Rwanda: the country of a thousand hills. How do you ignore the genocide where 1,000,000 Rwandans where brutally killed over 100 days, more than 20 years ago?
You can’t. . . You shouldn’t. . .
It is the backbone of their now history and they are happy to share their story. “No more division. We forgive” is their motto.
Kigali, build on 4 hills, is in my opinion the most dynamic, impressive city in Africa outside South African borders. Perhaps the most important ‘attraction’ is the Kigali Genocide Memorial. So you should definitely pay a visit. Preferably at the start of your holiday, to understand the history & the DNA of this country.
Rwandans have made great strides & efforts in moving past the tragedy of genocide in 1994. We spent the first night at Mille Collines Hotel aka Hotel Rwanda. It has plenty of history as well as beautiful views over the capital.
On to Nyungwe Forest
We left the city and head south to Nyungwe National Park via Butare, the second largest city of Rwanda, which is regarded as the intellectual city of Rwanda. Nyungwe Forest has 260 species of trees and shrubs and over 100 species of orchids and giant lobelias.
Once in Nyungwe, we did a hike into the Nyungwe Forest – Cyamudongo, which is the natural habitat for a huge population of Chimps. Chimpanzees are great apes that are closely related to humans. Nyungwe Forest hosts these intelligent primates who are an endangered species. The forest harbours more than 275 endemic and migratory bird species recorded. Chimpanzee permit are currently $90 per person plus $10 for porter to carry your bag. But more to the point, to assist you down the rather slippery slopes. This excursion took us four hours and it was probably most strenuous of all hikes in Rwanda.
In the afternoon, we re-entered the park to enjoy the Canopy walk, the only one of its kind in East Africa. Situated 50 meters above the ground, and 200 meters long, the canopy walk gives you a birds’ eye view of Nyungwe Forest, Lake Kivu and even the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in the distance. This is a great activity for children and adults alike! The canopy walk starts at Nyungwe National Park headquarters and costs USD $60 per person. The hike took us 1½ hours and some parts are fairly steep. We spent a second night at Nyungwe Forest Lodge.
A shot of Nyungwe Forest Lodge…
Early the following morning , we headed back into the Nyungwe Forest in search of Colobus Monkeys. The name “colobus” is derived from the Greek word for “mutilated,” because unlike other monkeys, colobus monkeys do not have thumbs. Their beautiful black fur strongly contrasts with the long white mantle, whiskers and beard around the face and the bushy white tail – a photographer’s delight, if only they would keep still!
Scenic drive along the shores of Lake Kivu
We left the forest on a ‘scenic drive’ north to Lake Kivu. They are rebuilding the road which will be a great improvement once done. (Probably done by now). But hey – you are practically ducking and diving around the massive machinery! We stayed two nights at Paradis Malahide on Lake Kivu, which is the largest of all lakes that fill the valleys of Rwanda.
Lake Kivu, largest lake in Rwanda…
Everywhere everyone is very friendly and happy to see you, especially the kids…
Excitement builds as we head to the Gorillas
Excitement starts building up as we set off to Volcanoes National Park Head Quarters. The town itself, located only 25km from Uganda border, is relatively a small city of about 70,000 people. Here, we registered to track the rare Golden Monkey.
The elusive Golden Monkey is a beautiful and distinctive bamboo-associated primate of the blue monkey family, endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley.
Then we headed to the lovely Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge which would be our base for the next two days.
The big day for gorilla-tracking in Rwanda has finally arrived. We leave the lodge at 6.30am the next morning to be at HQ for 7am registration. There are a total of 80 gorilla permits available each day with a maximum of eight trekkers visiting any one group. Once the trekkers are put into groups, each group’s Lead Guide briefs the trekkers of the trekking procedures as well as the “do’s and don’ts” while you are in the presence of the gorillas.
Our guide, Edward…
After the briefing, the trekkers return to their respective vehicles for the drive up the mountain to the starting point. Trekking can take from two to six or more hours if the gorillas move before the park rangers locate them the next morning.
We drove 20 minutes and started gorilla-trekking at 9.30am. The first hour of the trek was outside the forest with easy walking .. Then we headed into the forest which was a little harder but not too tricky. So we went ‘pole pole’ (slowly).
We got to the top but then we needed to hike down into crater. There was no path. The trackers created a path with machetes.
This image will give you an idea of how thick the forest is; there is no path other than our patch we opened with machete.
It took us 2½ hrs to find gorillas including the hard hike into crater. Finally we came across the Agashya group which comprises of one silverback male; a few blackbacks, young ones and a one month old baby. All in all, the group totalled 23. The gorillas were coming towards us. The first encounter we had was silverback matching past us … I could touch him. Unreal.
A very young one came up behind me playing on an elevated hillock. And yes – he did do the whole chest-beating too…..just because he can.
The silverback is the center of the troop’s attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites, and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop. Younger males subordinate to the silverback, known as blackbacks. They can serve as backup protection. Blackbacks are aged between 8 and 12 years and lack the silver back hair.
The bond that a silverback has with his females forms the core of gorilla social life.
The silverback took the path we had cut open and few of the others followed too. We started to follow them. Half way up, trackers told us to stand to the side as more gorillas were following the silverback (as they do). Most amazing experience to see a few gorillas marching through…almost squeezing pass us. The mother with one month old baby stopped on front of me as I was leaning back not to touch them. Both stared at me and mum then looked back at baby like a proud mum will do;
We followed them to the top where they were camping out, playing, rolling, young doing chest beating, spending an hout in their presence. Then we then reluctantly hiked back and once outside forest, took the short route to Sabinyo for a second night.
Get the Ball Rolling
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We left the next day after breakfast and visited Virunga Lodge en route to Kigali. I loved Virunga Lodge as much. It has a stunning setting, though it is quite a bit further away from the National Park. But that didnt bother me.
Finally to Akagera
Traveling from Volcanoes National Park back to Kigali took only 2½ hrs through sugar cane, banana and corn. The scenery changed between Kigali and Akagera as it’s less hilly, with many banana- and pineapple plantations as well as cattle farms.
Akagera National Park is set at a relatively low altitude on the border with Tanzania. It is dominated scenically by a labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River.
Akagera offers adventure & activity: an off the beaten track safari experience. Much like the rest of Rwanda.
Finally this is my friend Johnson, our remarkable driver on our Rwanda trip. He lost his father, two brothers, grandparents & seven cousins in the genocide.
‘There is no more division; no looking back – we forgive’ was what he said to me.
That echoes through both my head and my soul… ‘we forgive’.
Milandi’s Photo Blog of Rwanda was written by Cedarberg Africa
Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa. We focus on upmarket tailormade safaris for discerning and inquiring people. Several of us have visited Rwanda and so we can chat to you about a possible trip from personal experience, weighing up the different options, to plan a trip that is just right for you.