A Travellerspoint blog

Day 2. Rwanda- Golden Monkeys

sunny 24 °C

Not knowing what to expect we drove to the park entrance north of Musanze, arriving at the suggested arrival time of 7am. The tours, which must be done with a Park Ranger (and not a private guide) don't really get going until 8. Arriving early, however, gave us time to enjoy tea and coffee and watch the performers who were showcasing traditional dancing and singing. You can definitely be all geared up in the best trekking clothes available, but you don't really need it. A good pair of walking shoes, long pants and sleeves (in case you end up on a route with stinging nettle) and water is all you really need. If you are on a long hike maybe some snacks. The park has various entrances and which you use depends on whether you are heading out to see the golden monkeys or the gorillas, and then which group of gorillas you are headed to see. We had heard that the best order in which to see these animals is to see the golden monkeys first and the gorillas second. We found this to be true because although the moneys were incredible and adorable, and you feel it is just you and them- the gorilla experience overshadows that of the monkeys. We loved out first day with these lovely creatures and I would recommend you do both if you have the time.

We hiked about 45 minutes through farmland from the road to the park boundary, which is a 6 foot high rock wall, aimed at keeping buffalo and elephants out of the farmland abutting up against the boundary. The country is quite small but has a sizeable population (11 million) meaning that every inch of land available is used, primarily for farming. Once inside the park we walked another 30 minutes through quite slick and steep terrain. The walk in varies according to where the monkeys are hanging out that day but you'll generally find them in tall bamboo sections of the forest. A team of trackers had already gone out ahead of us to locate the group so that when you arrived at the park boundary your guides knew roughly where they were headed. You are also accompanied by two armed park ranger escorts- one in the front and one in the back to protect the group from a chance encounter with a buffalo or forest elephant- who I gather are not terribly pleased to run into people.

When we arrived with the monkeys we immediately saw a big male sitting on a clump of trees about 5 m in front of us and surrounded by young monkeys doing what kids do best- playing. They have soft and fluffy looking hair on their cheeks which make them look like they always have a mouth full of food. They seem completely at ease among people, going about their everyday activities. What was really special was that when we were down to about 15 minutes remaining of our hour visit with them we found another part of the group in an open clearing with low brush. Previously they had all been up in the trees, sometimes in shadow and hard to see. In the sunny clearing you could rotate in a circle and see monkeys at every point of your turn. Interestingly they were all eating stinging nettle, which if you've ever encountered some in the forest know it is covered in spikes that come off in your skin if you brush up against it. Don't know how they do it. We all began our trek back reluctantly, but understandably as the rangers explained the animals are happiest if they have only limited exposure to humans.

On our way home we stopped to take a look at the outdoor timber mill (quite impressive) and after lunch mom and I took a walk into town to pick up a few things and to take in the sights (again). We all had drinks together on the balcony looking out at the volcanoes which mark part of the border between Rwanda and the DRC. Awesome.

Posted by Jmclellan 02:58 Archived in Rwanda Comments (0)

Day 1. Rwanda- Arrival, Genocide Museum and drive North

sunny 24 °C

Our trek to Rwanda had taken us through 5 countries over two days; Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Uganda and finally Rwanda. We arrived in Kigali in the middle of the night and were met by Ben, the lovely owner of our hotel- Good News Guest House. In the morning we met mom and dad, had a nice breakfast overlooking the city (which gives you your first glimpse as to why the country is called the 'Land of a thousand hills'. After downloading the various maps we would need for our trip to the north western part of the country and getting our Rav4 rental we headed to the Genocide Memorial Museum.

The museum is set up so as not to be overwhelmingly long and has an optional audio tour. We did have to pass through a security checkpoint where they had us step out of the car to check us for metal, but then let us get back into our packed car. The security guard looked through my shoulder bag, but then gave up when she saw our trunk full of luggage. I’m generalizing here but African security checkpoints are pretty unique.

