Early starts in a country that continues to surprise

Had to get up at 4.30am to go start the chimp trekking – good training for Kili I suppose.  We met the Anthony my trekking guide and then drove over an hour to the start of the trek.  By the time we started to walk it was 6am and it was daylight.  Anthony wanted to try to catch the chimps in their nest up in the trees as they were easier to spot that way.  So we set off at quite a pace – I was very glad to have had walking poles with me – it was all downhill for the first 45mins and very slippery.  Unlike Tanzania, Rwanda has had lots of rain – too much really as all the rivers are flooded and there have been multiple landslides– and I was in a rain forest!  Nearly fell over several times but just about managed to stay on my feet.

After a while we heard the chimps and met up with two of the trackers – the noise was that the chimps were now on the move – great!  There are four trackers whose job it is to follow the chimps wherever they go (day and night) so they can guide the tourists to them easily.  We then set off uphill (me and 3 guides!) to go over the “hill” and then catch up with them on the other side.  So again off we went at a very fast pace up the hill.  I was much slower than them!  I have realised that up and downhill I am a pole pole walker and only walk at a decent pace on the flat – I can keep going at that pace – but not at the pace we were setting here! 

We came across some safari ants – evil little creatures with nasty bites.  I am so pleased no one had a camera pointed at me at that moment in time, I must have looked quite a sight!  A sweaty, red faced white girl, with her trousers tucked into socks that weren’t big enough to truck trousers into (Anthony made me do it because of the ants) trying to sprint up hill on tip toes with a rucksack and carrying poles!  Had to sprint like this for about 50metres – there were millions of the ants!  When were past then it was a case of pat down to make sure that none had got on me – several had but managed to get rid of them before they bit which was lucky.

Rest of hike was uneventful and we eventually came across the chimps in the trees.  They weren’t wearing clothes or drinking tea like they are on the TV adverts!  There was a family of about 10 of them we could see although couldn’t get a great view as they were quite high up.  After only a few minutes though they made a noise again came down the trees and then were off again.  Queue another uphill sprint to try to catch up with them.  We came across them right by the other car park (could have just started from there and saved a lot of hiking!) and managed to scramble through the bushes to get a better view.  This was the best pictures I got.  There were actually 14 in the group we couldn’t see them all last time due to the tree cover and the size of some of the young.  They were eating fig leaves and again they soon moved on through the trees – they cover a lot of ground in a day.  It was interesting to see how the mother and father worked together on the branches to allow the babies to cross.  They are intelligent creatures.

As we were at the car park we called the driver to come and pick us up rather than walking the 2 hours back (which Anthony seem reluctant to do).  My chimp trekking experiences was all over by 9.30am!  So much for a full days hiking as training but I guess running up hills at over 2000m altitude is a reasonable start to training.  One thing I did learn in time for Kili is on summit day when we start hiking at midnight is to keep some snacks readily to hand in my pocket.  Having not had breakfast, running at altitude and walking into a tree (don’t ask!) I felt quite lightheaded and didn’t have time to stop and go into my pack to get food.

Got back to Kigali about 5pm and checked in to the Golf Hills Residence.  Nice friendly place a bit out of the town and was highly recommended on trip advisor.  My room was huge and the hotel also had a lounge with some comfy sofas.  Which I needed as my food took so long to arrive!  I got a bit annoyed with them and they ended up giving it me for free which was nice of them.

Next day I was asking about the buses to Gisyeni and the hotel offered to go buy my ticket for me which was great – saved me the hassle of the bus station.  Always really busy places that I find quite intimidating.  I then walked down to the Genocide Memorial Centre to depress myself again.  It is very well done and l learnt a few more things about it.  The UN commander General Romeo Dallaire (what a name!) had been trying to flag to the UN that something was going to happen.  When it all started he said give me 5,500 troops and the mandate to use them and I will stop the genocide.  The UN never gave it to him.  In the same UN meeting they discussed the tragedy that was unfolding and how it needed to be stopped while ordering the withdrawal of the UN troops!  They used more troops to forcibly remove UN personal that Dallaire was requesting to stop the genocide! 

The UN senior staff now, at least recognise that their response was wrong here and also in Bosnia which was happening at exactly the same time.  But one of the most worrying things about the museum is that it ends saying that genocides will happen again (so much for the cries of never again after the holocaust!) so the world needs to learn from them so they can be prevented from occurring again.  It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for genocides to occur in some of the Arab spring countries.  Dallaire has written a book about his experience during this time which I think would be good (if depressing) to read.

When I tried to walk back the heavens opened up and I got drenched – I was in a spot where there was no shelter!  I eventually hid under a hedge until the worst had past but decided I was going to be brave and get the next free motor taxi that came along.  Only problem was none came or ages so I got wetter! Eventually one stopped and I hoped on to the back.  At least in Rwanda these bike taxis are heavily regulated – they all have to wear a tabard with their number on and provide helmets for the passengers.  But it still doesn’t stop me hating motorbikes and sitting on the back of one felt so unsafe.  I really hated going round corners and was holding onto the bike really tightly.  I was so pleased when I reached the hotel, it only cost me 50p to go 6km along a very quiet and quite straight road but I still found it terrifying!  So when I got there I had a beer with an American girl who I had met at breakfast to calm the nerves! 

She had to go out that night so I had dinner with a Nepalese guy I met in the lounge area.  He has just moved to Rwanda and will be here for 4 years.  He works for the UN refugee arm.  He was telling me how the UN grade the assignments based on the facilities the place has and how good the schools are etc. Category A are the best places but category B are still very good.  Delhi, Kula Lumpur, Bangkok are all category B – as is Kigali!  It says a lot how far this country has come in the last 18 years.   I was asking about the need for refuge work in Rwanda these days and he was telling me the issue is with Congo.  Looks like trouble has flared up again and this week alone over 5,000 refugees arrived in Gisenyi (where I am now!) which he is having to deal with.  In a way I wish I had asked him if he could arrange it for me to go see the camp but it’s probably a good idea I didn’t.

The bus ride up here was fairly uneventful but one thing I have noticed is how different everything is from Tanzania (and I don’t just mean the hills!).  The roads are good, every bit of land is being farmed (although I understand soil erosion is a problem), there are few mud huts – mostly bricks or wood and you don’t see women carrying water or bundles on their heads all the time and there is a sense of pride here.  Seems to be doing well – let’s just hope it can continue – the guilt money from the West won’t last forever!

I am staying at a place right on Lake Kiku – it is lovely – I have a stone bungalow overlooking the lake and as I write this I am looking at the mountains of Congo the other side of the lake.  I am sure mum is going to go in a panic when I say I am only 5km from the border with Congo and the civil war – but don’t worry its meant to be perfectly safe here – just not 5km away!  The lake is beautiful though – it reminds me a lot of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I hope to take out the canoe tomorrow or maybe even swim to the nearby island.

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About becksupeverest

Took a leave of absence from work and decided to work as a volunteer in Tanzania based in Korogwe, a small town in the northeast of the country (combined with some travels around East Africa). The project is to look at the cost base, strategy and business plan of a tree nursery NGO - one of the Gatsby Foundation projects.
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