Tuesday 7 November 2017

Intrepid Travel Gorillas & Game Parks - Day 11

Today we had the luxury of waking up naturally – but, frustratingly, it turns out my brain has now been trained to switch on at 5.30am – since our activities began at a civilised hour. First there was breakfast which today was banana pancakes and millet porridge (which is greyish but surprisingly fruity in taste).
Then Lucky met five of us for a village tour. The first surprise was that we were taken there not in the car we expected, but on motorbike taxis. We strapped on the compulsory helmets (one size, unadjustable strap, visor) – “or you go to prison” said Lucky – and set off along what is still the novelty of well-maintained streets. It was fun to be a proper part of the roadshow instead of insulated from it in our huge truck; and I was really impressed by the petrol stop at a little shop where a woman rushed out with a water bottle full of petrol, which she upended into the tank. Done and paid for in one minute.
We walked up a stony, muddy track towards the village which Lucky is cultivating as a community project. He’s a university student looking for other employment after teaching in a school for a year and not getting paid (a remarkably common experience here). He told us about the pyrethrum daisy crop, for insect repellent, and the Irish potatoes, and maize and eucalyptus, and then we got to the mud hut where a couple demonstrated grinding herbs in a tub and pestle, and weaving a beehive (and we also saw a chameleon in a hedge). We went into their house to sit on a traditional bed, made of split bamboo padded with eucalyptus leaves, just like he grew up with.
They don’t always use the word ‘genocide’ here, but that’s what they mean when they talk about ‘previously’ and ‘now’. The point this time was that guest rooms like this one would have been shelters for people walking through the area, given freely in the expectation of the favour being paid forward – but now it’s all about money.
Then we were treated to a proper concert of energetic singing and dancing to a single drum by residents of the village. Everyone not taking part was gathered to watch, a toddler insisted on joining in, the performers were having a great time, and everyone enjoyed the joke of the two men doing a pretend drunk dance. There was weaving, books were presented, we saw sorghum ground and turned into ‘bread’ (hot paste) and then we departed, happy that 75% of our pretty reasonable fee was being returned to the community (who are currently delighted about getting solar panels for 6 hours of light a night). Lucky’s website is www.rwandatreasuretours.com if you’re interested.
Back at the hotel (by car this time) we rashly ordered lunch at the rooftop bar. Pizzas for the others, a croque monsieur for me. How long do you reckon? Only the hour and a quarter to deliver. TIA.
Not far from the hotel is the Dian Fossey Museum, which explains everything you could want to know about gorillas as well as telling the story of her work with them, and its encouraging results. Her desk is on display, as well as a resin gorilla skeleton next to a human one, which was interesting. For once the story of mountain gorillas is encouraging, their numbers increasing steadily – but there are still only 400 or so, and they’re vulnerable to human disease. So don’t go to see them if you’re sick.
We wandered back to the hotel by the route touristique, through the town, past the shops, through the market, and into a ‘modern’ mall with gorillas outside, where the top floors were occupied by men and women crouched over treadle Singer sewing machines, all crowded together in dim light, buzzing away making a variety of garments.
With a degree of triumph, we found our way back to the hotel, satisfied with our little adventure – and also with the exercise (although for many of us not really with tonight's dinner, which was African-style, spinach and beans, eaten along the veranda with the rain coming down). Tomorrow, we’re up before dawn for another day back on the truck.

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