We first visited the outdoor grave site, where ~250 thousand people are buried. These are huge concrete vaults that sit about 1 foot above ground (picture below). Below I’ve written a brief account of the genocide (feel free to just look at the photos) because the museum was a place I had really wanted to visit. I had heard so much about the genocide and understanding what it was, why it happened, and how the country recovered explains why Rwanda is such a unique place in Africa, and why it is the way it is today. The museum has an audio tour, which I thought was quite good, which takes you first to the outside areas of the museum including the grave sites and gardens reflecting the dark stages of the country and also the way forward. Inside you find the history of the genocide, short accounts of other genocides that have occurred throughout human history, and final the children's room which houses photos of children killed during the genocide. It takes a while to process all that you’ve seen in the museum and I found myself thinking about the events that shaped the country throughout our trip. If you talk to any one person long enough, chances are their life has been affected by the genocide.

In total they estimate that 1 million Tutsi people were killed during the entirety of the genocide, including the practice, small scale killings that occurred in 1991-1994, before the ~100 day country wide massacre. The museum gives some background on the country to set the scene for the genocide and displays the Tutsi Hutu divide as a mostly arbitrary Belgian colonially imposed division, based on number of cattle owned, as a crude indication of way of living and origin. Tutsi herded cattle while Hutu farmed land. I find this explanation somewhat unsatisfying because other information suggests this divide between people had begun prior to the Colonial era. Other sources suggest these groups migrated into Rwanda at different time points and comprised distinct ethnic groups whereas, closer to the story the museum portrays, some historians suggest the migration into Rwanda was slow and steady over time and the people were genetically similar. The country was and still is made up of approximately 85% Hutu, 14% Tutsi, and 1% Twa.They share a common language and are collectively known as the Banyarwanda (“those who come from Rwanda”). By around 1700 the country had coalesced into 8 kingdoms. One Tutsi ruled kingdom became dominant through conquest and assimilation and the institution of the uburetwa system where Huts were forced to work for Tutsi chiefs, which created or perhaps widened the socio-economic and power division between the Hutu and Tutsi populations.

The Colonial Era
The country was initially a German colony and the Germans ruled through the Rwandan monarchy. They believed the Tutsi were more suited to carry out colonial administration tasks because they were more Caucasian than the Hutus and therefore racially superior. Belgian forces then took control of Rwanda and Burundi during WWI and began a more direct style of colonial rule where they imposed Tutsi Kindom type reforms that saw land taken away from Hutus with little compensation and extended the scale and scope of the uburetwa. The Belgians instituted large scale reforms and the country became modernised. Tutsi supremacy remained and the Hutus were left disenfranchised and subject to large scale forced labour. Identity cards were introduced in 1935 and prevented any further movement between classes.

The Revolution
After WWII a Hutu emancipation movement began to form. The Catholic Church became sympathetic and missionaries felt responsible for empowering Hutus because of their role in enabling the Tutsi to gain power. This lead to the formation of a Hutu clergy and educated elite that provided a counterbalance to Tutsi rule. Hutus demanded independence thus agitating the monarchy and Tutsi leaders. The Belgians shifted their support to the Hutu side and replaced most Tutsi chiefs with Hutu. In 1962 the country gained independence with a Hutu dominated leadership. By 1965 300,000 Tutsis had fled the country to escape the Hutu purges and remained in exile for the next 3 decades in neighboring countries Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire (now the DRC).

