Rwanda

RWANDA: I Can’t Wait to Return

Click on the picture to read my story on CNN.Com

Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas

Seeing the mountain gorillas again isn’t the only one reason I can’t wait to return to Rwanda. It amazes me how far the people appear to have come since the genocide, which is not even two decades old.  Economically supporting this country as they continue to rebuild their lives is important. Plus it is a beautiful country with plenty to do and see.

How cool is this!?!? National Cleaning Day: The last Saturday of every month is national cleaning day. The country shuts down until noon on that day so the citizens can tidy up their homes and communities.

TRAVEL TIPS:

–       No Visa needed for US citizens

–       US dollars widely accepted BUT they must not be ripped and they must be dated 2000 or more recent and for $50 & $100 bill they must be printed after 2006

–       In restaurants/stores your exchange rate is better when using a larger bill

–       Get gorilla permits EARLY 7 months out an we could only get them for 1day

–       PLASTIC SHOPPING BAGS are illegal in this country!

–       We used our friend Simon (South African now lives in Florida) to plan our entire trip feel free to reach out to him to get an idea of costs, location or options for anywhere in Africa. He’s great! simongluckman@hotmail.com

–       When using transfers you will be met upon arrival at all locations so don’t worry about finding anyone they will find you

–       Your driver will stay with you the entire time you are in country. (If you use Simon tell him you want Issac from Classic Africa Safaris he was a pleasure to spend so much time with plus he’s a sports addict and wisely an Eagles fan)

–       There are a few parks in the south we didn’t go to but would like to. You can also game view in this country for more go to rwandatourism.com/parks

Highlights:

Volcanoes National Park: (2.5 hours from Kigali) Surrounded by 5 beautiful volcanoes this is where you can see the Golden Monkeys and Mountain Gorillas. You need a day for each since tours are only in the morning.  No self hikes are allowed in this park.

SEEING THE GORILLAS:

-Expensive $500 a day for a permit that lets you watch them for 1 hour

-You need to hike in a bit of altitude so you must be relatively fit the hike starts at 2500 meters and the gorillas live from there up to 3500 meters

-The hike can be anywhere from an easy couple hours to uphill for several hours

-Can be wet so put camera in waterproof bag, like a kitchen ziplock

What to bring/do: I recommend hiring a porter at trail head to carry your bag & assist if you have trouble getting up the mountain. 1 per person! I also think you should accept the walking stick offered

-Camera -Water (your driver will likely have a cooler in your car)  -Thick pants (stinger needles burned my legs right through my pants)  -Garden Gloves (for the stinging needles) -Long sleeve cotton shirt and/or light weight rain coat -Long socks or gators to tuck the pants in (protection from fire ants) -Sturdy shoes

GOLDEN MONKEYS (The most endangered primates in Africa)

Endangered Golden Monkey

-Permits are easy to obtain at a cost of $100 for 1 hour of viewing

-Shorter hike and a good way to get acclimated with the terrain and altitude before the gorilla hike and See gorillas for clothing you should wear

OTHER HIKES IN VOLVANOES NATIONAL PARK

-Dian Fossey Tomb $75

-Bisoke (volcano) $75

-Nature walk $55

-Chain of volcanoes, 5 days $65

GENOCIDE MEMORIAL SITES: A day should be set aside to see the genocide memorial sites. (very graphic for young children)

“If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me” –Felicien Ntagengwa

STOP GENOCIDE!

In  1994 within 100 days it is estimated that 800,000 people were murdered and the violence did not stop there. To learn more about this tragic subject pick up this interesting book by BBC reporter Fergal Keane. Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey.

You would be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t learn about this country’s difficult history before visiting. If you don’t have time make your first stop here:

Kigali Memorial Centre I was surprised at how well done this museum is. It includes genocides that took place in other countries around the world. Incredible exhibits such as a room dedicated to the youngest victims. To this day victims are still being found and buried in the graves in the garden of this site. BUY the audio tour for $15.  If you really take it all in you will need about 3 hours.

Churches: There are several churches that are now memorial sites. As you will learn during the genocide people fled to the local churches thinking they would be safe. About an hour outside of Kigali and on our way to the Park we stopped at these two. Nyamata: You can still see the bullet holes in the roof and walls. The pews are filled with clothing that the victims were wearing. They say about 10,000 people killed inside and in the villages around this church. Behind the church you will find the mass graves. There are also the skulls and bones of victims on display. Ntarama: this church is were 5,000 people were killed. It is set up in a similar manner, with clothing of victims piled up on the pews in the church.

Victims’ Clothes

HOTELS:

As I said to our tour rep. “It’s the land of a thousand hills but should really be called the land of missed wake up calls.”  Do NOT count on a wake up call no matter how fancy the hotel!!

We booked on a package so I am not sure the individual costs of the places we stayed. Gorilla Mountain Lodge : The grounds are very pretty, with a volcano view! The place is clean. There’s a portable heater in the room, the room is so big it doesn’t heat it very well so I kept mine in the bathroom. There’s a fireplace in the room but that too lets off little heat, thankfully they put hot water bottles in the bed. Bring a flashlight, the generator is only on certain hours of the day. The service is excellent. The food is not great but as I was told you are not going to Rwanda to eat. It was a buffet and edible. It is close to the park.

Hotel Des Mille Collines aka Hotel Rwanda. It was odd that the history of this hotel was nowhere. The wireless internet is great, the rooms have TV, hair dryer actually anything you will need and they are clean. There is a nice pool area and a restaurant with a city view. Again I didn’t go to Rwanda for the food. I got a polish change at the “spa” for $5.

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