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Travellers on ton-up trip


Two North East adventurers totted up their holiday destinations to find one of them had achieved a total of ninety-nine separate countries.

Alastair Gilmour uncovers a surprise in their choice of the hundredth

In a bar in Amsterdam, my wife and I fell into conversation with a couple from South Carolina. We were waiting for a bus; they were waiting for a bus.

Newly-retired Clarissa and Theodore had just begun their month of ‘doing’ Europe in a hectic schedule that came straight out of the 1969 romantic comedy If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium. We envied them in one way and felt for them in another.

I was reminded of the occasion – a memorable hour by the way – when an old friend mentioned that his regular travelling companion had clocked up a visit to 99 different countries and was about to spin the globe for inspiration to mark Operation One Hundred.

Nick Snaith from Whickham, Gateshead, and Morpeth resident Mike Hall had experienced most of the glories Europe has to offer, plus the wonders of the Middle East, the Far East, Central America, Asia and parts of Africa but a long-running political bruhaha vied for special consideration. Rwanda.

Neither Mike nor Nick is particularly politically motivated, but the nation had left its mark via our Government’s policy to send all asylum seekers there who cross the Channel in small boats. The logic being that this will act as a deterrent, despite a Supreme Court ruling that Rwanda is unsafe for such an enterprise.


Nick Snaith and Mike Hall don’t do ‘normal’ tourism – no lazy days on beaches; they have a genuine curiosity for the world and a desire to absorb other cultures­. They’ll take whatever public transport there is, whether it’s bus, train or in some of the more remote areas, the local taxi driver who can be even cheaper and loads more convenient.

And tawdry, downtrodden bars and cafes hold no fears with the whole point of being away from home comforts is to experience life as it’s lived in the locality, not something from a wholesome travel documentary whose sole purpose is to attract the dollar or the euro.

Local men take a break from working on the terraced agricultural land near Mohangu, Rwanda

City Hall in Kigali, the country’s capital.
Gorillas are the symbol of Rwanda.

For instance, in Croatia’s most basic pubs they’ll order the country’s strongest beer, Tomislav Pivo, a dark lager at 7.0% abv, while in Romania it’s normally Ursus Premium Pils (5.2% abv) or if they’re around there in September they’ll head for the Cluj Napoca beer festival in the heart of Transylvania. In Laos, BeerLao – part-owned by the government and described as Asia’s best beer – will do at a push if there’s nothing more interesting on offer, supplemented by bowls of noodle soup in every flavour imaginable.


Gatanu (5.1%abv) is described as ‘easy drinking’


Nick says: “Rwanda is about a third the size of Scotland. It’s a stunning little country, crammed into the borders of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“It’s known as Le Pays Des Mille Collines – The Land of a Thousand Hills – but it could easily be called Land of Ten Thousand Hills as everywhere seems to be uphill. Oddly never downhill.

“Drinking culture is widespread with bars even in the smallest villages selling locally brewed beers. Premius and Mützig – grassy and slightly lemony flavoured with a solid malt backbone – are the most popular brands, with Virunga, Skol and Heineken also popular. Bottles of 65cl retail at about 1,200-1,500 Rwandan francs (around 95p to £1.20) with smaller bottles costing around 1,000 francs.

Virunga Gold (6.5%abv) proved a favourite with its earthy bitterness

“Premius is a bit thin and not particularly to my taste. Virunga Gold – at 6.5% abv – was my favourite with its earthy bitterness. Another popular beer is Gatanu which means ‘five’ in Kinyarwanda (the official language, along with French and English) and is described as ‘an easy drinking beer brewed with a mix of locally-produced cereals and high quality malt… which has gained a reputation as a fun accelerant’.

“Urwagwa banana ‘beer’ is also very popular, which plays a significant role in the social, economic and cultural life of Rwanda. It’s a spirit distilled from… yes, bananas. I actually wasn’t brave enough to sample it although the locals assured me it was ‘very good’.”

The Government’s commitment to processing migrants in Rwanda has caused deep political and social divisions with prime minister Rishi Sunak insisting that “we are stopping the boats with our Rwandan partnership”.

However, Jamaica-born human rights activist Sir Geoff Palmer says: “The Rwandan policy is now seen as unacceptable and an insult to Africa”.

Stephen Kinnock, shadow immigration minister pulls no punches, either. “One of the most absurd and wasteful Home Office gimmicks of all time,” he says. “It’s an insult to the British taxpayer.”“I think it’s an appalling idea,” says Nick Snaith. “But Rwanda is as safe as houses. It doesn’t need refugees – it already has an unemployment rate of 17% – it needs the money we’re giving them to take them in.”

The Rwanda resettlement campaign has gone uphill and downhill amid a clutch of prime ministers, home secretaries, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, sundry ministers and backbenchers, international intelligence agencies, human rights organisations, civil servants, an estimated total cost of £500m (if realised) and those left who still have enough stamina to follow the story.

Furthermore, if Keir Starmer wakes up as prime minister on July 5, the whole scheme is set to be scrapped anyway.

Rwanda will be forever associated with the1994 genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed in an interethnic war, but the country has achieved stability under the long-term leadership of Paul Kagame, a darling of western governments.

Nick Snaith says: “The Rwandan people we met were lovely and so welcoming. We visited lots of places in towns and little villages and never had any problem whatsoever.

“It is impossible to imagine the horrors these people have endured over the last 30 years, yet they remain hospitable and welcoming in this tragic but compelling land.

“Everywhere you go you see strong-looking women carrying huge hands of bananas on their heads and wiry, thin men with bananas piled high on the handlebars of their bikes. It really is a fascinating country; we loved it.”

Typical housing in Mohangu, Rwanda


A mosque in Kigali. The Rwandan religion is 15% Muslim,
the rest is Catholic.


Traveller Nick Snaith enjoys his Skol beer in a typically spartan Rwandan bar. Photo: Mike Hall

As for Clarissa and Theodore from South Carolina, who knows how many countries they managed in their month? The way they enjoyed their glasses of Westmalle Trappist Tripel in Amsterdam’s Café Karpershoek, it would be no surprise to find they deliberately missed their bus and put down roots in The Netherlands.

*Very sadly, Mike Hall passed away on June 12 2024 following a short illness. He left a great impression on every person he met in those 100 countries. He will be missed by all.

Photos: Nick Snaith (except where captioned otherwise)

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