Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Road to Rwanda


The road from Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Rwanda to Parc de Volcans in Rwanda takes about a full day to cover, although it's not that long on a map. It has some steep drop offs, and of course no guard rails. At one point on the dirt, one lane road we were on the cliff side and passed by a huge truck and I was sure we were going over the side! if you don't look down too much, it's a beautiful drive - but I found it horribly depressing as well. At the Bwindi park boundary, the trees stop in a line and are abutted by crops. ALL of the neighboring hills, once forest and gorilla habitat, are now crops. The photo above is of these hills, and as you can see, all the natural vegetation has been replaced by beans, banana trees and other subsistence farming. It's really sad. Even if the gorillas were to try and recover as a species, where could they live? Unless some of the land is reclaimed and turned from crops back to it's natural forest, there simply isn't enough space. The last mountain gorillas are on a small habitat island, surrounded by people, and I have to say, the future looks bleak from outside the forest.

We did see signs of forest elephants while still in the forest - though no elephants. I am glad the rare and hard to see forest elephant is still there - though again, limited habitat for them too. We saw a large troop of L'Hoest's monkeys (photo of one above). They seemed not too bothered by us, crossing the road not far ahead even when we got on foot to see them better and take some pictures. There were some interesting caves along the road, about the size to accommodate one person, and I wondered when they were created and who might have lived there. It could have been early, early man.

As an aside, while we were in Kampala at the beginning of the trip we went to the Uganda National Museum. This is interesting, though a very dingy, oldish, dusty, primitive museum it does have fossils millions of years old (literally, evidence of the very earliest people in the world), spears and such, and some interesting information on early and traditional tribal life in Uganda. Of course, the British have most of the original artifacts from Uganda in THEIR museum, giving Uganda crappy replicas. While the argument might be made this is to "protect" the treasures since Uganda went through some turmoil, I wish we would just leave other cultures alone and if they want to not preserve their history, that's their choice - we can keep the replicas if we want mementos from other lands. While at the museum, there was a function on the neighboring lawn outside and they were blasting loud pop music - it was weird to be in a museum, normally a quiet place, with this soundtrack. It got weirder when we reached the music section of the museum and suddenly the guide and an old man started playing the African instruments and another woman from the museum tied on a fur skirt and began to dance. A live music performance at the museum - very interesting, and strange, and sort of oddly nice.

Back to the road to Rwanda. At one point a truck would not let us pass (very unusual) and the guide became concerned. He said sometimes thieves from Congo target the road and they hide in the forest, run out and ambush and then run back into the forest to escape. I wish I hadn't gotten this news bulletin until after we hit Rwanda. Apparently the thieves sometimes use trucks to block the road. Another truck had an armed guard on top- thief prevention, we were told. I was looking forward to getting off the road. (FYI, there are no other roads to take).

We didn't have trouble leaving the country, though the customs/border guard was surly. Rwanda looked the same, only with even MORE deforestation. They have taken every square centimeter and turned it into a farm, and it's tragic.

We finally arrived at our hotel, Gorilla's Nest Lodge, aka Mountain Gorilla's Nest. This was a big change from Gorilla Forest Camp in Rwanda. Let's just say it's not luxury - but it's workable. What's hard about Rwanda is people don't speak much English, it's French or Kinya-Rwanda. We found 2-3 people on staff who spoke English but we had some communication problems (try to pantomime "extra blanket" and if you get it, try "camera charger." Good luck. It took my roommate 20 minutes to borrow an umbrella despite the fact one was in view and she was pointing at it - they kept handing her paper bags of various sizes). We were all SHOCKED to learn the lodge is only three years old - it seems much, much older. Overall it is pleasant enough I guess. It's cold due to the elevation - so if you go, pack silk long underwear and fleece as you will need it here, in addition to the extra blanket, if you can pull that request off. We ran into a businessman from England in town for months at a time and he said the lodge was not the only place in town to stay but the only one you'd want to stay in. I don't doubt this. Just know going in they are early on the tourism thing and you can't expect to find the same levels of service as you would in Kenya or even Uganda. The hotel manager was very nice, however, and he was serious about meeting the needs of our group and did a nice job taking care of details.

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