In search of nature!

I am about 6 weeks into my assignment here in Rwanda, and all seems to be going well with my projects (blog to follow after the next milestones). Last weekend, Jennifer returned from her home visit, and was due to go to Huye (a.k.a. Butare), where she will spend the rest of her assignment at the RBC/MPPD manufacturing facility. We thought this would be a great opportunity for a road trip, as there is much to see in the south of Rwanda.

The ‘plan’ was to leave around midday on Thursday, to give some time to visit some interesting sites along the way, to get to Huye before dusk (and avoid the stress of driving at night). Our time keeping not so good (“Hey, we are in Africa now!”), meant we left around 4ish. If you are on the roads when it is getting dark here, it is a whole other ball game! The trucks and lorries do not drive around the city during the day, so they climb the ‘thousand hills’ at night, causing massive jams. Dusk is also rush hour, so the concentration of cars is much greater. It also tends to rain at dusk, so there are more people running around. Also, drivers either like to drive with no lights on (not sure if this is economical or not) or with the ‘big lights’ on, just to blind you. And there is also a strange lights game the bus drivers play, with signalling by use of headlights and/or indicators; I haven’t quite understood the language yet… And cyclists like to ride with no lights, no reflectors and with dark clothing, just to make sure you are concentrating. Much concentration is needed here! It’s all good fun though, and I think it improves ones driving, although it will take me some time to readjust to UK driving, like stopping at roundabouts until clear and allowing pedestrian priority at zebra crossings…

After negotiating the traffic to get towards the outskirts of Kigali, we stopped for fuel. As we finished paying, the heavens opened and it rained hard. Within seconds, the car was surrounded people taking cover under the petrol stations canopy. It felt like being in a fishbowl, with all these faces looking in and smiling at the Muzungus. I really wanted to take a photo, but the logistics of getting 50 odd release form signatures seemed too much…so I took a sneaky/artsy shot via the wing mirror…

People taking cover from the rain pour

People taking cover from the rain downpour

 

#selfie

#selfie

As we leave the petrol station and people are running to get out of the rain, it feels as if the London/Boston Marathon is taking place, but they forgot to close the roads to traffic. Luckily I have a co-pilot to take some snaps. I see so much when driving but can’t normally take snaps.

Rush Hour Madness

Rush Hour Madness

 

Rush Hour Madness

Rush Hour Madness

After a 4+ hour drive, we reach the small quiet town, which was much colder than my ‘home’ city of Kigali. Whilst checking out the rooms, there are a group of bats having dinner on the swarm of dragonflies under the street lights. A nice reminder of the ADP 5 Whys story of the Washington monument…

Unfortunately, either the cold weather (or something I ate) knocked me for six, and I was not well enough to visit the site on Friday. Luckily, the hotel was quiet and the manager allowed me to have a lie in and late check out. Hopefully I will be able to check it out on another visit.

Later on Friday, we headed out to Gikongoro. The scenery en route was great, with small villages and many tea plantations and rice fields being tended to. The local prison detainees of Huye were also out in their orange jumpsuits, working alongside the others. Our hotel for the next couple of nights was The Golden Monkey, which is a little misleading. There were no monkeys, but an abundance of bats. A whole tree full of bats. Singing bats.

Bats, which were awake during the day too

Bats, which were awake during the day too

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning was an early start, with a long drive to the Nyungwe rainforest. Luckily, the call to prayer from the local mosque ensured I got up at dawn. The drive was another lengthy one with scenery abound as we ascended and descended the famous hills of Rwanda. Interesting things on the road, such as cyclists hanging on to the back of trucks for a ride up the hills (loving the photos), an overturned container trailer over the edge of the mountain in the rainforest (unfortunately not safe to stop for a photo), a little mountain monkey (plenty of photos) and a small mammal of some kind (maybe a small deer? – too scared for a photo).

 

"Come on, you can overtake us"

“Come on, you can overtake us”

When 2 become 3...

When 2 become 3…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first monkey sighting...thought it was a colobus, but told "just" a mountain monkey...I was happy with it...

My first monkey sighting…thought it was a colobus, but told “just” a mountain monkey…I was happy with it…

Mountain Monkey

Mountain Monkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we arrived at the visitors centre, there were a couple of Canadian ladies about to start a hike. As it contained the canopy walk way which we wanted to do, and the chance of seeing monkeys and birds plus waterfalls, we quickly decided to join them without looking in to more details (such as the difficulty rating). As this was my first hike, it was probably a mistake going for the hardest trail…

Ours was the big red trail...no pain no gain,,,

Ours was the big red trail…no pain no gain…

Imbaraga Trail

Imbaraga Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The walk to the canopy bridge was quite special, walking through a rainforest for the first time. There was various fauna along the way, with the condensation and mist quickly becoming apparent. The butterflies leading the way were also something special (no photos). We soon reached the canopy bridge, which is a suspension bridge taking people across the canopy of the rainforest, offering panoramic vistas and the potential to see an array of birds and monkeys. The 160 meters is split in to 3 sections, with varying heights to the forest floor below. Let’s say that it is a long way down!

Canopy Bridge

The Canopy Bridge

The Canopy Bridge

The Canopy Bridge

 

The bridge itself does not feel sturdy (in my opinion), but I was reassured that it can hold 4 tonnes. As the last person in the line, I could feel all the movement, like the bull whip effect. Slowly walking across, quite frankly feeling that the bridge would tip over at some points, the views made it all worth it.

Our team making the crossing

Our team making the crossing

Crossing the 90 metre stretch

Crossing the 90 metre stretch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing with put 7 hour hike, we saw many birds, with our guide Thierry explaining each one and showing us what they look like close up on his phone. He also had the sounds of each. He told us about the various plants and trees, and some traditional uses of the forest produce, such as the bark used for intestinal worms (the original Albendazole!). Luckily, Thierry also spotted the fire ants, and told us to run for it. Even by running, and with trousers tucked in to socks, the little things still managed to get through to the skin for a bite. The reason for the name fire ant is quite obvious! The other find was the sign of chimpanzees close by, with some fresh muck left behind. We never got to see the actual chimp…this time…

DSC02243DSC02289

Along the route, we saw four great waterfalls, and plenty of fauna. Unfortunately, none of the 13 primates were spotted along the route, the birds were far away, and this was not the best season to see the 154 species of orchid. I still managed to take hundreds of photos, and enjoyed my first trek and first experience in a proper rainforest!

WaterfallThe hikers

 

 

 

 

Totally exhausted, after a calculated 5000 calorie walk, there was a little mountain monkey at the visitors lodge. I quickly got the camera and started snapping. We were then told that there was a whole family at the rear of the lodge. This was the icing on the cake, being a few meters from these monkeys. The drive back and at the hotel, I was able to spot a few more bird species and last mountain monkey.

Mountain Monkey

Mountain Monkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain Monkey

Mountain Monkey

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain MonkeyMountain Monkey

 

 

For Sunday, we decided not to try another hike as originally planned, but to go back to Huye for a quiet day, visiting an art craft store and going for “the best ice cream in Rwanda”, as per previous PULSE volunteer experiences. Both the vanilla and coffee were good, but I will need to try the tropical fruit versions next time as the photos looked very tasty.

Inzozi Nziza Ice Cream Parlour

Inzozi Nziza Ice Cream Parlour

Ice Cream*Coffee*Dreams

Ice Cream*Coffee*Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I seemed to have not learned my lesson, as I departed Huye at around 4ish. The eventful ride back home was an hour quicker, even with the police stopping me…another story for another time…