24 – Poachers to Protectors

24 – Poachers to Protectors

We began our tour of Rwanda in the North, a few kilometres from the Virunga Mountains (a chain of volcanoes bordering Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda). Thousands of tourists flock here every year to visit the mountain gorillas. Thanks to conservation efforts and Dian Fossey’s legacy, the gorillas have gone from being critically endangered to endangered. Though it must be extraordinary to see them in their natural habitat, we decided to give it a miss. The entrance permit is a tad over our budget at one thousand, five-hundred dollars per person, (for one hour)! Despite the government doubling the price and number of permits two years ago, they still sell out! If you are tempted by the experience, make sure you book at least two months ahead.

Much to our surprise, there was no chaos or kerfuffle at Kigali Station. The buses were all identical and lined up in an orderly fashion; their destination clearly displayed on their windscreen. We found ours easily: “Musanze”.

Kigali Bus Station

The ticket man told us the bus would be leaving at 2:30pm. We sniggered in our heads, “Haha, yeah sure, we have heard that one before! We know it will leave when it is full!”. Oh but no…we were mistaken! At 2:30pm on the dot, we pulled out of the station. What a pleasant surprise!

People here do not seem to transport all their worldly possessions and animals by bus. To avoid paying for two extra seats (for our luggage), we kept our bags on our laps. The journey took two hours. A small country has its advantages! We could get used to this.

Once arrived, we walked to our Airbnb (that we had managed to book in the bus, whilst sandwiched in-between our bags and seats). A kind gentleman steered us in the right direction. The sun was setting, projecting a beautiful pink light on the volcanoes and surrounding houses. We imagined ourselves living here.

Once again, we were blown away by the swanky new roads, fancy houses and gardens. It is far from what we are used to seeing. Even the pavements are used here! We crossed paths with locals going for an evening stroll or jog. They waved and greeted us as they passed. The armed soldiers at street corners made us feel safe, rather than threatened. Remember, it is thanks to Rwanda’s authoritarian government that they have succeeded in reconstructing the country.

Fred, one of the lodgers at our Airbnb, accompanied us to a good Chinese restaurant in the area (yep, the Chinese are everywhere in Africa). He walked the fifteen minutes there with us and then turned around and headed back towards his friend’s house. We thought he was going to dine there with us, but no, he was just being kind and showing us the way! Can you imagine a Parisian taking thirty minutes out of his/her day to help tourists!? Haha.

Fred had handed us the numbers of two of his moto-taxi friends. The next day they would become our friends too. We bonded on the back of their bikes, shouting through our helmets the names of all the plants and crops we saw. Beans, potatoes, bananas, maize, sweet potato and pyrethrum (used to make pesticides). We are experts now!

In Amongst the Pyrethrum Flowers

Though we did not visit the Gorillas, we did visit the “Gorilla Guardians” at Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. Here, ex-poachers were taught alternative ways to make a living, e.g. by fermenting and selling banana beer, growing potatoes, breeding goats, gardening, building bamboo structures, making handicrafts or entertaining tourists (e.g by teaching them about the traditional Rwandan way of life). Now the ex-poachers are able to earn enough money to live in houses and to send their children to school. They also understand the importance of protecting nature so that tourists will come and invest in their country. Instead of hunting animals that eat their crops, they will now call the park rangers to come collect the animals. The government even provides compensation for destroyed crops. These ex-poachers are now conservationists!

Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village

Learning about the traditional Rwandan way of life…

We were King and Queen for the day. We got married, again. Though this time we had a traditional Rwandan ceremony!

As it was our “wedding day”, we were treated to live music and a dance from Intore dancers…

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. Can you see Heather’s wedding “carriage” on the floor?!

4 Replies to “24 – Poachers to Protectors”

  1. I hope, when you return home eventually, you will be Parisians on Africa time and will be able to enjoy taking 30 minutes out of your day to assist a tourist!
    Unless it was a bird flying overhead, I suspect Heather did not hit the target, no!
    Felicitations on your Rwandan marriage 🙂
    Have you read Diane Fosseys book, or seen the film ‘gorillas in the mist’? Very moving film. Its goid to know conservation is going well there.
    Another fabulous post with wondrous pictures. Thank you xxx

  2. Hey Arnaud, by Rwanda custom; how many cows did you need for Lebowa to buy Heathers hand in marriage, she’s a bit skinny by African standards so barter hard for less cows

    1. Hey – that’s my precious baby – she is priceless I’ll have you know 😉 xxx

  3. Ah happy days and fantastic photos and ‘crowd participation.
    ♥️ Love the campaign to offer poachers an alternative way to live life. Keep dancing. Miss you guys. Lxxx

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