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Gorillas here we come

9th June, 2010

sunny 21 °C

I write this blog in the car as we depart Kigali ,climbing the mountains on yet another winding track. The drive should take about 2 ½ hours to reach the Volcanoes National Park where tomorrow morning , bright and early we will spend the day with the gorillas. I was interested to hear whether Rwandan nationals were also expected to pay the hefty USD$500.00 a head. Yves informed us that Rwandans pay about USD$50.00 for the privilege most never having the money to do it, despite the heavily reduced fee. The whole gorilla experience is responsible for a USD$1.5 billion and is one of the countries major sources of income. Despite Dian Fossey, the famous primate scientist who almost single-handedly pioneered the conservation of these gorillas, not wanting the commercialism of her precious mammals, the tourism has enabled these gorillas to be studied, and protected. There are
only 42 permits issued a day and during high season are extremely difficult to obtain. So excited for this tomorrow.

2 further observations of Kigali- even the poorest homes along the roadside, whether they be in the city or countryside, have neat , tidy appearances. We have been amazed at the lack of street garbage and judging by the many hairdressers we have continuously passed, this self-pride is an integral part of the Rwandan psyche. We were also told that come a Sunday , as this nation goes to church, the people come out in their finery ready to pray and believe.

Despite what we knew about Kigali, it really seems like a peaceful well organised and corruption-free city. At no time did I feel threatened or insecure, and I have so enjoyed the warmth and openness of these people. I was in disbelief when told that it was safer than Johannesburg- I now agree ,certainly cleaner and the problems of crime, aids and racial tension do not stare you in the face.

Our day started with a tour, by hand held audio commentary, of the Kigali Memorial centre. It is a superb museum and is respectful and educative. Once again we were struck by the enormity of this tragedy and the mass graves outside the museum house the remains of 250,000 victims. There is a small section on other Genocides around the world, and the Holocaust is well explained and presented. Video footage of survivors is excellent and the children's section, moving and emotional.

We spent a short while at a craft market, but were hesitant to purchase any wood or skin items – really liked a skin-covered 1 meter long wooden knife case with the knife- would definitely have had a problem bringing that into Australia. I did stop to watch some shopkeepers playing this board game where seeds are passed between different holes- will have to find out how this is played!

As we weave our way closer up into the mountains we have passed village after village , hordes of people on bicycles, carrying sacks and water on their heads and kids playing and we have just stopped to photograph this magnificent scenery when 4 kids emerged out of the grass, literally. We gave them some coins and chewing gum- which they were delighted with. This is real poverty and rural life at its basest.

As we checked out of Solace Ministries the most melodic voices were heard. I made my way to find them and found, in the basement, a gospel choir practice of 5 people with their British keyboard player. What joy in these sounds and all 5 singers were loving every moment. It was a special and spiritual way to depart.

Our journey today has been so interesting and talking to Yves, our driver/ guide, we have shared philosophical ideas over religion, politics economy and of course the Genocide. I continue to be amazed at the power of the church in this country. Despite the disenchantment with the church during the Genocide, religion,and Christianity in particular, remains an extremely dominant and powerful force. As he says, 'where else was there to go after people suffered such terror and horror?'
His 2 brothers who were murdered in the Genocide, were only in Rwanda for one week staying with an uncle when the trouble began. These 2 boys, 14 and 16, were making their way to live with a relative in Uganda. That they were killed during their brief stay in Kigali, especially since their parents had left this hot spot in 1959, was so unbelievably sad.

Mountain Gorillas View Lodge is a heavenly place-, high up in these magnificent mountains. Its much cooler here and the clouds were floating over the tips of the volcanoes. This place reminds me so much of the Eastern Transvaal, and the fire place and hot water bottles in the room, which is actually a stand alone little hut, are for me the icing on the cake.

Heading for dinner in the lodge ahead of a very early night and early start to our gorilla tracking.

Posted by melsch 16:07 Archived in Rwanda

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