Matt and Rachel's African travel blog
When most people think of Rwanda, the first thing that comes into their mind is the horrific genocide that took place there in early 1994. However, visiting Rwanda today, you would never imagine that only 24 years ago, whipped up into a homicidal frenzy by racist propaganda, neighbours were slaughtering one another with government-provided machetes.
Over the course of around 100 days, more than 1 million people were killed, and countless more were injured or left permanently disabled, either physically or psychologically. An estimated 250,000 of the dead are buried at the genocide memorial in Kigali, the capital, which is a sobering but worthwhile visit. (There are genocide memorials in almost every town in Rwanda.)
Yet despite these horrors, Rwanda, also known as the land of a thousand hills, has made a remarkable recovery, and there is a strong culture of forgiveness for the sins of the past.
Some other interesting facts about Rwanda… on the last Saturday of every month, adult Rwandans are required to join in for a day of community service known as Umuganda. (Since ethnic/tribal identity was exploited in the past and formed the basis of the genocide, today the emphasis is on unity as a single people.) Rwanda was also, as far as we could work out, the first country in the world to ban single use plastic bags, and our truck was thoroughly checked for this illegal contraband when we entered.
Rwanda is now one of the safest and cleanest countries in the world, with a booming economy, and excellent roads. Although the countryside is so densely populated that it’s rare to get a section of road without bikes or people/animals walking.
We celebrated Rachel’s birthday and the arrival of the new year in Kigali, enjoying some excellent French-inspired food, and staying under a real roof for only the third time since we’d left Cape Town.
From Kigali, we headed down to the Nyungwe Forest National Park in the southwestern part of Rwanda, which is famous for its abundance and diversity of primates.
Even outside the park boundaries we encountered a troop of baboons (see the photo at the top also), including one large male that tried to join us in the shower (not pictured!).
Even driving along the beautiful new road through the park we encountered two different types of monkeys. (In case you haven’t noticed, we were particularly excited about the roads in Rwanda because the last few days in western Tanzania had featured probably the worst roads on the trip so far, with more potholes than actual road surface in places.)
One of the highlights of Rwanda was our morning trek through the forest searching for chimpanzees. Actually, the team of trackers ahead of our group did the hard work of locating them, but even with the assistance of these professionals the chimps were still somewhat shy and elusive, as they mainly spend their time at the top of the forest canopy.
However, with our binoculars and very large lens, we did manage to get a couple of nice views of several different chimps.