Susan Davies travelled to Rwanda with her husband Lionel to track mountain gorillas on the lush green slopes of the Virunga Mountains. Here, she tells us how there’s so much more to Rwanda than its majestic silverbacks alone.
There was only ever one thing on my bucket list and that was to see mountain gorillas in the wild. My husband and I had a detailed discussion with Anton Walker, one of the Africa specialists at Scott Dunn. Anton drew up an itinerary taking note of exactly what we wanted to do and where we would like to stay. We flew into Kigali to start the adventure and were met by our smiling personal driver, loaded into a 4×4 and driven to the Kigali Serena Hotel, where we spent our first night.
Our driver, Aimable, arrived promptly at 9am and gave us a tour of the city before taking us to the Genocide Museum, which was very moving, informative and well-presented and should be compulsory for all tourists. It gave us a much better understanding of the event and how it was influenced by Europeans. We then visited the largest indoor market in Rwanda, where we saw vast amounts of fresh food for sale. We had been told that Rwanda was self-sufficient in food and we could totally believe it seeing all that was on offer in the market! From there, we drove to Volcanoes Virunga Lodge for our three-night stay. The drive gave us an insight into the typical way of life of the local people. Once out of the city there were very few motorised vehicles, the main modes of transport were bicycles and on foot, with very heavy loads being carried on the head or precariously balanced on the bicycles.
On arrival at the lodge, we were wowed by the wonderful views over the volcanoes which could be enjoyed from every room. The lodge was spacious and comfortable and the food was excellent. The staff were attentive, professional and friendly and we had a personal butler on hand whenever we needed! The following morning, we set off on our trek to see the gorillas. We were fortunate to have been allocated the ‘Lucky’ family who had decided that day to come out of the bamboo forest into an area that the local people were cultivating, and therefore were out in the open which made for amazing viewing. The dominant silverback must have had a watch on, because exactly one hour after we started our viewing he called the family and led them back into the bamboo, his youngest son following closely behind Dad! It was an outstanding experience and the adventure didn’t end there. The following day we trekked to see the golden monkeys and were treated to a very entertaining hour with a large group of these endearing primates.
Volcanoes Virunga Lodge have a project called ‘One Sheep One Family’ whereby a sheep is provided to each of the families in the community. We were privileged to be part of a presentation of sheep to some of the local villagers during our stay. The joy shown by the recipient of a $40 sheep made us realise just how fortunate we are, and it was very humbling to see how happy they appeared to be even though they had little money and laboured long hours in the fields. Our visit to Rwanda was originally about seeing gorillas and golden monkeys but it turned out to be so much more than that. We loved seeing how friendly the Rwandans were and how they lived in the rural surroundings – even small things such as how they dressed for the walk to church (sometimes two hours long). It’s such a beautiful country and the progress they have made in the 25 years since the atrocities is so impressive. Thank you for organising a visit we will always remember; everything was perfect and even exceeded our expectations. My bucket list is now empty, but my husband has Namibia on his, so expect a call from us soon.