The Civil War
In 1990 Rwanda’s population was 7.2 million, having increased dramatically from 1.6 million in 1935. Some historians believe that the 1990 population density at over 400 inhabitants per km2 contributed to the 1994 genocide. In late 1990 4000 Rwandan refugees in Uganda advanced into Rwanda under the banner of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). France and Zaire dispatched forces to support the Rwandan army to repel the invasion and pushed the refugees to the Virunga Mountains (where we visited the Gorillas) in the North of the country. The RFP became more organised and launched another attack several months later and waged guerrilla style war fare over the next year. 1992 saw a ceasefire and the start of negotiations, which terminated in response to large scale violence against Tutsis by Hutu extremist groups.These would be what the museum considered practice killing campaings for the full fledged genocidal attack in 1994. In 1993 peace agreements, known as the Arusha Accords, were signed and a UN peacekeeping force arrived. Underneath this apparent progress the hard-line anti-Tutsi figures published anti-Tutsi propaganda and formed a more right wing party critical of the then President Habyarimana’s softeness towards the RPF. They began actively plotting against the president, worried about Tutsi being included in government and organized several rounds of Tutsi killings. All political parties became split and youth militia groups emerged, attached to the ‘Power’ wings of the parties, and trained by the army to act in civil defense against the threat of the RPF. In late 1993 extremist Tutsi officers assassinated the Hutu President of Burundi, solidifying the notion amongst the Rwandan Hutu population that the Tutsi were their enemy. The genocide idea, first suggested in 1992 as a fringe idea, now became a shared idea and active planning began.

Assassination of Habyarimana and moderate leaders
The event which triggered the start of the full scale genocide was the take down of the plane of the Rwandan and the Burundi Presidents on 6 April 1994. It was never discovered who was responsible for the attack but it served as the spark to initiate the planned events of the incredibly organized and efficient genocide. The Prime Minister and the ten Belgian peace keepers sent to protect her were killed and a list of moderate political figures were assassinated the nights of 6-7 April. The large scale killings began within hours of Habyarimana’s death. Over the course of one month the militia force tied to the ruling party, the Interhamwe, along with the Presidential Guard and armed civilians slaughtered, tortured and raped men, women and Tutsi children. Estimates suggest that during the first 6 weeks 800,000 people were killed, a rate 5 times higher than that during the Holocaust. Hutus that resembled Tutsis or with Tutsi sympathy were also killed. During this time the RPF was making steady advances and killings in some part of the country had been stopped by the end of April. Killings in other areas continued into May and June but occurred in lower numbers and sporadically as most Tutsis had already been eliminated. On 4 July 1994 the RFP took control of the capital city Kigali and the rest of the country several weeks later. The genocide was over and masses of Hutu fled across the borders to Zaire. Precise death toll estimates are not available because unlike the the Nazis or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia no effort was made to record the deaths. The official figures published by the Rwandan government are 1,174,000 deaths in 100 days, or 10,000 deaths per day. 10% of these deaths were moderate Hutus. 300,000 Tutsis are thought to have survived the genocide, which left 400,000 orphans. The country was economically crippled after losing 1/4 of its population, half of whom were killed, half of whom, including Hutus, fled the country. People were emotionally devastated.

International Response
Almost no help from outside countries or international bodies, such as the UN, was provided. Some people suggest no information was available to make informed decisions, others suggest there was simply reluctance to be involved. The Red Cross remained present but peacekeepers and other military forces and embassy staff were quickly pulled out after the targeted killing of Belgian peacekeepers. This targeted killing was said to have been orchestrated to break the will of other European and Western countries to be involved.

After the Genocide
Hutu Rwandan genocide leaders were on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the Rwandan National Court System and through the informal Gacaca programme. Gacaca trials were overseen by the government established National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. Gacaca is a traditional adjudication mechanism at the umudugudu (village) level, whereby members of the community elect elders to serve as judges, and the entire community is present for the case. This system was modified to try lower-level génocidaires, those who had killed or stolen but did not organize massacres. Prisoners, dressed in pink, stood trial before members of their community. Judges accorded sentences, which varied widely, from returning to prison, to paying back the cost of goods stolen, to working in the fields of families of victims. Gacaca trials had concluded by 2008, although some genocide leaders have been prosecuted quite recently (link below). The main source of revenue in the country is now tourism, although coffee and tea export are significant. The postwar government has placed high priority on development and provision of free and mandatory education.

