Mid-July is birthday week for Susan and me – and in keeping with the theme of “bet you never thought you’d be living in Rwanda due to politically related violence in Burundi” we decided to go as a family on a “bet you never thought you’d be hiking in an African rainforest” hike for fun. So we headed up into the hills for a family hike in the Nyungwe rainforest
Now, bear in mind – my birthday is Juy 14 – and while I must say I REALLY miss living in France where my birthday is a national holiday, filled with parades, festivals, fireworks – and usually the Tour de France is in full swing somewhere close – this year we drove to the Congolese border to get our car documents updated – and then went out for family lunch. Last year – the weekend of my 40th birthday we were in Val d’Isere where I ran a trail race – this year Susan the kids and I had lunch overlooking Lake Kivu towards Bukavu in the D.R. Congo after we got our documents sorted out with the Rwandan customs agents. It’s a beautiful place to sit and watch the fishermen pull their nets into their small wooden boats.
Two days later for Susan’s birthday we drove about an hour up into Nyungwe National Forrest – one of the last remaining rainforests in this part of Africa.
All hikes in the national park MUST be accompanied by a guide – so the 6 of us and our ranger-in-military-fatigues headed out on a hike that was easy enough for a 3 year old – yet interesting enough for everyone – the Igishigishigi Trail – the canopy walk that has a series of three suspended bridges that allow you to walk along way up in the canopy of the rainforest and get to see what things look like from up there.
When you reach the first tower our guide did try to reassure us that the whole thing is safe by pointing out that it was all built by a Canadian company, and funded by the Americans. I guess they figure that’s what westerners want to hear before they are walk across what looks like a glorified rope bridge suspended a few hundred feet above the forest floor below.
One of the amazing things is that you are face-to-face with the creatures who live up there in the canopy of the rainforest. It’s shocking to be up that high to start with- but also very strange that animals live way up there. Our guide told us that earlier in the morning there had been a snake sitting up on a tree right next to one of the platforms. A snake – just sitting there 60m above the forest floor!
We were fortunate to have found a group of monkeys hanging out in the trees right next to the first platform. Apparently you don’t always see monkeys or chimps on the canopy walk- so we were pretty glad that we did – and stayed there and watched them jump and clime and eat and be all monkey-ish for quite a while.
It’s apparently the second highest canopy walk in the world (tallest is in Brazil somewhere) – some 60m up and the longest span is 90m across. Well – I think those stats are true – the whole national park is absolutely devoid of any useful information online – you have to guess when the hikes are and what they might cost. For us – the answer to ‘when’ was 15min before we got there – so we waited another 3 hours. And the answer to ‘cost’ is: spend probably 20min arguing that our kids should get the East Africa resident child rate (like the other three Burundi resident family’s had a few weeks prior).
It made for a great outing that everyone could keep up with – and also allowed us to all see something that we had never seen before. The rainforest is really a magnificent place -and to be able to stand and stare at monkeys as they pick fruit out of trees right in front of you is pretty great.