LIV­ING THE HIGH LIFE IN NYUNGWE

The East African - - THE MAGAZINE -

IThe Eastafrican ten­ta­tively placed my right foot on the rope bridge. It swayed slightly. Then my left, and it swayed again. A few shaky steps for­ward and my heart was thump­ing, my stom­ach turn­ing. I was sure the bridge would top­ple over and I would fall into the trees, 70 me­tres be­low.

The canopy walk is lo­cated in the mid­dle of Nyungwe rain­for­est in south­west­ern Rwanda. It was built in 2010. The walk starts at Uwinka cen­tre, where the skull of the last ele­phant lies. The ele­phant was killed in 1999 by poach­ers, and, in 2016, Rwanda an­nounced plans to rein­tro­duce the species into the park. A mes­sage next to the skull calls for “con­stant vig­i­lance” against threats in the for­est.

I was vis­it­ing the park with a group of fel­low jour­nal­ists from all over the world. We walked along the Igishigishigi trail, which is rated “easy” — I’m not sure why it’s rated so low as the climb back was quite stren­u­ous.

On the way to the canopy walk, we spot­ted a cou­ple of shy sil­ver mon­keys in the trees. Nyungwe is home to 13 species of pri­mates.

A round trip to the canopy is just over two kilo­me­tres. The 200-me­tre canopy is di­vided into three sec­tions. The first and sec­ond part lead to a fixed plat­form. Each sec­tion can take a max­i­mum of eight peo­ple at a time, at least two me­tres apart, prefer­ably more. More peo­ple means more sway. The first part of the canopy walk slopes up­ward, the sec­ond is fairly straight and the third brings you back down to earth.

To re­turn, you can ei­ther use the bridge, or a path through the for­est. I opted for the bridge. Af­ter sur­viv­ing the first walk through, the re­turn trip via the sway­ing bridge was a breeze.

Look­ing out from the high­est point, I had a bird’s-eye view of the for­est be­low. The far­thest hills were blue-green and hazy. I stopped in the mid­dle to listen to the rich mu­sic from some of the 278 species of birds, and to look out for more pri­mates. I called out to the mon­keys, but they de­clined my of­fer to come out to play.

Full of con­fi­dence, I danced my way back to the start­ing point.

The Nyungwe rain­for­est is lo­cated be­tween the basin of the River Congo to the west and the basin of the River Nile to the east. Nyungwe cov­ers more than a thou­sand square kilo­me­tres of rain­for­est. The for­est has some 13 hik­ing trails. Some are as short as an hour and a half of walk­ing, oth­ers can take up to three days with camping in the for­est.

One trail leads to a trop­i­cal wa­ter­fall. Our guide in­formed us that the hike was rated “medium” and would take about three hours for the round trip. He warned that it could rain, so we should carry our rain­coats to stay dry.

We set off, full of en­thu­si­asm, as the trail was mostly down­hill. The veg­e­ta­tion on the trail is sim­i­lar to that found in the Mt Kenya for­est re­serve on a trail that also leads to a wa­ter­fall. Moss clings to the base of “bearded” trees, and the ground is mostly damp.

We crossed makeshift wooden bridges, passed by a small wa­ter­fall, down steep, slip­pery and rocky slopes, and up again to a large wa­ter­fall. I could hear the sound of the fall­ing wa­ter be­fore we ar­rived, thun­der­ing into a pool be­fore flow­ing down­stream.

We pic­nicked by the wa­ter­fall, spray wet­ting our faces, as one of the group took a dip in the pool at the base. Mak­ing our way back was the tough­est part. We had to go back the way we had come, and this time it was up­hill. Heav­ing, pant­ing our way, step by step, we got to the top. Although the rain did not fall, we were drenched — in sweat.

Af­ter a brief rest, we went to see the An­golan colobus mon­keys. Lucky for us, we spot­ted some at the edge of the for­est as we stood by the side of the road and didn’t have to do any more hik­ing.

The mon­keys were play­ful, chew­ing through twigs, swing­ing and jump­ing be­tween trees. They are ha­bit­u­ated so we were able to see them quite close.

Colobus are her­bi­vores, and their main preda­tors are the om­niv­o­rous chim­panzees! Sounds can­ni­bal­is­tic, eh!

And hav­ing cov­ered just two of the 13 trails, a re­turn trip is in or­der.

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