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 & 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.
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, 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 and assist you down the rather slippery slopes. This excursion took us four hours and 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!
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, 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…
Excitement starts building up as we set off to Volcanoes National Park Hea 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 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 before 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. 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 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 – totalling 23. The gorillas were coming towards us. The first encounter we had was silverback matching past us … I could touch him. Unreal.
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 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 stop 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. We then reluctantly hiked back and once outside forest, took the short route to Sabinyo for a second night.
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. Akagera is dominated scenically by a labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River.
‘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’.