After relaxing for a bit in Kigali we headed west towards one of Rwanda’s national parks. Not just any park but one where we could track chimpanzees! While driving we stumbled upon a lovely little coffee shop in Butare and bought some fresh bread in the same village. We then moved on the Nyungwe National Park. The chimpanzee is all the way in the Western section of the park which means you’ll have to cross the park before reaching our destination. While we were in the park we saw lots of soldier on a training mission and more importantly a pretty little l’Hoest monkey!
Briefing by the park ranger
We booked the chimp tracking online the day before we arrived at the park. That’s one of the big advantages in Rwanda over other African countries. You can organize everything online through the government’s website and pay online as well. The good thing is that they actually expect you once you’re at the gate so the system works :-)! Back to the chimpanzee tracking. A day before you do the tracking you have to report to the ranger at the gate. This is were we got a short briefing of what to expect, bring and where to report early in the morning. We had to be at a guesthouse at 5AM the next morning.
Is there one flat piece of land in Rwanda?
The campsite we found in our Bradt guidebook turned out to be a parking lot next to a rather busy road. While driving a bit further we noticed a roadside sign advertising a nearby campsite. We drove up the mountain and arrived at a place which they were partially rebuilding. We could pitch our tent for 4 euro and shower (cold as always) in a one of their bungalows. The local guys rebuilding the place ‘only’ had to remove an enormous pile of rocks which were currently located on our camping spot. We didn’t fancy going back to the road and look for something else so we decided to stay here. With a rather large and curious audience we managed to relax a bit on a grassy slope and after about two hours all rocks were cleared from our designated campsite. Since the site was that uneven we had to get some rocks again to somehow pitch the tent a bit more even. At night we were kind of scared that we would slide out of our tent. The beauty of camping…
Let the chimpanzee tracking begin…
It was finally time for some chimp tracking! It was 5AM sharp when we reported to the gate of the guesthouse. The ranger showed up shortly hereafter. He jumped in the passenger seat of our car and directed us to the starting point of the hike. This was about an hour away driving through tea plantations and little villages. The last part was quite bumpy but we managed to get there.
We were a group of ten when we started the tracking with the ranger. The ranger was in contact with the trackers who head into the forest early in the morning to find the chimps. Chimpanzees sleep in their nests at night and start to become active in the morning when they gather their food. Therefore it’s essential to be there as early as you can to see the chimpanzees slowly waking up. After about half an hour through the amazing forest with all its wonderful sounds we met up with the trackers. A couple of minutes later we saw three chimpanzees! Two adults and a little one. They were high up in the tree eating some fruits. They made a lot of noise to inform the others that that tree was really really good for some food. The other chimpanzees listened to them and shortly hereafter we were surrounded by a large group which passed us both on the ground and up in the trees. What a beautiful experience. After spending one hour with them we had to leave them behind in the forest.
Scenic route along Lake Kivu
While still processing this amazing morning we set off to Lake Kivu. This huge lake on the broader with Congo is quite stunning. The road leads you along lots of tiny villages which all have a great view on the lake. At lunchtime we stopped in a lakeside village called Kibuye. We had some really good Tilapia in a pretty hotel. You can’t compare it with the disgusting fillets of Tilapia in Europe. Our final destination for that day was Gisenyi, yet another village near Lake Kivu. We slept at the Inzu Lodge since proper campsites are rare in Rwanda. Maybe because it’s too hard to find a nice flat piece of land in land of a thousand hills… Nevertheless the view on the lake was great!