This is how Rwanda Familiarization trip happened. “It’s my first time in Africa and in…
Escapades of Hiking the Volcanoes National Park. When Heritage Safaris was invited along with other RTTA members to participate in a 3-day Fam Trip organized by Rwanda Development Board to hike two volcanoes out of the five in the Volcanoes National Park, we did not hesitate. It was a tall order (to a mother of four) but I agreed to the challenge.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the smiling sunset rays that were spread along the volcanoes which were unusually very clear. The rays embraced the volcanoes in a cuddle-like-love shape that was awe-inspiring – temping us to stop to admire and make a few shots – we answered.
We were hosted at the luxurious five star Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel at its exclusive Volcano Manor in their newest rooms adjacent to the family suite – that also hosted us over Easter break. The new adjacent rooms rooms were constructed and furnished in a record-breaking duration of 2 months and Heritage Safaris Guests was honored to be their maiden clients early July 2019.
Three days’ hiking and heritage adventure were the greatest achievement of our lives!!!! Not easy and I kid you not but we survived!!! We hiked two most beautiful volcanoes Mt. Bisoke 3,711meters and Mt. Gahinga 3,474 meters both of which have been the greatest accomplishments of my life!
I personally learnt many lessons. In life we all need a guide who leads the way, who sticks/ knows the path. Their job is to show you the path without forgetting to check on the trail behind. The Leader explains the rules, introduces each milestone and key strategies (species and key places), explores your expectations and blends it with the main goal (getting to the summit)!
Beyond leadership, any leader needs a support team. This team ensures everyone is safe, strong and are supported mentally and physically. The accomplishment is not for the hiker only but for this heroic team that play an instrumental role to get you to the top. They carry your load when a jacket of 200gms turn into 5kgs, they hold your hand so you won’t slip and fall. When you’re about to give up and question how far it is to the peak, their response is unanimous “You’re closer”. They also ensure you’re safe from any harm or attacks (especially in a jungle of wild animals) and any other enemies or traps.
Every leader needs an assistant who trails behind the trail. Their role is to ensure everyone including the weak ones remain secure and focused. They are story tellers, they keep you laughing even when the path is at its toughest. They allow you to rest and are patient to walk with you at your pace. Their focus is mostly to spot weak ones, group them together and encourage them to persevere and keep focused on the peak. They notice when one is dehydrated, discouraged and allow them to refuel. By the end of this hike, I had gratitude for these unsung heroes, who are frequently left out from the picture!!
Day 1: Hike of Mt Bisoke
Hiking started at 9:20 am and ended at 3pm. The day was sunny, with clear blue skies and extraordinary white clouds. We set out as a team of 21 and 20 made it to the top. Once at the top, you are rewarded with magnificent views of the mountain vegetation, other mountain peaks and a beautiful crater lake – of about 400m of diameter. To the left, the summit also rewarded us with a rare natural beauty – of the cloudy and snowy peak of Mt. Karisimbi and a clear peak of Mikeno in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to the right, lay clear peaks of Mt Gahinga, Mt Sabyinyo and Mt Muhabura. It is so beautiful to see and experience! We were lucky to have stayed longer (50 minutes) due to the unusual sunny day as we were informed! How long one stays at the summit, pretty much depends on the weather and temperatures – it can freeze to below 10oc. The bigger part of Bisoke volcano including its summit is found in Rwanda. Within, Mt Bisoke lies a grave site of Dian Fossey, Golden Monkeys and three mountain gorilla families are habituated. We were unable to spot any and saved this for next time! Bisoke hiking trail is predicted to take approximately 6 hours depending on the speed, and physical fitness of climbers. Ascending could take 4 hours to the summit and 2 hours of descending from the summit. We used slightly less.
Day 2 Relaxation: Buhanga Eco-Park
I would have called it a relaxation if the day was exclusively set aside to in-house relaxation, but an activity to learn about a cultural Eco-park at Buhanga Eco park was part of the menu. This park is an ancient coronation site where all Rwanda kings were enthroned. The park has sacred stories of scared trees, a sacred spring, cave-like-bath, all of which have remained untouched to-date. Those who dared hamper with them have had fatal endings as we later learnt from the park warden. Stories of this Eco-park were previously annotated by this New Times writer and will be my focus in the next Blog.
Day 3: Mt Gahinga
Hiking Mt Gahinga is ironically the most strenuous for its height above sea level – less of Bisoke by 237 meters. Do not underestimate this hike, its trail takes you through various type of vegetation that can be described as Afro-montane with bamboo composing the main vegetation. The bamboo forests on Mt Gahinga are the habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas, the golden monkeys and even the bird species. The plains at the foot of the volcano are characterized by deep volcanic ash and run off from the peak rapidly disappears underground. The hike takes between 5 and 7 hours (depending on the fitness of climber) from the morning time. Hiking takes you to the lush vegetation that cover Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The vegetation including bamboo cover up reaching the top, the cool air and the breeze from the giant lobelia in the crater swamp which is so fulfilling. The summit offers amazing vies of the other distant volcanoes in the Virunga ranges as well as the You can spot Mount Mahabura and Mt.Sabyinyo very closely giving you the temptation to also reach their summits in the next days. Take as many photos as possible with your groups and also the distance scenes. Descending should have been easier, but after several hours of climbing, and previous hike, my knees could not handle the slopes, I needed to exercise caution with slippery slopes to avoid sliding or falling down – I mostly used a potter’s help! – Not a laughing matter by the way, the pain in my knees, my toes were so immense and could compare to the labor pains of my first child’s birth. But guess what, the next day I was back to my feet, jogging!!
Be sure to book the hike in the dry season, otherwise be prepared to contend with mud and more volcanic mud that literally sucks you down. Prepare to carry at-least 2 liters of water and a couple of bananas or chocolate or some other form of energy booster and a few snacks to keep your energy levels high as well as celebrate your victory at the top!!. It’s also highly recommended to use gators from a hotel or park reception or bring your own to keep away the safari ants and other creeping worms from your shoes, feet and the rest of your body, as well as prevent mud and thorns from ruining your pants! Having the right shoes also matters a lot! You need lighter hiking shoes – I went shopping the next day for lighter ones at the modern Musanze town market and know two group members who had to take their pairs for repair!
Authored by Sifa Uwera – Managing Partner, Heritage Safaris Ltd.