go! - - Travel Rwanda -

Waldimar Pelser, jour­nal­ist, Cape Town “I went to Ki­gali for work pur­poses – I wanted to in­ter­view peo­ple to find out how Rwanda uses state power to keep the peace. I only had a week, and I also wanted to see some of the coun­try. “I flew di­rect from Joburg to Ki­gali with RwandAir, then I hired a car with a driver to take me to Nyungwe Na­tional Park. The road was long and windy, but the scenery was amaz­ing. “Nyungwe’s hik­ing trails were great and there was plenty to see. I also spent a night on a house­boat on Lake Kivu and went north to Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park to see the moun­tain go­ril­las. For an hour, I watched as they played, napped and scratched their heads. They weren’t both­ered in the least by the pres­ence of my group. “A visit to the Ki­gali Geno­cide Memo­rial is es­sen­tial. Rwanda is an ex­pen­sive coun­try to visit as a South African, but it’s worth it. You can’t com­pare it with any other des­ti­na­tion.” We drive into the park early the next morn­ing. The park of­fice is bustling with tourists and op­er­a­tors fill­ing in per­mits and pay­ing fees. All paid up, we find our group out­side, one of a hand­ful of sim­i­lar groups scat­tered around the gar­den be­ing briefed by their guides. “Face time” with go­ril­las and mon­keys is lim­ited to one hour, and vis­its must fol­low a strict pro­to­col. Af­ter load­ing up on mon­key facts – they keep to al­ti­tudes of 2 400 – 2 900 m; they love snack­ing on bam­boo shoots and they can live for up to 20 years – Alice and I get into our For­tuner and drive a short dis­tance to the trail­head. The rest of our group fol­lows in other ve­hi­cles. We park on a nar­row gravel road in a vil­lage where cu­rio sell­ers dis­play in­tri­cately carved go­rilla stat­uettes, pol­ished to a deep shine. Then the walk starts, first through steep fields where white pyrethrum flow­ers grow. Th­ese flow­ers, part of the chrysan­the­mum fam­ily, are picked twice a month and used to make a nat­u­ral pes­ti­cide. The set­ting is peace­ful, like a Tolkienin­spired plat­te­land: An old lady sits on the ground mak­ing a broom of fine twigs; chil­dren herd a rag-tag flock of sheep; a bush pick is lifted into the air where it hangs for a mo­ment be­fore be­ing slammed into the ground. Even­tu­ally we reach a mossy stone wall that marks the border of the na­tional park. We bend down un­der a low gate, jump across a ditch and sud­denly we’re in an­other world. Bam­boo for­est shuts the door on the land of hu­mans and we en­ter one of the last re­main­ing is­lands of African jun­gle wilder­ness. Group chat­ter qui­etens as guide El­lis­sée Moka­manzi Agnes gets our at­ten­tion, im­plor­ing us to lis­ten. We hear noth­ing, but El­lis­sée is onto some­thing. This way, he in­di­cates, and we fol­low. The for­est blocks out all land­marks – you can get lost in here in no time. Sud­denly El­lis­sée stops and points to the canopy. There they are, two golden mon­keys catch­ing a bit of sun. For the next hour we shimmy this way and that through the bam­boo stems. They bend like gi­ant straws un­der the oc­ca­sional weight of a mon­key in a hurry. We fol­low move­ment, sound and smell, look­ing for a gap in the fo­liage to snap a good photo. Alice has the cam­era and I whis­per to her to look back at me so I can take a cell­phone pic of her with a mon­key in the back­ground. She’s got a big smile on her face.

Lake Kivu’s calm wa­ters

Rwanda has sev­eral small lakes and all are worth a visit. If you have lim­ited time, how­ever, choose Lake Kivu – also on the border be­tween Rwanda and the DRC. Be­cause most of the lakeshore is moun­tain­ous, the scenery is stu­pen­dous. An added bonus is that the main road along the Rwan­dan shore is cur­rently be­ing tarred. When it’s done, you’ll be able to drive the whole scenic route in a nor­mal car. We de­part Gisenyi on the north­ern tip of the lake one bright morn­ing. Big white clouds are parked in the sky like a con­voy of car­a­vans. We stop to pho­to­graph a tea plan­ta­tion, where women carry bulging bags of leaves from down in the val­ley up to the road. Here in the trop­ics, the weather can turn quickly. And when it turns, it turns prop­erly. The heav­ens open and the road, still un­der con­struc­tion, be­comes a mud bath. Sud­denly the bar­rier-free drop on my side of the For­tuner is ter­ri­fy­ing. On Alice’s side, the un­sup­ported cut­tings seem to quiver like a mud­slide wait­ing to hap­pen. At one point the road is blocked by a small truck, stuck in the mud. The men in the back jump out and push it free. Fur­ther along, a bull­dozer shoves a wall of mud out of our way. It be­comes an af­ter­noon dur­ing which the For­tuner earns its 4x4 cre­den­tials. The slow go­ing means we only reach Kibuye, about half­way down the lake, af­ter dark. Luck­ily I al­ready know where to go: Ho­tel Béthany, where I stayed when I was last in the coun­try. Back then I hitch-hiked to Kibuye and pitched my tent on their lawn. To­day I want a room. When morn­ing comes, the coast is clear. So to speak. We eat break­fast on the ve­randa of the restau­rant, the lake stretched out like a mir­ror. Some is­lands jut from the water – one is called Napoleon’s Hat. I even spy a posse of ot­ters. We stay in Kibuye for two nights, ex­plor­ing the town at leisure, oth­er­wise just chill­ing at the ho­tel. This place is par­adise.

Birds above

This is what I re­mem­ber about Nyungwe For­est: soft rain­drops fall­ing from a canopy of im­pos­si­bly tall trees; damp and mossy foot­paths; ferns and fungi dot­ting the mulchy for­est floor. I also re­mem­ber the camp­site be­ing ex­quis­ite, tucked into the breast pocket of the for­est, high

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