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Nyungwe National Park
Thursday, 28 July 2011 Written by Ksenija & Petar Zečević

Nyungwe National ParkThursday was reserved for a visit to the Nyungwe National Park. The previous day we had bought one way tickets in Kigali. Later that day we found out that we should have purchased return tickets, because at the exit point to the Park, buses don’t stop and don’t collect passengers, therefore it all has to be prepared and arranged in advance. That made us a bit nervous, but our hosts recommended that we try to buy the tickets during our trip, as we passed through Gitarama or Butare.

So, the day finally arrived. Waking up was scheduled for 5.30 AM. Fra Ivica had prepared breakfast, and we celebrated Mass in the chapel before leaving. With a blessing for a happy trip and a safe return, we arrived at the bus station just five minutes before the bus itself. The trip to the destination took a total of 4 hours, with just one stop in Nyanza, where everyone (except us) went to the store to buy breakfast. When we had gotten on the bus in Kivumu, there were only two free seats left, and they were the collapsible seats that are the most uncomfortable.

Up to Nyanza everyone was still somewhat asleep and silent, but after breakfast people started to talk. First they wanted to know who we were; if we were married and for how long. We used the opportunity to inquire about the return from the national park. We managed to arrange everything regarding our return trip with the driver. Given that the driver was not acquainted with any other language but Kinyarwanda, the negotiations included several of our fellow passengers, with constant shouting in all directions. We had to pay for the return tickets to the driver without getting any receipt. The remainder of the trip went by with loud discussions by the passengers, shouting from the one end of the bus to the other. As far as we could discern from “Obama” and “Gaddafi”, a fearsome political debate was obviously taking place.

It seemed like the trip took tremendously long, and the vegetation and the landscape changed a great deal. The scenery transformed from beautiful into even more beautiful, and somehow seemed richer, but later we were told that this part of the country was poorer than the one we departed from. Contrary to our presumption that the entry to the Park was at the very edge of the forest, it was not quite so. We travelled the road through the old forest for an additional half hour before we reached the Park entrance. Along the way we even stopped a few times, because on the road or beside it there were baboons who didn’t even try to move. A really amazing experience.

We reached the entrance to the National Park around 10.30 AM and we arranged with the bus driver to pick us up on his way back around 4 PM. With that in mind, we changed our activity plan, because we originally had intended to take the Canopy Walk (walking on a suspension bridge which takes about an hour of our time), and then return to Kivumu on a 2 PM bus. Instead of that, we chose to take the Mahogany Trail (it’s Kinyarwanda name being umuyowe), which lasts 3 hours. It’s called this way because on the trail there are some very old and very tall mahogany trees. The descent lasts until you reach a medium sized waterfall, after which you start once again to ascend back to the starting point.

On the trail, in addition to the mahogany trees, we encountered several ant trails (and those were red ants – quite a bit larger than our domestic ones), and a frog on the roadside which was camouflaged so well that without the experienced eyes of our guide we wouldn’t have noticed it. Maybe there were some well camouflaged snakes in the tree branches as well, but we didn’t spot them. Several meters away from the waterfall we also ran into a gigantic worm. This means that it was much bigger than the size 45 shoe I was wearing, which I immediately documented by comparing them. Apart from the mahogany trees, there were a lot of other different trees and vegetation along the trail. The most interesting of these is certainly the gigantic - REALLY GIGANTIC - fern, which, according to our guide, is used to cure snake bites. Brrrrrr...

A very impressive tree as well is the Newtonia, which can grow very tall. The lower part of the trunk consists of many layers and has special indentations in which one can easily hide, while the leaves of particular branches in the treetop do not come into contact with one another at all. The view from below is fascinating: the treetop forms a “criss-cross” pattern against the sky in places where the leaves don’t touch, much like a giraffe’s skin. The guide also showed us a tree whose name we don’t remember, which locals use to make vessels for holding milk due to the lightness of the wood and the lack of any strong odour in that particular type of tree. The tour ended earlier than expected, so we decided to take the Canopy Walk, after all. The suspension bridge is some 70 meters above the ground, and we made a few good photos there. That experience is really something special.

Upon our return to the starting point, we used the remaining time to rest a bit and eat our sandwiches, feeding two big black birds, similar to crows, luring them to come closer and closer, and recording everything on our camera at the same time. I hope we made new friends in the animal world, due to the fact that these particular birds are reportedly grudge-bearers. And just when we thought, during a moment of rest and lack of attention, that the forest had denied us a close encounter with monkeys, they very nearly managed to snatch our belongings. They were chased away by the guards at the last moment.  After that, we remained alert because the monkeys didn’t want to go far away - constantly trying to reach the bench that had our bags. It is only when you try to approach them up close, that you realize they are just timid little beings.

The guard suggested that we call Cyangugu, the starting point of our bus, in order to confirm the tickets we paid for earlier, as well as the boarding time and place. In the end, on our behalf, it was done by the guard himself, in Kinyarwanda, which was very useful, indeed.

During our return trip, the bus wasn’t as noisy as it had been on our way to the National Park, probably because everyone was tired. The only stop was once again in Nyanza, where lots of people bought supper.  The end of a most interesting day happily concluded with a delicious supper in Gitarama.

Translated by: Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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