Rwanda. Land Of A Thousand Hills.
2nd February 2016
When most people think of Rwanda they think of genocide. The events of 1994 were horrific as nearly one million people were slaughtered in just one hundred days. It was a tragic, appalling moment in the very recent history of this small African country.
But I don’t want to focus on past events. I want to tell you about Rwanda now; about the magical country that my wife and I visited over Christmas; about the truly remarkable sense of community spirit that has been the foundation for the new Rwanda that the people who live there have proudly built.
Rwanda is undoubtedly one of the friendliest countries to which we have had the pleasure to visit and also one of the most respectful. Name one other country, and I include our own in this, where deprived kids don’t snatch sweets when you offer them out? Name another country where on the last Saturday of each month everyone, and I mean everyone, works on something for the good of the community? Cleaning the streets, picking up litter, painting communal buildings. No matter what a person’s status they work together for the common good.
This is a country that has realised that working in unison has been the only way to rebuild over the past 20 years and they are now using this spirit and momentum to harness an expanding tourist industry.
The capital is Kigali, a vibrant city with the genocide memorial museum being one of the most balanced and thoughtful museums we have ever visited, and Lake Kivu is a spectacularly breathtaking body of water that sits between the stunning valleys to the West.
The big draw though, and certainly the most famous, are the mountain gorillas. If you have ever watched the movie Gorillas In The Mist you’ll know a little about Diane Fossey and her work during the 70s to conserve what was a dwindling population, and through a superb government initiative continuing what she began the Rwandan gorillas are now fully protected with a strictly limited eighty people per day allowed across the five volcanoes in the Volcano National Park to visit one of the ten endangered gorilla groups. The poachers of the 70’s and 80’s have been rehabilitated and converted to guides, and at the bottom of the volcanoes themselves are a number of lodges, across all budgets, being built to cope with the steadily increasing demand.
The eco-tourism is definitely working, the local economy is growing without the need for any garish high rise hotels, and most importantly the population of the Rwandan mountain gorillas has risen from 250 in 1981 to nearly 900 today.
How was the gorilla experience? Well, I can definitely say it’s one of the best things either of us have ever done. Really, spending an hour in the company of these animals who are behaviourally so close to us is both humbling and mesmerizing. It was a moment of calm and tranquillity that will stay with me forever.
Did we get close to them? We had visions of seeing them from a distance, through the forest whilst trying to stay out of sight, but in fact our experience with them was far closer and more intimate than we could ever have imagined. One even appeared to smile for a photo..….