The Ruzizi, like many river deltas, split. The Petit Ruzizi formed the border with Congo. A couple of miles to the east, the Grande Ruzizi formed the border of the Ruzizi National Park, a small area of forest along the coastline. Jerod knew one of the guards well; Kelly was a godmother to one of his children, and he managed to persuade him to come with us to guide us around the park. He was a bit reluctant at first as he and his fellow guards were having a Sunday afternoon binge and playing cards, but a few US Dollars put him right. The bush started as acacia and similar scrub near the road, but became more tall grass and reed as we got closer to either the lake or river. There are no lions or elephants in this park, but there was plenty else to see. At various vantage points along the way, we could watch hippos bathing and crocodiles basking on the huge silty sandbanks midriver. Around them many bird species waded, pecked mites from the backs of the hippos, or flew around in a generally agitated state, as smaller birds are often want to do. The river’s perpetual flow brought along huge amounts of detritus; logs, reeds, plastic, much of it snagging on the bankside vegetation. A flock of weaverbirds had made their nests in the dead branches of a tree wedged into the silt; their delicate baskets waving in the wind.
The ground became boggier as we drove on, and the pitted track we were on was difficult to traverse in places. Jerod nearly flipped as we stuck at the bottom of one hollow. Not because the four-wheel drive could not get us out eventually, but because we had stopped right next to what looked like a huge mousehole in the reeds, about seven feet high. It was late afternoon, about the time the hippos began to think about grazing, and these mouseholes were the ways they tromped back and forth from the river. If we stayed here too long, we might have an encounter with one of these beasts. Most people when asked would suggest crocodiles are the worst animals to meet, but hippos account for more deaths in Africa than any other large beast. Although they can get aggravated and with their huge gaping jaws can do a lot of damage, quite often it is just because they will lumber into you while you are boating, or wandering through a riverside path, or having a picnic at a nice looking beach next to a lake, or stuck in a Toyota next to one of their favourite roadways. More than once did we hear some crashing in the bush while we tried to extricate ourselves. Fortunately, the mud was relatively hard and Jerod eased us up onto firmer ground.
A large look out post was situated just where the ground got too wet to drive on. Although I crashed my head on one of the wooden beams on climbing up, it didn’t spoil the view. Bujumbura was a tiny speck on the horizon, dwarfed by the escarpment below. The reeds gave out to the wide blue lake beyond, and to the west, thick reedy scrub obscured the Petit Ruzizi river and the border with Congo. I found it a little strange that Jerod was at his most relaxed in this park, so close to the border, with deep scrub that could harbour hundreds of guerrillas at any turn. But his logic was sound; few people lived close to the border, the agricultural land to the north was mainly commercial, well organised and with fewer settlements than elsewhere in the country. The land to the west was a potential threat, but Congo generally was at war with itself, and apart from a full blown invasion along the main road, which we would get wind of very easily, there was little chance of intrusion from over the border. So, this little patch of silt was one of the quietest and most peaceful corners of the whole country, and Jerod enjoyed to come here to relax and unwind – nowhere else, even at home, did this for him.