Ange's Micato Safari to Rwanda
I am just back from Rwanda traveling with Micato and One and Only. The country was beyond any expectations we had. Rwanda is amazingly beautiful – a country of a thousand hills where rainforests, tea plantations and rich farmlands stretch in all directions making a quilt of so many vibrant greens as you fly over or drive through the countryside. The city of Kigali is arguably as clean as Singapore. The airport is a perfect first impression- clean, modern, bright. Of course Micato, in this case our safari director Peter, found us in customs and whisked us through the Covid testing protocols and into our safari vehicle for the ride to the Serena Hotel. After a good nights sleep, three of us chose to do a site inspection of the Retreat property that is part of the restaurant Heaven’s complex. I would urge anyone interested in Rwanda to read the book A Thousand Hills to Heaven by Josh Ruxin. His wife Alissa conceived of the restaurant to create jobs for the orphans of genocide. We were able to meet and talk with Alissa while enjoying lunch at Heaven the next day. The Ruxins are beautiful people who have created a beautiful life and family in Rwanda.
Our second day was centered around a tour of Kigali including the Genocide Museum. While it was certainly a sobering visit, the Rwandans have created an achingly beautiful tribute to those they lost during the dark days while also educating all those that visit to the unexplainable horrors that occurred especially during the “100 days” in 1994. The biggest take away is that today all the people of Rwanda view themselves as Rwandans with a single focus of caring for each other and moving forward. Many of those that were imprisoned for their crimes during the genocide sought out and went to apologize to the survivors of family members they had killed. While a very hard meeting for both sides, this seemed to have had an amazingly healing effect for everyone involved. If you would like to understand better what brought Rwanda to that point of action, (It started in the 1930’s under the Dutch rule.) read the section of Collapse by Jared Diamond that is devoted to Rwanda. The entire book is fascinating and eye opening. There is one other book I would recommend that is set in Rwanda before, during and after the genocide Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gail Parkin. Next up- Nyungwe (Newyoungway), tea plantations, chimps, colobus monkeys and canopy walk
Nyungwe? Where is it? How do you pronounce it? Why would you go there?
Nyungwe Forest is a National park in Southwest Rwanda. It’s claim to fame is chimpanzees and colobus monkeys but it also has an amazing Canopy Walkway, orchids and a rich bird life. It also has One and Only Nyungwe, a place we called home for three glorious days! The resort is set in the midst of the huge Gisakura tea plantation and right up against the rain forest. The pods of individual rooms are hidden among the working tea plantation with the main lodge area occupying a small hilltop. Food is delightful and service is impeccable. Do try their ginger, lemon, orange and honey tea!
Our first trek started with an early morning light breakfast as we geared up with ponchos, gaiters, back packs, and hiking poles. The trek comes in small, medium and large according to your appetite for personal challenges. But, as they reminded us, the animals move as they like so you never know for sure. We had porters to carry our packs and make sure we stayed sure footed. Invaluable! We saw lots of chimps doing pretty much everything chimps do!! Pictures included! That afternoon we spent time learning all about tea in Rwanda from picking to processing to grading and finally tasting!
The second day we had a lighter trek out to the colobus monkeys and had an afternoon of archery and spear throwing!!
Next up- helicopters and One and Only Gorillas Nest
We were up early on the day of our transfer to Gorillas Nest because our helicopter transfer needed to get ahead of afternoon rains predicted. The helicopter transfer added another perspective to our appreciation of the beauty of this country of 1,000 hills. Arrival at Gorillas Nest was exciting and made even more so by the music and dancing followed by our first “Boma”, drumming ceremony. Dinner in Jack Hanna’s home away from home was the perfect end to our first day!
Up early again for our long awaited trek to meet “our” gorilla family. We had all passed our COVID tests (very important to protect the gorilla population) and suited up including gaiters (very muddy trekking!), hiking poles, hats, backpacks, water and rainproof ponchos. Off to the trail head! In the company of our ranger and porters (invaluable people we were soon to learn!), we climbed the low rock wall, passed across a very shaky wooden bridge, and moved into the muddy, thick rain forest trail. We stopped many times either for a breather or to allow porters with machetes to clear the path ahead. Sometimes we literally tunneled through thick forests of bamboo (a favorite food of Gorillas-gets them a little tipsy!). Climbing up as we traveled, occasional stops were necessary to regain our breath and rehydrate. Finally the moment came when our tracker said to halt and leave all our gear but cameras. He had the family insight.
The first glimpse of a mother and infant on the trail ahead brought goosebumps and damp eyes. Then much like those pictures online where you find hidden objects, one by one we saw more gorillas snacking in varying spots along our way forward. We watched mesmerized by especially the antics of the baby.
After 10 minutes or so the tracker urged us to follow him climbing up and around this small group. Our efforts brought great rewards as we emerged into a clearing where about 12 gorillas ranging from an impressive Silverback (the chief honcho) to another infant with several mature females and 5 juveniles were just finishing breakfast. We had to stay 30 feet away but the juveniles were not told this rule and curiosity brought them to the brink of touching us before the gorilla chatter from our ranger and porters sent them scampering back to their family. The hour flew by and we were reluctant to leave “our” new family! Their images are burned forever on my heart and in my mind. The trip back down was still muddy and jungly but we were too high on adrenaline to be bothered by it!
Back at Gorillas Nest, we were treated to a head/neck massage by our spa ladies and a leisurely afternoon.
Our next day was a much easier hike to visit the Golden Monkeys. While not so impressive they were quite attractive and their antics were entertaining!!
We did also visit Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. This is an amazing center created to educate even those who may not trek to the amazing details of the Gorillas and their plight.
As we prepared to leave Rwanda, we all reflected on the experiences we had shared and the wonderful people we had met. Rwanda is now relegated to my collection of living cloisonné egg travel experiences that color my life and remain as crystal clear memories to be brought up and enjoyed at will.
I hope your opportunity to visit and be deeply touched by these giant relatives comes soon. If the option arises, I urge you not to miss this experience that touches meaningfully the mind, body and heart.
You, Ange Wallace, never fail to amaze me with your adventurous spirit, open heart, keen eye and beautiful descriptions.