Today is Christmas Day and we saw gorillas! But first, we will tell you our story about Rwanda.
Rwanda is something again, compared to the two countries we have already visited. The valleys deep, lush and green, the mountains high, and the main road paved and smooth.
Our entrance to Ruhengeri was a short trip from Kisoro with a small amount of time at the border. We had the luxury of having our own room for a couple of nights at our very own Hotel Rwanda, backing onto the main church and an amphitheatre; central for Christmas Day celebrations.
On Christmas Eve, after unloading our gear, we set off for the Rwandan Genocide Museum in Kigali, the nation’s capital. The winding roads brought a screech of tyres and a few cries of panic (particularly at blind corners). We saw a petrol tanker (reportedly from the Congo) lying overturned on the side of the road, cows hanging uncomfortably in cattle trucks by their horns and bicycles with corrugated sheets spanning the carriers on the back. All were escalating the risk of accident. The ability of the locals to carry things on their heads is unbelievable. Our driver thought that up to 100kg could be done. One enterprising chap had a full backpack on his head! Shoulder straps? Who needs ’em?
The Rwandan Genocide was a mass slaughter that took place in 1994, spanning a few months. Over half a million people were killed (about 20% of the country’s total population) of the minority Tutsi. The museum housed many unidentified bodies and told the gripping tale of this genocide and many horrific others throughout history. How much the country has changed, but many will no doubt still remember the atrocities.
After another harrowing trip we made way back to the hotel for an early rise the next morning, gorilla trekking.
On departure we were welcomed to a baby in a manger playing a very off-key warped Christmas carol. Outside people were gathering for mass already, with preparations for concerts and dance parties already underway.
We were treated to a traditional dance before departure by a local dance troupe with spears and blonde wigs, then we entered our 4WD vehicles with the four new members of our safari to the edge of the forest. Along the way, local children were pleading for empty plastic bottles for recycling refunds. Rwanda has a very good policy on wastes, so strict, that all plastic bags have been banned and replaced by brown paper bags.
Trekking in the Volcanoes National Park was not too difficult, just long patches of steep terrain. Within a couple of hours we had found our gorilla family of eleven, the Ugenda’s. Several smaller juveniles were swinging and playing from the tree with a bit of rustling behind. Tam was keen on getting a Santa hat on one. With amazement we took in the moment.
Then, the large male silverback burst through the ferns and put on an intimidating show. Remembering our briefing we shrank a bit and cowered (Some of us wanted to just high tail it out!). After some grunts, the silverback sat and posed before climbing up a tall tree.
The gorilla family were grazing through large amounts of greenery, with grooming and juveniles playfighting as they lumbered along. One juvenile grabbed a 6m high ‘loberia’ plant, breaking it at the base and accidentally swinging it straight into Mitch and another of the groups head. Fortunately nothing was broken or anyone hurt.
The hour went fast and we wanted to stay back as long as we could. With time up and a thunderstorm approaching we were lucky to only get a few minutes of torrential rain before headed back. The rest of the group made it to mass for hymns, dancing and sunburn. We caught the tail end of it on our return.
The drums and remixed latest songs are blaring from across the road and a large party is sure to ensue. After a relaxing afternoon we have planned our own Christmas celebrations with a few racks of lamb, salsa, mealie pap (ugali) and other African fare. We are however, very much missing Christmas dinner at home. We’ll follow likely with a big party and another early rise.
Over the next 9 days we are in Tanzania, stopping at a new site each night. Very slim chances of getting internet, but will update when we can.