Not long after I returned from Kampala, a new arrival showed up in Kigali: my boyfriend Joe. After three months of poor Skype connections it was nice to speak to each other face to face, in complete sentences. It was also the perfect opportunity to see some of the amazing nature Rwanda has to offer.
First order of business – Nyungwe National Forest. This rainforest was rated as one of National Geographic’s Best Trips for 2014. The drive from Kigali to our hotel outside the forest was about 6 hours (very funny, Google maps), not including an overly lengthy stop for lunch in Butare (Rwandan restaurants are not known for their speed of service, especially outside of Kigali).
Nyungwe National Forest is best known for its variety of birds, and its several resident primate species, including chimpanzees. Like most (if not all) national parks in Rwanda, you cannot enter the park without a guide. Trails are laid out as specific hikes with known length and difficulty level, and you pay per hike per person, and each group is assigned a guide who can tell you a little bit about what you are looking at. On our first full day in the park, we decided this was a “go big or go home” scenario and chose the longest hike offered. The trail was called Imbaraga, which is Kinyarwanda for “strength.” Our guide playfully informed us that Americans never chose that trail.
Not far into the hike we were treated to a surprise audience with a large troop of black-and-white colobus monkeys. They were actively leaping from branch to branch, shaking entire trees and (usually) sticking their landings with surprising accuracy. We occasionally heard a loud thump on the ground and the rustling of a colobus scrambling back up into a tree, which our guide conjectured was a result of eating too much fermented fruit. The remainder of the trail was a collage of cascading waterfalls, imposing mahogany trees, massive ferns, and scenic views into the valleys below.
At about 10km covering a ~700 m altitude change, the trail lived up to its name, and was also a portrait of sweat, breathlessness, and tired quadriceps. Having spent a few months adjusting to the 1500 m elevation of Kigali, I know Joe was feeling it even more at 2500 m on his third day in the country. All in all, though, it was nothing that couldn’t be cured with some cookies, French fries, and sugary juice from the canteen when we returned to the visitor center. Of course these also seemed to be favorite foods (or we seemed to be easy targets) for the mountain monkeys who started emerging from the trees to get a closer look at our snacks. I watched the boldest one scoot closer for what I thought would be a slow, sneaky attempt at my food.
But no, I discovered it was more brazen than that as it ran full speed for my tray of cookies, stuffing as many as possible into its mouth and snatching the remainder in its small monkey hands. It bounded just into the edge of the forest and chose a perch from which it could make steady, knowing eye contact with us as it devoured the cookies one by one, crumbs on its hands, face, and belly fur. I want to feign anger and indignation at the thieving monkey, but it is too hard to deny that it was the best part of my day.