Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Nyungwe rainforest
If you know me even decently well, you know that I really enjoy hiking and camping.  They are some of my favorite hobbies.  In fact, when people ask me what I am looking forward to about going back home, one of my answers is having a car to get around more easily and I specifically think about driving to trailheads.  Oh yes, even though there is a lot of natural beauty around me in Rwanda, which I appreciate, I miss going on long hikes and camping in the wilderness.

Well, last week Rita and I satisfied my hunger for exertion and sleeping in the wilderness by visiting the Banda Community in Nyungwe National Park.  Last Wednesday we rode a bus for two hours from Butare to the Uwinka Overlook Interpretation Center in the park.  There we met our volunteer guide, Ignace, who is studying wildlife management.  We put on our backpacks and walked for three hours through the rainforest and the buffer pine forest, down into the valley, and then into the village.  Ignace pointed out different plants and told us their Latin names, which Rita and I were pretty terrible at remembering. 

Pine buffer forest
One thing that was so cool about the hike is that to hike with a guide on a national park trail costs at least $40/person and lasts 4-5 hours.  Because we were visiting the village, we got to walk through the park to the village and back (almost 6 hours of hiking), and spend a night camping, for only $10/person!  It was a great deal (those of you who know me really well know I love a bargain) and it was totally worth more than we paid.

Anyway, after walking through the forests and the Banda village, we arrived at the campground.  It was picturesque.  We were in a valley surrounded by cultivated and natural hills.  Our REI tent (my favorite store!) was set up on a grassy plot surrounded by low bushes to create a little barrier between the other plots, which didn't have tents because we were the only visitors that night. There was a bathroom building that was a step up from a Porta Potty and a little one room cabin that served as the restaurant. 

Our guide took care of all the communication with the kitchen staff and all we had to do was make ourselves comfortable playing cards and rehydrating as we waited for dinner to be ready.  Eventually all the dishes were on the table and Rita and I helped ourselves to the Rwandan staples: rice, French fries, beans, pasta, and stew meat.  We were hungry after the hike so it was great to have a big plate of carbs to fill up our bellies and replenish whatever we used on the hike and would need for the hike out the next day.

Then came the experience that I hadn't had in about a year: sleeping in a tent.  I don't find sleeping in a tent to be the most comfortable thing in the world, but there is just something about sleeping close to nature that I love.  This time was definitely a first because only one twin-sized foam mattress could fit in the REI Half Dome 2 Plus tent so Rita and I shared it (in our separate sleeping bags).  Sleeping in a tent is even less restful when you have two people on a twin mattress, but it was still great.

The next morning we were treated to warm water for sponge baths, a filling breakfast, and a quick visit to a local stream.  Oh, and I can't forget to mention all the little boys who took great interest in Rita and me.  It made me laugh to watch them as they peered through the vegetative fence bordering the campground and even climbed a tree to get a better look at us.  Eventually they left us and Rita, Ignace, and I headed out of the valley to the main road where we would catch a bus back to Butare. 
A visitor to the Umuzungu Zoo!
It was a great trip and I highly recommend it to any visitors or residents of Rwanda.  Here is where you can get more information:
FB: "Banda Community at Nyungwe National Park"
Email: bandacamp@yahoo.fr
Phone: Ignace, +250 785 369 704; Jules Cesar, +250 788 629 410; Illdephense, +250 788 436 763

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