After the museum we took our time driving to Musanze, the town just south of Volcanoes National Park in the North West of the country. The view of Kigali as you climb the road is incredible. Every inch of land is used and houses, many of which are made of a wood frame and mud, are quaint and tidy. We stopped at a small restaurant at the side of the road for lunch and eventually conveyed that we would like food. It was initially unclear whether they did in fact serve food or only alcohol. At this point we were shown into their cook room where we served ourselves rice, slow stewed beef, plantains and greens from large cook pots. Delicious. Everyone that wandered by stared at us, but not in a menacing way. In a curious way that asked what these white people were doing at this little road side restaurant. When I waved to onlooking kids they quickly ducked behind the restaurant wall and out of sight. Something that strikes you right away, especially coming from West Africa, is how friendly and gentle everyone is. No one hassles you or tries to sell their wares. They just go about their everyday life, if not with a few curious looks cast your way. The rest of the drive was beautiful. Up and down endless hills, moving across valley tops and constantly overlooking hills covered in farmland and homesteads as far as you could see.

We arrived at our hotel to find they had not recorded our reservation but they thankfully found us rooms at another nearby hotel and honoured their original rate at the more expensive hotel (I was shocked because I had forgotten what good customer service feels like!). We took a slow walk into town to check things out but then headed back for dinner and early to bed so we could be up the next day for the golden monkeys.

Posted by Jmclellan 19:48 Archived in Rwanda Comments (0)

Merry Christmas from Africa

sunny 25 °C

We don't have a fireplace here so Don did some improvising...on the location as well as with the actual stockings. We moved our small palm tree from the deck to inside and found some minimal Xmas decorations. We had a nice morning lounging around the house, drinking coffee with as close as we could get to Baileys, and a breakfast of apple pancakes. For dinner we met up with some friends, who also didn't get home for the Holidays, and had the leanest turkey I think I've ever seen. I definitely missed being around family but it was a neat experience to celebrate Christmas in Africa!

Posted by Jmclellan 02:31 Archived in Gambia Comments (0)

A rogue monkey on my doorstop

sunny 28 °C

I almost had a heart attack when I nearly tripped over this guy on my way out the door on my way to work this morning! The look on his face when he turned to look at me was "and what are You doing here!". He wouldn't move and just sat there. He did eventually move off (to the balcony next door) when one of the guards approached. When I got home in the evening I saw a torn up bag of peanuts scattered on the landing. So that I'd say guarantees he'll be back. My camera lens was unfortunately fogging up because of the humidity and I was late for work so didn't have time to get 'Don' quality photos! I hope you notice all the guards below watching and with smiles on their faces, and at one point they all had their camera phone out. It was quite a big event for 7:30am at our apartment block.

Posted by Jmclellan 02:25 Archived in Gambia Comments (0)

Ghana>Liberia>Sierra Leone>Senegal>Gambia


sunny 31 °C

This was my 9 hr flight schedule with three technical stops (cities shown in the subheading) between Ghana and The Gambia. I am told if you flew directly this would have taken 2.5 hrs. I'd never do this trip again! That being said it was interesting to fly in and out of Monrovia and Freetown. Monrovia is a place I never quite imagined I'd end up due to certain Vice documentaries I have watched. They are both beautiful countries from the air. I've uploaded the images on the blog in the order they were taken. The first shots are coming in and taking off from Monrovia and the second set of shots in the sequence are Freetown. Note the UN supplies plane at the Roberts airport in Monrovia. This was also the first time I've seen such a clear sunset while in the air. Problematic for picture- I was directly behind the wing. At each hour plus stop at each airport they released what felt like mist from the vents (first photo). I have been on planes where this contains a disinfectant and is released for a short time but I am quite certain this was juts mist to keep the air moist. I thought it was pretty uncomfortable because it made me feel damp. And for 9 hrs. There are, as I mentioned better flights to take if you find yourself traveling between

Posted by Jmclellan 07:14 Archived in Gambia Comments (0)

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