Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nyungwe Forest

So Denise, Maxine, Ariel and I decided to take a few days to soak up the relaxing quiet in the western region of Rwanda. This area is known for its amazing beauty because it's situated right in the big country rainforest, which hugs the Congolese border. We hopped in the car on Easter Sunday morning, and started our road trip towards the tropical paradise of Nyungwe.

Well, it didn't start off idyllic. The roads going towards Nyungwe are windy roads - very windy. As an unfortunate soul with a penchant for motion sickness, I took a pill of my trusty Dramamine, and prayed for the best. But heavens! the windy roads of Rwanda should be infamous across the world. You curve and turn and wind around the ups and downs of the tightly-packed mountains and hills in the country, and I swear anyone with a digestive tract would get sick without medical assistance. We watched buses go by us, speeding and careening through the snakelike roads, and people hung out of the buses to vomit all over the place. The buses, the further we were from Kigali, were covered in greens and oranges of bile that left the body prematurely.

We stopped three hours into our trip for a moment in Butare, the country's university town, for some tea and freshening up before we continued our (what we thought to be one more hour-long) trek into the rainforest and to the lodge we reserved. 

We continued through the twists and turns and found ourselves magically surrounded by a breath-taking panorama. The rainforest had begun! Imagine hills after hills, covered in tall greens and looming trees. Those movies with the tropical rainforest trees hovering over the cars? It's real. We started to see umbrella and canopy-like trees, and in them an array of colorful (and BIG) birds. It was to a point where the rainforest was so expansive, that I almost was worried that perhaps we had gone in too far - as if we had perhaps reached a point of no return.

But the drive in total was LONG. 5 hours?! For such a petit country, never had I imagined that we could drive anywhere for that long and not reach our destination. But finally we did reach the end of the rainforest, and the expansive scenery began to replace the massive, tropical trees with bright green, organized rows of tea plants. The tea plantations were also beautiful, but more tamed than the wild sprawl of the previous rainforest.

And finally, finally, we landed at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge. Far away from any road, hidden between a giant tea plantation and the expansive rainforest entrance, this is one of the most ritzy hotels in all of Rwanda. And the price tag agrees with this notion. We found ourselves really in what looked like a fairy tale movie. The greens were so bright! The clouds laced themselves between the mountains in a way to make it look like the mountains themselves were smoking from secret pores between the trees.

The place was fancy. Very fancy. Upon entering the main lodge, we were treated like royalty and received a reception of fresh lemonade infused with passion fruit seeds. It was incredibly tasty. After checking in, we were shown our little bungalows that would keep us warm and safe (and well-rested). They were what I imagine would be my dream come true tree house - exposed rafters, simple but sophisticated decorations, immaculately clean, and finished off with amazingly comfortable beds and bedding. Did I mention we had a porch? We relished in the beauty of our lodging. Ariel decided to stay somewhere a bit more budget-friendly, so we met up with her after all of the basking in glory.

Lunch was the best food I had in four months - though, that doesn't say much. My standards for food now are (I think) quite lower than they were before coming to Rwanda. I have a feeling when I get back to the states, I am going to weep over my first meal because of the flavor. But anyways, the food was good. We were able to eat in complete and utter silence, because we were so far removed from any modern noises (think cars, trucks, people, music, etc.). All we could here was the breeze, the birds, and the rolling thunder in the distance.

After lunch, the four of us got together to investigate more of the lodging grounds. We found our resting space - there was an infinity pool! You know, the kind where it looks like the pool drops off all of a sudden. We basked a bit more, but the rain came soon and we had to flee to our intimate bungalows. It's ok, I read on the porch.

In fact, most of my time on this little respite was taken over by my joy of reading. I've really not been able to indulge in my love of books here, which has made me very sad. So I promised myself that my downtime would be consumed by putting my nose in some books.

Anyways, dinner was tasty. And that was that.

