Chris and I took a canoe out on Lake Bunyonyi for a couple of hours. It was so serene… until the thunderclouds rolled over. Plans for an afternoon hike disappeared as the rain came down.
Fortunately we awoke to clear skies (albeit still dark) the next morning as we set off before dawn to the meeting point for gorilla trekking. We climbed up to Ruhija, through the fog, watching the sun rise over the mountains. Tom and Chris trekked the Bitukura family of mountain gorillas, although saying ”trekked” might be a bit of a stretch. The gorillas were only a few hundred metres from the road! Regardless of how long you trek though, it’s still an amazing experience to sit in such close proximity to these animals and observe their interactions with each other. You can really see how we are related to the gorillas and there is something profound about sitting in the forest with such close kin.
From Lake Bunyoni we wound our way through the mountains into Rwanda, to Ruhengeri (or Musanze as it is also called). We spent half a day with John, a local guide who showed us the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo from the magnificent vantage point of Virunga Lodge. We enjoyed lunch on the lake shore, dreaming of buying land and having a holiday house in this stunning corner of the world.
Early the next morning Chris and I headed to the Parc National des Volcans to trek the Golden Monkeys. Like the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, the Volcanoes National Park is dense bush. And like the mountain gorillas in Bwindi, the Golden Monkeys do not care for paths to make it easy for us to get to them. But there’s a real feeling of adventure as you beat your way through what seems to be uncharted territory to find these rare creatures.
We decided to change our itinerary a bit and head to Lake Kivu instead of spend an extra night in Ruhengeri. The main tourist town on the lake is called Gisenyi and comes highly recommended. However it is right on the Congolese border with Goma only a few kilometres away and that very day, M23 rebels marched into Goma and seized it. On learning the rebels were nearly on Goma, we decided to avoid Gisenyi (it was just a bit too close for comfort) and instead went to Kibuye. To get to Kibuye, the most direct route again would be to go to Gisenyi and head south along the lake shore. But we felt safer taking a different route and ended up travelling through the most beautiful landscapes imaginable, well worth the detour. Our guesthouse, Hotel de Sainte Bethanie, was set right on the lake shore and our rooms looked out over the water.
We took a boat ride on the lake in the morning, landing on Napoleon Island for what we were told was to be a bird watching walk. Not a bird to be seen, but thousands and thousands of bats circling overhead. The island was actually a rather tall mountain jutting out of the lake, which we hiked to the top. From the top we could look out over the lake to the Democratic Republic of Congo, closer to Rwanda, as well as all the small islands dotting Lake Kivu.
Kigali was our last stop, where we visited the Genocide Memorial. It is a powerful exhibition, but it’s challenging to comment further without sounding trite or waffling for pages. Our final dinner was at Hotel des Mille Collines, with pre-dinner cocktails by the pool before heading upstairs to the Panorama fine-dining restaurant. What a way to cap off a fantastic trip. Thank you Tom and Chris for being such awesome travel buddies, and great first clients!