Friday, January 6, 2012

January 3, 2012 9:00 AM--Christmas in Africa

I had Christmas down in Africa.  So a few days before Christmas Kelsey and I set out on a little journey to Rwanda.  We started by going to Kigali, the capital, on Thursday the 22nd.  On Friday before leaving Kigali, we went to the Genocide Memorial Museum.  It is one of the few tourist attractions in Kigali.  It was really interesting but a really sad thing to see.  Later in the day we headed out of Kigali and we went to Musanze.

Kigali Skyline

Musanze is a town right outside of the Parc de Volcans.  The Parc de Volcans is the only national park in Rwanda where you can see the mountain gorillas.  The next morning, Christmas Eve, we had to get up early to get to the park.  We had a tour operator picking us up at 6:15 AM so we could get to the park by 7 for a gorilla trekking briefing.  At around 6 we were outside our hotel waiting for our ride.  We waited until about 6:30 before I started getting worried.  I went back inside the hotel to ask the guy at the reception desk if he knew where our ride might be.  He told me that it was 5:30.  When I questioned what he was saying he told me that I wasn’t in Uganda anymore.  We were in a different time zone.  I almost didn’t believe him because Rwanda is directly south of western Uganda.  I was so skeptical that I asked the security guard on my way back out what time it was.  He pointed to the clock and said it was 5:30.  So as I went back outside laughing, Kelsey knew that things should have been okay.  We had been in Rwanda for almost a day and a half and we had no idea that we were in a different time zone.

So after we figured out our mistake and our ride came, we went to the National park.  We had our briefing where we learned about the gorilla family that we were going to be tracking.  Our family was called the Amahoro family.  In Kinyarwanda Amahoro means peace.  After our briefing we had to drive further out into the park to our starting point.  They say that you may be hiking for up to four hours to find them and once we find them we spend an hour watching them before we turn around and walk back.  For us it only took us about an hour and a quarter to find them.  Although the hike was pretty quick it was not the easiest hike I ever did.  There were points where we were knee deep in mud and there were also a lot of nettles which would get you right through your clothes.  But seeing the gorillas was worth it.  We got a really good view of them and we got pretty close to them too.  You are supposed to stay 7 meters away from them at all times, but I think at points we were even closer than that.  There was one silverback, a few black backs, some females and quite a few juveniles and babies.  The youngest one in the family was 5 months old.  I asked the guide if I could take him home and cuddle with him.  He said sure, go ahead.  But I’m pretty sure the rest of the family wouldn’t have been so happy if I had, so I refrained.

This one tried to come over and say hi to us

The 5 Month Old Baby (the youngest in the family)

The next day, Christmas Day, we left Musanze and headed toward Gisenyi, which is a town on Lake Kivu.  Lake Kivu borders both Rwanda and the DRC. 

When we got there we decided that we should have a really good Christmas dinner at the Serena, a really nice chain hotel in Africa.  When we went to have dinner we ran into a few other Peace Corps volunteers from Uganda at the Serena.  They gave us a few tips.  They told us that for 3000 Francs we could use the pool and the beach at the Serena.  So the day after Christmas, that’s just what we did.  We laid by the pool and got some sun.  They also told us that in Kigali we can stay at the Peace Corps office.  Unlike the Peace Corps office in Uganda, in Rwanda they have a dormitory at their Peace Corps office.  And any PCV from any other country can stay there for free.  So on Tuesday the 27th, when we went back to Kigali, that’s what we did.  After we dropped our bags off at the Peace Corps office we went to the Mille Collines Hotel, aka Hotel Rwanda.  It is what the movie was based on.  It’s sad to think that the only real sites to see in Kigali are related to the genocide

The next day we went back to the other side.  We crossed back over the border and came back to my house for one night before going to the Ssese Islands for New Years.

On the Ssese Islands we stayed on the biggest islands right outside the only town on any of the islands, Kalangala.  We stayed at the Mirembe Resort.  They had a beach, but you can’t go in Lake Victoria.  We also didn’t have the best weather while we were there.  So we ended up just hanging out doing nothing for a few days, which was a really nice way to spend New Years.

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