Monday, November 7, 2011

Nyungwe Rainforest

This weekend, Claire, her dad and I decided to conquer the Nyungwe rainforest in southern Rwanda. We left for Butare on Friday, stopping at the National Museum to catch up on the history of Rwanda. We spent one night in Butare and then we were off into the mountains.

I immediately recognized the road we took because I had ridden a coffee bike along it just two years before with my fellow Harwood students. The road led us through small villages, dependent on coffee and tea cultivation. As we drove, we saw women with huge baskets upon their heads packed with tea leaves. Children on the side of the road yelled “abazungu!” which translates to “white people!” As we drove higher and higher into the mountains, it became clear that we were distancing ourselves from the hustle and bustle of Kigali. Villages became smaller, fields became vaster, and the mountains became larger. Soon, tea fields dominated the landscape. Tea bushes are thick and low to the ground. They were planted in large swaths so closely together that I still don’t understand how it’s physically possible to walk in between the rows to pick the leaves. For two nights, we stayed at a guesthouse on a tea plantation, which was affiliated with the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management. It was a beautiful area just outside the Nyunguwe National Park entrance. 

Tea fields below our accommodations

Picking some tea

Driving through tea country

During the weekend, we took two hikes. The first one was less than two hours and only skirted the main road. The second was what I would consider a real hike. We started at the far entrance of the park and walked through the tea fields to find the trail. Our guide led the way, pointing out certain plants, trees (especially the oldest tree in the world, the Fern Tree), and animals along the way. As we hiked further into the forest, we could hear the rushing of water growing louder. Two hours into our hike, we descended, working our way down switchbacks until we came upon our destination: a gigantic waterfall. Our guide stopped to explain that the water would eventually feed into the Congo River. We were already soaked from the mist, but we weren’t done yet. Our guide continued to lead us closer to the waterfall up slippery rocks until we were right in front of it. It was absolutely amazing!

On our hike!

The view from a clearing on the trail

Claire's dad and the legendary Fern Tree

The path leading up to the waterfall.
Please note the railing/ladder to the left above our guide.

The waterfall

Me in front of the waterfall!

We also saw monkeys! As we drove through Nyungwe on our way to our second hike, we saw a few monkeys hanging out on the side of the road. As we continued, we began seeing more and more. Claire, who is a monkey expert, identified them as we went, including the identification of an Owl-faced monkey. We later told our guide what we had seen and he was shocked. He told us that there were only 8 Owl-faced monkeys reported to be in Nyungwe and it is extremely rare to come across one!

A mountain monkey


Liz said...

Thanks for sharing your trips. They are so cool! I'm glad that you get the opportunity to see so much. What a great experience.

Ally Bataille said...

Elena, this is soo cool. I want to go there. I have to go there. That sounds like such a sweet adventure. WOW!

Mary Fiorini said...

Wow, Elena, I could feel what it must be like. So amazing to be in such a beautiful place and see for yourself. Very powerful!