Several key words describe today: amazing, breathtaking, natural beauty, poverty, happiness, and wow!! When one thinks of Africa they think of safaris and more of a desert, savannah, or dry feel, however, Rwanda is totally opposite of that. It is called the Land of Rolling Hills. After what I experienced today, I am mesmerized by it's natural beauty. The people here are so nice and always smiling despite their poverty and living conditions. I feel welcomed everywhere I go!! Words or even pictures can not really desribe what I experienced today. I didn't know where to look as there was so much scenery to take in....Literally every several minutes rendered new visual beauties that are so different from the next ones! I took 100 pics in just the 2 hour ride to Ruhengeri!!
I knew today was going to be great right from the start...it all started with waking up this morning, stepping onto my terrace, and viewing the beautiful mountains in the distance. Breaky was interesting as it was not the standard US breakfast and once again I will be in a Starbucks withdrawl very soon! Their coffee was very strong and not good, however, I tried "African Coffee" and that was not bad! It was almost like a chai coffee as its made with milk and ginger! When I had breaky in the morning I started conversations with the staff and had them give me a brief lesson in Rwandan Language.
Amakuru-hi; how are u doing
Biteni byiza-how r u
Then, I went to update my blog at their internet services, but couldn't because I didn't have a laptop with me. They advertise free internet, but what they mean is free WIFI with your own supplied laptop...grrr! But once again, their hospitality shined and the staff member got his personal laptop from the car and let me use it. Now, I am uncertain when I will be able to update this again as the connection was soooo SLOW!
I met up with Abus and Jimmy and they took me to the Hotel Milles Collines. This is where many of the Tuti's seeked refuge from being killed. Although the story of Hotel Rwanda was based on this hotel, the movie was actually filmed in South Africa which I did not know. We drove up the reception area, however, the entire place was under mass renovations and I could not view the hallways or pool in which they used the pool water to survive. Just the thought of the mass chaos that happened right at that hotel was a bit creepy.
Next, it was to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. This was a very depressing and chilling part of the day. The museum takes you through all the events of the Genocide of the Rwandan Tutis. Seeing the movie Hotel Rwanda really helped me understand and put the pieces of the story together. Several of the exhibits put chills throughout my body as they had a room full of skulls, and decayed bones along with victims rosaries that were tarnished. Another exhibit had the entire room with personal photos from the family members of those that died. They also had a room for all the children that died with their picture, their age, type of death (machetti, or shot, etc), and their favorite food...so depressing. There was also the remains of their clothing in the exhibit along with videos of survivors telling their tales of how their loved ones were brutually tortured, raped, and killed in front of their eyes. It is so difficult to believe that this happened only 15 yrs ago. The site contains several huge cement block grave sites. It is the site chosen for the mass burial of the 250,000 victims of the genocide. Additionally, Upstairs there is a Genocide Memorial to all the genocides in the world that have taken place such as in Cambodia with Pol Pott, Germany with Hitler, Bosnia, etc. It's one thing to read about history in the books, but many of my trips have allowed me to see the tradgic sites first hand which is an irerasable memory.
We were supposed to head to Ruhengeri, however, I asked to go to a local maket to shop...of course!! I felt like I should be hearing "Same, Same, but different" like I did in Asia because everything in each hut was the SAME. Some of the true Rawandan items were braclets and necklaces made of PAPER, wooden statues and masks, straw weave baskets, and gorilla items. I saw several guys playing this unique game indigenous to East Africa where they use marbles on a wood palette...seemed like backgammon, but couldn't understand the game. Abus was funny during the shopping because he followed me shop after shop, and was my shadow and then would carry the items I bought! Quite nice actually! Last was a stop at a local supermarket for snacks since we skipped lunch. The supermarket didn't even carry Coca Cola Lite...ugh! This is an omen...I know it!
In the city of Kigali there are clusters of red brick shacks as homes, red dirt side roads, congestion, and tons of people walking on the side of the streets. Everyone carrys heavy items on their heads, and the babies are all strapped to the backs of their moms. There are lots of bodas zipping around too (but nothing like Vietnam). Bodas are motorcycles that got their name from transporting items over the border from Rwanda to Uganda, hence, boda, boda. It is also hot and humid as it was around 80 degrees. Overall, the city of Kigali is very clean except for the messy dirt side roads.
Next, was the amazing 3 hour journey to Ruhengeri....it probably would have been 2 hours had I not requested to stop for scenic shots along the way! Endless rolling, lush, green hills being farmed with many crops with the backdrop of more green hills, evergreen and bamboo forests, open grass land, and swamps were all part of the scenery. Many of the people were trekking down the roads to fill their jugs with water along with their farm animals of goats. Also many of the locals were carrying heavy loads of vegetation on their heads or on their bikes. The kids always waved at us from the streets...I felt like a celebrity! ;-) Oh, and it randomly downpours throughout the day and night. There were several rain showers in the mountains from the distance. The roads were full of twists and turns along with what seemed to be a terrible bout of Chicago potholes all over...I felt like home! There were so many that Abus was constantly swirving in every direction to avoid them...as a side note the steering wheels are on the "wrong" side of the car yet they drive on the right side...they are a bit confused! Then, all of a sudden I saw this amazing jaw dropping sight...this huge volcano with clouds and fog surrounding it appeared in front of us as we were climbing up the hill. We were getting close to our destination of the Parc des Volcanoes where I will be doing mountain gorilla trekking. Once we got close to the hotel we were surrounded by several of the volcanoes. We went through the local village where it had even more poverty than in the city.
We arrived at my hotel Gorilla Nest Lodge. It has BEAUTIFUL grounds and views. Its nestled in between all of the volcanoes and mountains and has stone pathways leading to my quaint stone cottage with beautiful flowers and landscapes, however, the inside has much to be desired! The common areas are all open air with fireplaces and little coal burning pots to keep warm. There is a TV/reading room and dinning room. It does get cold here. Its probably low 50's or high 40's. As I got closer to my cottage I could hear the chants and voices of distant villagers along with many animal noises.
It got dark quickly and the entire pathway is lighted by lanterns. It was quite a sight to have it pitch black, look up, and see tons of stars...not like being in the city!
They add such nice touches as they bring hot water bottles for the bed when they turn down your room because they don't have heat here.
The hotel guests usually go to the main room with the TV which is always playing football (our soccer) and then head to dinner in the dinning room. The hotel is quite empty as its low season. It was a LONG day day so dinner and an early bedtime was awaiting.