to the concept of a winnowing basket) but it is very nicely done and has a lot of stuff and like I said the tour guide was excellent and I was alone in the museum. The tour took an hour and I poked around by myself for a few more minutes and then head out. A whirlwind first full day of my actual Rwanda vacation.

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Displays from the Ethnographic Museum.