We reached Rwanda after two rather long days of travel, via Johannesburg for one night. I was beginning to wonder if it would be worth it to go all that way to see a group of gorillas. I’m pleased to say my doubts were unfounded.
In fact our short visit to Rwanda was much more than a visit with some amazing primates.
We arrived at Kigali, the capital of Rwanda in the evening and were collected from the airport by our guide Fred who would look after us very capably for the next few days. Fred took us to a very fancy hotel via a brief city tour. Kigali proved to be a bustling city which in parts looked surprising modern and groomed.
We settled in for the night in our five star digs and enjoyed an amazing buffet breakfast early the next day before heading off on our short but memorable stay.
First stop was a longer tour of Kigali. Fred showed us old and new parts of his hometown but the most memorable part was the Genocide museum. I’d previously heard very little about the Rwandan genocide which occurred over several months in 1994, just
23 years ago.
Unbelievably the genocide had resulted in the deaths of 1,000,000 Rwandan people, all in the name of ethnic cleansing. It had also displaced the lives of countless others to neighbouring countries.
The museum told the story of the events leading up to the massacre as well as details of those who died. It was extremely confronting and downright sad. I walked away with a greater understanding of the country I was about to spend just a couple of days visiting.
After that sobering reminder of the atrocities of our world and the awful situations some people are subjected to, we headed north in search of happier experiences.
Fred dropped us off at Gorilla Mountain Lodge with a promise to return early the next day to visit the mountain gorillas made famous by Dian Fossey. A story you might be familiar with from the movie portrayal in Gorillas in the Mist.
The lodge is a comfy conglomerate of separate huts and a central building for meals and socialising.
For the me the highlight was always going to be our gorilla visit and I wasn’t disappointed. After a relatively short, albeit steep and
muddy walk through the beautiful Rwandan forest we found ourselves face-to-face with some amazing creatures. To get to the gorillas we were required to stomp through the thick forest where we were regularly brushed by stinging nettles. A small price to pay for the experience.
Our first gorilla encounter was one of those strange surreal experiences you have where you can’t believe it’s actually happening. One minute we were stomping through the forest with our guides and companions, and the next we were just a couple of metres away from a large gorilla who seemed oblivious to our presence.
After watching a few lone gorillas munching away we headed to see one of the silver backs. Our gorilla group was Ntambara with 13 members including two silver backs. We didn’t actually see all of them, just a bit over half because they were all sitting separately in the thick bush. We were a little disappointed with our silver back encounter, he was lying asleep and only opened his eyes to check that we weren’t a threat before going back to sleep.
The highlight was a black back called Himbala who we were told is a eight year
old male who weighs in at around 100 kilos!! We were watching him and taking plenty of photographs when he rather nonchalantly headed towards our group. Our aptly named guide Patience told us all not to move as Himbala walked between me and the person next to me. He was just centimetres away from me and grabbed an overhead branch as he passed with flicked up and brushed against my head. I was so awestruck by the experience that I have no photographs of the very close encounter. Just some great shots of him before he started to walk towards me.
We were only allowed to spend an hour with our primate cousins but we understood the need to minimise human contact with these precious animals. It’s certainly an experience I will never forget. Just amazing.
We headed back to the car via the slippery slopes and I was very glad that Patience had brought along an extra porter who helped me down some of the steeper parts and earned his $10 tip.
We were amused to learn that one of the favorite treats for the gorillas is to sneak out of the boundaries of the forest
into the farming fields to strip the bark off the eucalyptus trees. These trees have been introduced to Rwanda from our very own shores and grow well in the rich volcanic soil.
Back at the lodge we met up with a couple we’d met earlier in the day, Ben and Rochelle from Kalgoorlie. It was nice to chat with some fellow Aussies and hear about their African travels to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
The next day we headed out early again to see some smaller primates, the Golden Monkeys. The walk to see the monkeys was a lot less strenuous taking us through farmlands followed by a bamboo forest. The monkeys were abundant and very interesting to watch and photograph.
Our short stay in Rwanda taught me a lot about resilience. The genocide is so recent and raw in the memories of these wonderful people but you get a real sense of a positive outlook. The Rwandan people are so friendly, happy and positive and you get a real sense of acceptance of others. They welcome the tourists who arrive in droves to see their gorillas because we bring money and prosperity to their small landlocked