The year was 2022, and Mark and I were headed to Rwanda from Kenya for what we hoped would be an unforgettable experience. It was my first time in the country and Mark’s second. Having read many positive reviews and experiences of other people’s visits, my excitement was through the roof!
During our trip to Rwanda, we categorized our experiences into three main buckets: visiting Kigali, participating in the Ironman 70.3 Rubavu Triathlon in Gisenyi (for Mark), and seeing the mountain gorillas at Volcanoes National Park.
Two of those activities went on as planned and they were quite exceptional. I enjoyed spending time in Kigali and truly appreciated the cleanliness of the city as well as the calm and friendly nature of the residents. And of course, the experience at the Volcanoes National Park with the gorillas was awe-inspiring.
But sandwiched in the middle of these incredible outings was the Ironman 70.3 Rubavu Triathlon, and that did not go on as planned.
What's Covered in this Post
Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in Rwanda…
The Ironman 70.3 consists of a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and 21km run. These events are timed and sequential. Therefore, each athlete or relay team participating would need to complete the section within the allotted time to continue the race.
Unfortunately, on his first outing, Mark suffered a panic attack during the swim and could not continue. After his intense training schedule the past year, this outcome was disappointing, to say the least. Rwanda held an unfinished business and he knew he had to go back to complete it.
Travelling from Kenya to Rwanda…
Just like our first visit, getting to Kigali from Nairobi was quick and seamless. We flew with RwandAir and arrived in Kigali after an hour and thirty minutes. Mark presented his Interstate Pass to the immigration officer, while I didn’t need to, as Rwanda is still visa free for Nigerian passport holders.
We rented a car from Kigali Car Rentals again and drove straight to Gisenyi. The drive took about four hours on well-tarmacked roads and was generally pleasant.
Driving from Kigali to Gisenyi
If you are considering doing this drive for the first time, I recommend spending your first night in Kigali, especially if your flight arrives in the afternoon. I also recommend downloading Waze, which gives you directions, as well as notifications of traffic and road conditions, police stops and speed cameras ahead.
Be aware of traffic and overtaking rules and ensure that your rental car has all the necessary documentation and licenses to avoid a fine.
Short and Sweet Gisenyi
Once we arrived in Gisenyi, we checked into an Airbnb situated right on the lake. The interior of the house was not particularly charming and some parts seemed to be in great need of proper maintenance. However, the outdoor area was stunning!
The home had a beautiful terrace and garden with park benches overlooking a small private beach area. Mark and I spent our mornings and evenings outdoors – with Mark taking several practice laps in the open waters and me frolicking close to shore.
Before my first trip to Rwanda, I was hesitant to visit or swim in Lake Kivu because of its infamous reputation as one of Africa’s “Killer Lakes.”
Swimming in Lake Kivu…
Lake Kivu is considered to be one of the most dangerous lakes in the world but not for the reasons you might suspect. There are no crocodiles or hippos in the lake, so in that regard, it is safe to swim in. Instead, the danger associated with Lake Kivu is related to its potential for a major, catastrophic limnic eruption.
It is one of three known “exploding lakes” in the world due to the presence of methane and carbon dioxide gases beneath its surface. These gases pose a potential risk if they were to be released in large quantities.
After the first Ironman 70.3 triathlon event, my paranoia subsided enough for me to enjoy our time in the lake.
As the race approached, my paranoia gave way to nervousness about Mark’s 1.9km swim. Nevertheless, I remained confident that he would advance to the next stage.
Ironman 70.3 Rubavu Rwanda Triathlon – Second Edition…
The day of the event was filled with excitement as athletes and supporters gathered at the race starting point. As a spectator, my nerves were getting the best of me. I couldn’t imagine what Mark and other (first-time) athletes felt.
I saw Mark jump into the water and watched him for a while before momentarily losing him among the sea of green swim caps.
I and other spectators cheered on the athletes as they emerged from the lake, and I was overwhelmed with relief and happiness when I spotted Mark swimming towards the finish line.
The most challenging part of his race was behind him, and now it was just a matter of completing the other two sections as quickly as possible. I hoped he wouldn’t experience any cramps or bike problems and that everything would go according to plan.
Luckily, the rest of the race went on smoothly and Mark completed it in about six hours! It was an emotional finish to a 1.5-year-long training journey and perhaps the start of a new lifestyle for us – and I mean, Mark with triathlons and me tagging along for the free vacations in picturesque destinations!