Written August 24, 2013
It’s hard to believe we arrived at Kigali airport less than 48 hours ago. Such a wide range of emotions in such a short period of time – from complete exhaustion after 20 hours in transit to utter delight watching the golden monkeys jumping through the bamboo forest; from profound sorrow at the Kigali Memorial Centre to roaring falling-out-of-my-chair laughter watching the young Rwandan dancers at the Gorilla Mountain View Lodge.
Arriving at Kigali airport is much like arriving at many other airports in the developing world – lines are a bit chaotic, baggage is slow to come out, and there is a mob of people waiting just outside baggage claim. In the end everything works out fine and we meet Alex, our driver for the next 5 days. He’s a big man with a smile in his voice, always eager to answer your questions and listen with interest about your country, even though he has probably heard it a hundred times before.
We roll in to the Top Tower Hotel in Kigali after dark, dead tired and ready for a solid night’s sleep. The room is huge, quiet and reasonably comfortable. Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay here again it is perfectly adequate for a late night stopover. The breakfast, like the room, is adequate but not noteworthy.
Our first stop the next morning at the Kigali Memorial Centre is sobering. Although we came to Rwanda primarily to see the gorillas it’s only fitting and respectful to bear witness to the tragedy that befell this country in 1994 when hundreds of thousands were slaughtered while the rest of the world, including myself, barely took notice.
The center’s exhibits walk you through the history, tragedy and aftermath of the genocide focusing on the testimony of the survivors. Numerous videos and photographs help bring to life the horror that they suffered. Although an outsider can’t truly feel their pain, the sadness in their eyes and voices touches even the most stoic of visitors. Outside, surrounded by rather sad looking gardens, is a mass grave where lie the remains of 250,000 victims.
Back on the streets of Kigali full of people, busses and motorcycles life charges forward. We leave the city and start the 2 and half hour journey to Volcanoes National Park located in the mountains on the northeastern edge of the country.
This time of year the hills and fields are dry and the roadway is an endless parade of pedestrians – school children returning home for lunch, women carrying bundles on their head, men carry large yellow containers of water or pushing bicycles loaded down with passion fruit and potatoes.