In the early part of our adventure I posted an article on LinkedIn about the benefits of a sabbatical to both employee and employer. One of the points I made was that it helps people get used to change, to adapt, to absorb other perspectives and to think on your feet. After 10 months of adventure we are pretty good at all this stuff and I felt that I may be getting a bit numb to it all. Enter Rwanda.
One day I was driving down the familiar and beautiful roads of Wiltshire, the next, we were walking through the streets of Kigali and we weren’t numb at all.
Rwanda is unquestionably 2 things; hilly and green. Everywhere we look, we see, walk up, drive up to, is covered in green. If you like green, it is perfect. I like green.
Whilst my exposure to Africa is reasonably limited, it is enough to have preconceptions, mostly around chaos, noise, rubbish and a lack of safety. Kigali fuels none of these. It is clean, relatively ordered, friendly, picturesque, mounted on many, many hills and we felt safe. There are lots of quiet streets, good housing, restaurants and bars. We were happy to walk the streets before & after dark as well as get the ubiquitous Mototaxis, small motorbikes that you jump on the back of and weave through the traffic on. The thing I wish we hadn’t done is read about the mototaxis before we got on them after dinner and learned that you are 300 times more likely to die on one than is a car taxi, and the good riders don’t operate after dark as they think it is too risky…….. We made it though.
A bit of a disappointment was our hotel. Remember in the 70’s and 80’s, at the height of the package tour to Spain ramp up, we used to read about “Barry and his family of 7” who arrived in Benidorm for their 2 weeks, all inclusive holiday for £25 and were horrified to find that their hotel was’t finished? Well, if you feel a bit of nostalgia for that, I can recommend The Nest in Kigali. It lacked curtains and a closing bathroom door amongst other things…. I was a bit amused when I asked a team of blokes filling a pick up truck with bricks outside our room at 10pm to stop and said ‘This is a hotel, not a building site”, and he smiled and replied, ‘well it is also a building site’.
It’s hard to call it a highlight, but the Genocide memorial is a really important place to visit. The story of the genocide is horrific and well told here. It is a graphic illustration of what people can do when politicians make them believe someone else is the enemy. The language they used in the early days of social conditioning is the same language that our politicians and commentators are using now (Trump, Farage, Morrison, Dutton, Katy Hopkins, Johnston, Fox News etc). We shouldn’t take it for granted that we are different and would never sink to such depths.
From Kigali he headed south to Nyungwe national park in a Rav 4 we had hired for our trip. More about that later, but at this point the experience caused us to leave Kigali 2.5 hours later than planned, so we had to drive for 5 hours straight to get to the park office to check in for the next days Chimpanzee trek before it closed at 5. We made it with 4 minutes to spare, discovered that we had a 5.30am meet the next day then headed off to find a campsite. We found one in the gardens of an ok guesthouse that had not had power for three days, and set up our tent. It then became apparent that the hire company had given us a tent for one person, with no guy ropes, 3 pegs and a broken pole. Luckily, we could hire a dark room with cold water and they let us cook our scoff on the patio. Not quite the night under the stars we wanted…… but it rained like hell, so perhaps it was for the best.
The chimp trek was fun but challenging, bashing through thick forests and down steep hills. We saw the little blighters but only a few in the trees. They are so agile.
From there we headed north to Kibuye on the shore of the massive Lake Kivu and found a lovely campsite on the edge of a hill overlooking the lake……and hired another room for two nights.
It is a beautiful area and we spent the day on the lake with Emmanuel from Blue Monkey Tours, climbing hills on islands, visiting monkeys with blue balls, swimming and enjoying this spectacular setting. We went back out with him at night to watch the singing fishermen leave at sunset to go fishing for the night. Armed with a bag of wine, we cruised next to them and had a perfect evening.
A backdrop to this was more car issues…… more about that later.
From Kibuye we headed 4.5 hours north to the Volcanoes national park where we were to spend three nights whilst we visited Golden Monkeys on one day and Mountain Gorillas the next. We were due to stay in a campsite for one night and a nice guesthouse on the edge of the park for two more. The lack of a tent on the first night and the fact that the nice villa had a leaking roof meant that we actually stayed in a small B&B in Musanze, hosted by Jane from Bradford and her husband Issac (Volcano view B&B) and, through the two days of car based fiasco that followed, could not have been better looked after.
Our first trek, to see the golden monkeys, was well organised, straight forward, reasonably easy and hilarious. They are such cute creatures and the family we saw were completely unfazed by humans. They also pee on you. Not on purpose but there are a lot of them and they sit in trees and pee a lot.
The second trek was the main event; to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary with a visit to the mountain gorillas. It was a reasonably challenging 1.45 hrs until we found them, walking through fields, rainforest, massive nettles and mud before we came across the family we had been looking for, and we then had the most magical hour with them.
There were three silverbacks (the oldest in the area, at 47, his son and heir and a bald one called Big Ben). Big Ben was not a catch for the ladies but also in the group was a lady who had lost a hand to a poaching snare, who was not a catch for the men, so she and Big Ben were having an elicit affair…
There was a baby of 5 months old, other youngsters and some juveniles, all of which were playful and interesting. They either ignored us (the silverbacks were brilliant and pretending we weren’t there) or played around us. We smiled so much our faces ached. They are so gentle, but so big and powerful, so strange but also rather familiar. I can’t imagine the interaction we had with them getting any better. But we had committed to try.