One of my favorite words is serendipity – finding something valuable one didn’t know one was looking for. I never knew camping and hiking in the Rwandan rainforest was on my bucket list, but this weekend, I discovered a desire I never knew I had. On Saturday morning, I took a six-hour bus ride from Nyabugogo, Kigali, to Nyungwe National Park. If you’ve ever spent six hours on an African bus, it’s an experience in itself. Although the ride was bumpy and uphill, I managed to sleep for a good portion of the trip.
We arrived at Uwinka Overlook in mid-afternoon. Uwinka means cow mountain in Kinyarwanda. At the overlook, there was a visitors’ center with a timeline of the park’s history, an information booth with maps and guides, and a small restaurant where campers could purchase food. In the visitors’ center, they displayed the skull of the last elephant in Nyungwe, who was killed by a poacher. I also tried some Rwandan mountain coffee at the restaurant.
Our campsite was a short walk away from the visitor’s center. We shared a fire pit with a group of Swiss engineers touring Rwanda who told us stories about their adventures in Kibuye and Akagera, both destinations for my group’s future excursions. While explaining the terrain, we saw three monkeys: two L’Hoest’s mountain monkeys and one blue monkey.
When I was packing for the rainforest, I expected a tropical climate. I was advised to pack warm clothes for night, so I brought a long-sleeved shirt. I didn’t take into account the increase of elevation, which made for a cold night. I don’t know what I would have done without the campfire.
On Sunday, we went hiking on the Umuyove trail. It was a 5.5 meter hike with an elevation high point of 2450 meters (gain: 313 meters). My favorite part was when we deviated from the path in search of monkeys. We found a colony with dozens Colobus monkeys. It was breathtaking to look up and see monkeys swinging from trees above us. The monkeys were by far the coolest part, but the waterfall was a close second. The water was so nice and cool, and it was truly a beautiful site.
Seeing the rainforest has been one of the highlights of my study abroad experience. Although it was gorgeous and unlike anything I’ve seen in my life, it definitely opened my eyes to issues of poaching and deforestation. I hope I can use my experience in Nyungwe to educate people about the threats human pose to the rainforest, and nature in general.