The next morning we all decided to take a nice hike in the rainforest. Because everything costs money in this country, we opted to find an affordable, not-too-long-or-strenuous hiking trail. We drove to the hiking trail entrance, and found ourselves on the top of what seemed to be a very tall hill in the rainforest. I was overcome with a mixture of emotions that bubbled up out of nowhere - frustrated, sad, excited, happy... - so I did what I thought was best to make myself feel better. I meditated. I sat at the edge of the rainforest, and meditated for as long as the world would let me. I could feel energy rippling through my hands, and I felt myself leveling out a bit. It was exactly what I needed.

After waiting a bit, we met our tour guide, Narcisse (I should note that Ariel opted to take a much longer hike, and parted ways with us at this time). Narcisse is the archetype, for me, of what park rangers should really be like. He was pleasantly talkative, with a whole lot of information stashed in his brain about the animals and plants we saw, yet very much at peace and rather zen-like in his demeanor. He would be chatting with us about something, like the history of elephant poaching in the forest, and then would stop himself and look up, saying, "Oh look. A bird." We were turn and use his binoculars and find ourselves dropping our jaws for some magical bird of many colors. How on Earth did he manage to see these things, while they're so far away?!

The hike was a short 2-hour hike, which was a blessing. Denise isn't much for hiking, and let it be known to the world. But we did get to see a plethora of beautiful butterflies, interesting birds, and a boatload of plants. Sadly, no monkeys came to play with us.

Part of the hike was a canopy walk. What does that mean? Well, it means you basically walk above the trees on a swinging foot bridge of death. Only, this walk was on a total of 3 different canopy bridges.

Hello, I'm afraid of heights, nice to meet you.

So Narcisse encouraged me as we started our walk over the first bridge. I pannicked. I didn't look down. I didn't look to the side. I stared at Narcisse's shoulders. I could tell my knees were getting weak, and while I didn't want to pass out on the bridge (that would have been bad), I definitely wanted to cry my eyes out with all of my heart. I pushed on. Narcisse was a sport and kept telling me fun stories to keep my mind off of the height part. I heard water rushing underneath us. Oh dear, please don't let this be my last memory in life...! I prayed to all kinds of deities for the sake of life.

Aaaaand I made it! In one piece, though a bit emotionally broken. He pat me on the back, telling me I did wonderfully. "You have passion!" he said, "Most people would have stopped halfway on the bridge and turn around, but you completed it! Passion!" Yeah, I guess I do, huh?

We parted ways not long after that with Narcisse, and headed back to the lodge for some R&R. However, because the hiking trail is about 10 miles from the lodge on a windy path, I of course became super car sick and ended up getting out of the car to walk through the tea fields to get to lodge alone. I was, of course, followed by a gang of little children who wanted a lot of assorted items from me - money, pens, food, my water bottle. I finally told them to give ME money and give ME food, and I think that turned them off and they went away. The rain started to fall around that time.

The rest of the day was reading, relaxing, and eating our meals. We went to bed and woke up in the morning to start our five-hour trip back to Kigali. On the road out of the rainforest, a tribe of monkeys popped up from the side of the road! Funny little monkeys with white fur lining their faces, brown backs and black everywhere else. They sat there and stared at us, chewing their plants. A whole lot of them! Apparently, monkeys don't even like to live in nature, anymore...

We of course stopped again in Butare for lunch. Maxine and Denise wanted to shop, but Ariel and I weren't huge fans, so we decided to go get frozen yoghurt. It was, indeed, the only frozen yoghurt shop in all of Rwanda, and blessed be! did it revive my love of life. Passion fruit and coffee flavors, all happily downed by both Ariel and me. We relished the small token of home, and discussed our excitement for going home soon. We both were going to be here until August, but we're both opting to leave early, for assorted yet similar reasons. In fact, she's leaving 2 weeks earlier than me.

Anyways, after lunch we meandered home. A police officer decided to hitch a ride with us. He only spoke French, which means I was the only one able to talk with him. He didn't want to chat, anyways. It was an interesting last two hours, let's say.


Pam said...

Wow! You really brought your trip to life for me! I loved the phrase that people lost their food prematurely! As awful as I can imagine that was, you handled it so delicately! Haha

Globetrotter said...

Colorfully and well written! You have certainly described the experience in its graphic fullest!