Volcanoes Nation Park Rwanda
Rwanda’s national day fell on 4 July and as we travelled to Volcanoes national Park the streets were very quiet for Rwanda. We unwittingly got caught for speeding- in the towns the speed limit is 40km which we only found out after being stopped the 2nd time. Both times they took pity on us and let us off, it helped that we couldn’t communicate in French though we tried! The main town before the Park is Musanze- this is the town where Dian Fossy (Gorillas in the Mist) based herself when not in the jungle with the gorillas. The Musanze Hotel keeps her room as a museum in her honor. We stopped for coffee. Gorilla talk and sightings were the topic of conversation all around us. It has a bit of an alpine feel about it with mountains, green vistas and crisp air.
We headed to a place called Kinigi Guesthouse which is about 1 km from the park headquarters. Once again they didn’t really have a campsite but opened one of the rooms for our use- whilst we set up our tent in the garden. Having looked at the beds we were better off in our tent!!!
The park is about 2200m above sea level so it was a bit chilly here especially once the sun set. The 5 iconic volcanoes were shrouded in cloud for most of our time here however they came out when we were leaving and we got a good look at them.
We had just sorted ourselves out when another South African family arrived- they were so glad to see us as we previously them in Gombe where we had seen the chimps together. It was lovely to share their campfire with them as they camped in the carpark (roof top tent) and could have a fire- we were on grass.
Next morning they went off to see the gorillas and Al and I went on a community walk.
The walk took us through the terraced fields to the wall that demarcates the beginning of the national park.
This wall is built of volcanic rocks piled together and is just over 1m high and is almost as wide. On the park side there is also a deep trench. The wall follow the park boundary from Uganda to the DRC – about 80km.
The gorillas inhabit this area which comprises 3 National Parks; Volcanoes – Rwanda, Vuringa – DRC and Bwindi in Uganda. Our guide was really lovely and so tickled that we were able to keep up with him, as we headed straight up the volcano slope. We were able to look into the park where there was thick bamboo growing- it’s really dark underneath that! We discovered that not only gorillas live here but buffalo and elephant – hence the wall! The community have to have guards against the buffalo who escape the park as well as the golden monkeys who love to eat their Irish potato crops.
We discovered that they grow three variants of Irish potatoes – Chocolate (brown), white and yellow. (Now you also know!). The community have learnt to farm honey by constructing bee-hives near the forest edge.
We also learnt how charcoal is made. Freshly cut wood is layered in a trench with, in this case Eucalyptus leaves. A fire is lit at the one end and the pile is covered up with a breather hole at the other end.
It burns through like this for about three weeks after which it is unearthed, cooled and ready for use. The community here have formed an association called SACOLA recognizing that they cannot rely on the government to supply everything for them and guide fees from community hikes goes back to the community. We came across some of the ladies working in the potato fields and they were tickled pink when I “hoed” in the potato fields too!
We were greeted by an old woman with song and dance as a welcome to her home. Then of course there were the children. They are learning English so they practiced on us. We soon became familiar with the format.
“What is your name?”
“How old are you?”
“What is your country? How’s your country?”
We had read that whenever taking photos we should ask, the children though had no such qualms as we came into view they took our photos on their cell phones! In our interactions with them we were struck by their thirst for information, most of them have never been further away from their village then school. They do however all have email and asked us to exchange addresses! Quite paradoxical! Whenever we ventured out we felt like the pied piper with a group of them following us around.
Rwanda is a beautiful country however wherever you go you are aware of their recent history. You never escape from this and we think there is an inherent distrust amongst each other – how do you get over having your family butchered by best friends, family and teachers – even in some cases fellow church members? There is a strong military presence, lots of AK47 armed policeman and I found people quite serious. The people in the North were the exception as we heard lots of laughter there. We found the contrast of the beauty and the horror difficult but we are glad that we went. Denise was visibly disquieted for a couple of days after we left.
Lake Bunyoni Uganda
We were running ahead of schedule as we only had to be in Bwindi national forest by the 13th July as our gorilla trekking permits had been sent ahead for us so we found ourselves with a few days spare. Crossing over from Rwanda into Uganda though a minor border post was easy, people were friendly and we were back on the left side of the road and into East African time – an hour ahead of SA. The rolling hills and terracing of crops that we saw in Rwanda have continued here, and everything is beautiful and green. We had lunch in Kabala at Café Barrista whilst we planned our shopping.
The main streets have all been dug up for road works so it was chaos! Lake Bunyonyi is just outside the town and we headed for Bunyonyi Overlander Campsite where we have chilled for the last few days.
It’s a beautiful setting, lots of birdlife which has been good to watch. We’ve canoed in a dug out log- it’s not as easy as it looks but we only did two circles over the hour of paddling!
We’ve watched the passing boat traffic, read and enjoyed the sunlight after the volcanoes. We found a hotel called Birds Nest which makes wonderful pizza and where we got Ugandan coffee with a choc brownie. Yummy!
That was really lovely. The waiter told us that despite it being peak season it’s very quiet and we’ve been told that there are lots of Gorilla permits still available.
Next door to the campsite is a preschool and it has been funny to see the kids being taken across the lake to the school, you just see a row of heads along the side of the dug-out! There’s also been lots of singing. This is a launch point for the Overland Groups to visit the Gorillas and we’ve seen a number of them come and go. Al has befriended the guide of the crowd currently sharing our space, John from Nairobi who has answered some of our questions and shared his charcoal with us.
We leave here today to have our turn to see the gorillas and will be spending some time on the western side of Uganda before going to Kampala.