It was not lost on me that anyone I met in Rwanda from about the age of 20 onwards had experienced and survived one of the most unspeakably dark events of the 20th century. Was the man driving my taxi a Hutu or a Tutsi? What was his story? Did he lose loved ones? Did he still think about it each day? What did he see? Did he himself kill anyone? It was impossible not to wonder.
After two days caged in the back of the truck from 5am through until well after dark, finally crossing the border and pulling into our Rwandan campsite was a moment of pure elation. Though possibly not for our poor cook group who had to pull dinner together at 9pm in the freezing cold rain.
Entering Rwanda that morning instantly brought back memories of our early days in Guinea – the people were just so friendly. They could not have made us feel more at home. The big beaming smiles and waving arms were in stark contrast to the welcome I’d expected, given Rwanda’s history.
We arrived at our campsite at 9pm at night and had our Gorilla trek booked for the crack of dawn the very next morning. We were cutting it a little fine, but we made it. Malaria cases and emergency crew changes be damned!
The gorillas were something we’d been talking about since day one, so we’d had a good six months to build up the experience in our imaginations. Turns out they were every bit as incredible as we’d hoped. We trekked for about two hours to reach Amohoro, our gorilla family, named after the Rwandan word for ‘peace’.
The trek itself was no easy feat. We walked about two hours each way in the intermittent rain, the whole time either ankle deep in mud or pushing our way through stinging nettles. The gorillas are tracked all day every day, so our guide knew exactly where to take us, and before long it was time to leave the trail and head down the mountain. That meant another half hour of trying to balance from tree root to tree root like the graceful gazelles we are not, trying desperately not to slip and break an ankle.
There are few things in this world worth braving stinging nettles for, but seeing an entire family of Mountain Gorillas is definitely one of them! We had 45 precious minutes to sit, observe, and try to pick our jaws back up off the floor, as we watched these beautiful creatures go about their day to day business. We saw a baby tumble turning, up and down the mountain, crawling all over her elders before eventually having a nap on a mate’s belly. We watched as the big silverback, more powerful in person than I could ever capture in my photos, stirred from his sleep and took his place in the middle of the family. We even got a romantic display of…ahem…affection from one of the silverbacks and his lady friend who didn’t seem to mind an audience. Every single moment was incredible.
I left the Amahoro family on a high, breathing a quick sigh of relief that my $900 had been well spent.
Our time in Rwanada was shortlived and after the gorillas we had just one more night before we headed to Rwanda. We headed into town for a long night and morning of dancing in a local club, we discovered a little cafe with real coffee and the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted in my life, and we browsed the local markets delighted to find rosemary among the otherwise standard assortment of African fruit and vegetables. Africa is yet to really truly embrace the herb in its cooking repertoire, so you can understand why a little sprig of rosemary would cause a cook group so much joy.
Our final stop before heading to the border, was the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. A place to learn, to try and understand, and to remember what happened in 1994. What I find truly remarkable about Rwanda is that Rwandans as a whole have not allowed themselves to become victims of their past. Whether it’s in spite of or because of the genocide, Rwanda seemed to me to be a country that doesn’t want to forget, and yet refuses to have their future defined by the past. A country of one people, one nation.