Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Akagera National Park, Rwanda

In what was turning out to be a very expensive day the park authorities relieved us of $320us for our 3 nights stay in the Akagera National Park.

Bearing in mind that this is camping in a park with little or no infrastructure, which is in dire need of visitor numbers and with only a limited selection of animals to see.  That is expensive.

The roads leading to the park had been slowly deteriorating since we turned of the tarmac of Route 2b.  Many of the villages in this area are populated by refugees who fled into the Akagera park trying to get away from the genocide.  They had then been cleared from the park, as the govt tried to re-establish the reserve.s They are the poorest looking village we passed through in Rwanda, even with their shiny new looking water pumps.

We were told by the wardens at the park gate where we could camp - one of the few sites was off limits due to an elephant in musth which had been causing problems.  So we headed for the nearest site on the worst roads we have seen to date.

We were the only campers, in fact it appeared that we were the only visitors to the park.  In our time there we only saw three or four other vehicles and they all seemed to be park staff.  The campsite is basic, a long drop toilet, NO water, a rondavel for sheltering in, and...... well that's all.  This park has nothing other than wild landscapes, great views, nice animals and peace perfect peace.

Sunrise in the Akagera National Park, Rwanda
We pitched our tent and headed down from the campsite (which is high on a hilltop) towards the lake side.  Battling with the rocks, pot holes and tsetse flies all the way.  There are some hippo in the lake and lots of signs of elephants, but we weren't lucky enough to spot any.  There are various antelopes around so we assume there are some big predators too - again we weren't lucky enough to see any.

Back at camp for a dinner cooked in the rondavel and an early night to escape the mossies.

Camping in the Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Wow expensive hotel!

The Guest Lux decided to charge us $218us for our one night and two meals; which seemed a little expensive.  Anyway the food was pretty good, the bed was comfy and we didn't have any real complaints.

Balcony at the Kigali Guest Lux

We did a quick shop at local supermarket - where a nice young chap helped carry our stuff back to our car.  He had just returned to Rwanda from Uganda, after his family fled there during the genocide.  We can only try to imagine what it's like to be displaced for 18 years.  Hopefully he is part of a generation that won't allow things to degenerate in the future.

We managed to get out of Kigali pretty easily, following the road out past the airport.  The same airport we had fleetingly visited a couple of weeks ago.  The overall impression of Kigali is pretty positive - it seems well ordered, fairly clean and tidy, the roads are pretty good, the buildings are in good repair- I imagine that a lot of foreign investment has taken place in the years following the trouble, no doubt much of it guilt money from the international community who failed to do anything to stop the violence.

Kigali Genocide Museum

It's understated, simple and horrifying.

The children's room is simply heartbreaking.

On to Kigali

Feeling refreshed after our few day's R&R at Nyungwe, it was time to hit the road to Kigali.

On the road out of Nyungwe

As I've mentioned before, I never thought I would visit Rwanda never mind Kigali whose name conjures up images of hell.  It seems so strange driving through this beautiful and peaceful country passing smiling people and colourful farms and villages, that the worst atrocities since the holocaust took place here.  What on earth happened?

My holiday reading of An Ordinary Man (the book later made into the film Hotel Rwanda) is making the horror all the more real and making the juxtaposition all the more stark when looking out at the countryside. I have to say that I am not in a very positive frame of mind when we hit the outskirts of the city.

Luckily it's nowhere near as mental as Kampala as far as the traffic goes, although there is still plenty of it.  However it wasn't long before we realised that the street names on our map were nothing like the street names on the few signs that were around.  Luckily my sense of direction seemed to have returned, and we ended up in roughly the right area of town.  Stopping to ask a security man sitting beside a gate to a compound, he told us we were on the right road, but he hadn't heard of the guest house we were looking for.  We drove around a bit - in what was obviously a very nice neighbourhood - huge houses, big gardens, security guards everywhere, no pot-holes.

As we approached the same junction for the third time, and just as Karen was about to lose her temper, I spotted a tiny sign for the Kigali Guest Lux - up an unfinished road leading to a building site.

Google has the address as Avenue de Lac Kivu, and places the guest house in what is actually a cement factory.  In fact it is on what google maps calls KG 414 st.  I think.

The staff appear very surprised to see us, despite me booking months ago, but they showed us to an enormous room with a huge bed.  Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any hot water.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Trekking in the Nyungwe Forest

We did at least take a little exercise while in Nyungwe, when we joined a guided trek to visit a waterfall deep in the forest.

Our guide had come down to the lodge from the park headquarters, and you are expected to chip in for his taxi fare which seems fair enough, even though the lodge had already charged us $50 each for the trek.

Claud our guide was at best a little un-enthusiastic, and got us off to a pretty crappy start by beginning to explain about the forest while having us stand on a fire ants nest. Whether this was deliberate or not we don't know, but we all got a few sharp bites for our troubles.

Things improved as we got deeper into the forest, as we headed down into a deep gorge the plant and birdlife got better and better.  Vast trees and ferns dominate the landscape, and Claud told us that every time a scientific expedition goes into the forest they find at least one new species of tree.  Over 550 identified to far - mostly endemic to this part of the world.

We saw a few primates, and at one point a snake was spotted though neither Karen nor I managed to get a sighting of it.

It was pretty hot in the forest, especially out of the shade of the trees.  It would be a great place to explore on your own, but all walking has to be with a guide - probably a good idea as it would be pretty easy to get lost.  The walk is definitely for the able bodied - going down (and then back up)  the steep sides of a gorge.  The waterfall at the end is pretty nice and the spray helps to cool us down.

Drunken Nuns!

We spent a long time just lazing by the pool at Nyungwe.

Nyungwe swimming pool

The pool looks out onto the forest, and we were lucky enough to be entertained by the local troop of Angolan Colobus monkeys.  Watching their death defying leaps from one tree to another is a fun way to while away the time.

Angolan Colobus Monkey - flying!
The lodge feeds you pretty well, nothing too fancy - a small selection but generally tasty and well presented.  They have a limited (and expensive) wine list, mainly South African wines but the beer is cold and the coffee is stunningly good.

One evening we went for pre-dinner drinks and had a some fun watching a group of other guests.  These were two large, overweight men with big expensive watches, accompanied by 3 nuns.  At least they were dressed as nuns  but they sure as hell weren't acting like nuns!  There was a lot of drinking, loud giggling and at one point one of the nuns managed to drop and break her glass.  I wonder what the mother superior would have thought.  Very funny to watch - almost as good as watching the Colobus - who says humans and monkeys aren't related?

Umar- the world's politest waiter

We couldn't write about our visit to Nyungwe Forest Lodge without mentioning Umar, who was our waiter at most meals.  With his beaming smile, quiet voice and impeccable manners he is quite simply the World's Politest Waiter.

We felt so guilty when he had to admonish us for pouring our white wine into the red wine glasses on the table, when he had gone to get the specially chilled glasses from the freezer.  Oh the shame.

We cannot say enough nice things about Umar, and hope he has along and successful career.

The dining room at Nyungwe Forest Lodge