Sunday, May 22, 2011

Slip Slidin' Safari

Up at 4am to leave at 5am. Three  Toyota Land Cruisers picked us up at our guest house to take us to Akagera National Park in the Eastern Province of Rwanda where we would go on a safari.  That SUV is the most comfortable place I have been since I got off of the plane. Good thing for us…we would spend the next 13 hours in it!
The park is about 2 ½ hours from Kigali. This was our first trip outside of the city and as it turned out, the safari wasn’t the only educational tour we would have that day.  Along the highway was a continuous view of poverty, like nothing I have ever seen.  One room houses without doors, small children walking alone on the shoulder of the road or playing in the dirt yard, goats tied up by the front door, women kneeling in the front yard washing clothes in a bucket, then laying them out to dry on the bushes. There was a steady stream of people walking beside the highway. Cars and trucks passed within inches of them sometimes, but neither driver nor pedestrian seemed alarmed.

 While it was still dark we began to pass folks on the way to market, women with bundles carried on their heads and men with bicycles loaded down with a variety of goods. The children followed along, some big enough to help by carrying a load. This was the scene all the way to the park.

When we arrived, each car had a park ranger to ride with us to tell us about the park and to spot animals. Our guide, Emmanuel, was knowledgeable and friendly. Our first sighting was 2 giraffe along with a herd of zebra. We got out of the car to take pictures of the cooperative bunch. Moving on, Emmanuel kept his eyes peeled, He showed us water buck (a type of deer), blackfaced monkey, impala and a herd of baboons running through the brush.

 We ate lunch by a lake where 4 or 5 hippos were submerged. Every few minutes they would raise their heads and eventually they raised their backs out of the water. As we moved on, the roads became very wet and muddy. We would slip and slide through the muck, hitting holes in the road that the driver couldn’t see because of the water. We had full confidence in him ( he has been driving for safaris for 17 years) and we were having a great time. After all, it wasn’t our car!

We saw mongoose, topi (another deer), buffalo and antelope. Our big quest was for the elephant, which remained elusive. But we had drive the length of the park, south to north and had plenty of photos and memories of animals and scenery. So, we bumped along the dirt road out of the park to head home. Our driver was as skilled on the road as he was off road, but driving in Rwanda will still curl your hair. We never felt unsafe, but let’s just say that in the US he just might have to repeat driver’s ed.
On the way home it began to rain. The people still walked beside the road and it occurred to me that this is a culture that carries on. Despite inconvenient circumstances like the rain or washing clothes by hand, or going to the town pump with 5 gallon jugs to get water, then carrying the full jugs back home, or not having electricity….or recovering from the awful history that this country has so recently experienced; in spite of all of this, this culture carries on. They carry on with pride and a dignity that does not come from material wealth, but from a strength that I am seeing for the first time. And I think that, even though I came to Rwanda to teach, I am the one who has a lot to learn.


  1. Love hearing your adventures. Can't wait to hear what week 2 brings. You're the best. Nan

  2. Even Dad was enthralled, watching over my shoulder .Sorry about the elephant.

  3. Maybe the elephants were all hanging out at the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River. :-)