The Country of A Thousand Hills, March 2005

Well I have fallen in love with Rwanda, “the country of a thousand hills”.  It is a stunningly picturesque place with interlocking rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see, and every inch of land is terraced with plantations of coffee, tea, banana plants and other fruits growing in the rich volcanic soil.  The people are wonderful, and the infrastructure surprisingly good – sealed roads everywhere, superior construction methods for buildings – if I had to guess I’d say the world had assuaged part of its guilt for turning its back on Rwanda during the genocide by pouring in huge amounts of international aid!

I have been up in Northern Rwanda for a few days at the Virunga volcanoes – a chain of volcanoes that sit abreast the border with Uganda and The Congo.  It was on the slopes of Bisoke volcano that I came face to face with the mountain gorillas.  We trekked for 2 and a half hours up the steep, muddy slopes to track the Amahoro group of gorillas – a family of 14 consisting of Ubumwe the dominant 28 year old silverback, a few adult females, some teenagers and down to an 8 month old baby called Ubwiyunge.  It was an incredible experience to spend an hour with them – you can’t help but feel some sort of connection when you look into the soulful, trusting brown eyes of these magnificent apes.  We were entertained by the baby as he climbed vines and swung from branches upside down, and even practised beating on his chest like the silverback he will one day become.  We were as close as a few feet to the gorillas at times, but at one point while we were quite near to two adult female gorillas they stamped their annoyance with our presence.  All of a sudden these 2 massive beasts let out a roar and sprang towards us bearing their teeth and chests in a frightening defensive display.  I was closest to them and consequently reflexly jumped backwards landing in a stinging nettle bush. Ow!  I can tell you the bite was worse than the gorillas bark!

I have been taking it easy since then – spent a couple of days in North-eastern Rwanda at a lakeside resort town, Gisenyi chilling out and reading a book.  Yesterday I crossed the border into Uganda, travelling with a Swedish guy who drove his Landrover down from Sweden and has almost circumnavigated the continent of Africa in it!  Uganda promises to be as picturesque as Rwanda.  Today I crossed the equator and am now in the Northern hemisphere in a town called Fort Portal.

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