Hallelujah the sky over London is blue again!! After spending a glorious couple of weeks under the African sun the heavy drizzle of the last couple of days has been hard for me to stomach. I know I know one should not complain after: some days basking on a sunny beach in Watamu, Kenya with decent wind hence quite a bit of kitesurfing, an adventure through Rwanda culminating in a gorilla trek through the jungely rainforest at the border with Congo and then back to Kenya, Lamu to be precise for a bit of social whirlwind. I promise I really did want to blog from out there but truth be told Wifi connections are not exactly what they are over here and more importantly I did enjoy not having to write for once. You see as much as I love my job writing columns means you are constantly thinking about what to write next. In fact I seem to be often writing one piece while already thinking about the next one due and then the next etc etc. Even when I am not thinking about my columns consciously my engine is always up and running nevertheless. My point is pre-writing as much as I could before Xmas and then getting a break from writing for all this time was heavenly.
Where was I? Africa…where else. Our Kenyan Christmas was surprisingly harmonious. Do you too worry about family drama each Christmas? I certainly do. But this year we were all pretty lovey-dovey and chilled. Maybe it was the fact that we had only a couple of days together or was it perhaps the hardcore kiting, beach walking and swimming rituals I was putting myself through each day? In fact I was as tame as a miniature goat in a petting zoo and it was smooth sailing. Then I jetted off to Rwanda and let me tell you what a jewel of a place. It deserves a couple of paragraphs at least. It is one of those places that needs to be visited asap as it is still pretty unspoilt! Plus it’s safe, friendly, stunningly beautiful and most importantly very un-Lonely Planet-ed, if you see what I mean. Kigali is a small and clean city very unlike other African capitals. There are nice places to stay i.e the Serena Hotel where we camped for the night or the Hotel des Mille Collines, better known as Hotel Rwanda from the widely popular Hollywood Drama. In both places one sits amongst good-looking, long limbed Rwandans, multilingual and internationally educated, friendly and very open-minded. After our city pitstop we headed south to explore Nyungwe Forest, a beautifully dense rainforest and home to the chimpanzee as well as an abundance of birds and other monkeys. Trekking through in search of the chimps required the earliest start in a long time. It was pretty brutal getting out of bed, but the splendid tranquillity of a rainforest hike made up for the struggle eventually. Unfortunately we didn’t have much luck with the chimps. In fact we saw only one and I needed binoculars to get a proper look at the little devil. He was snoozing high up in the branches. Our guide seemed very motivated to get us to see the rest of the gang and hence began racing us up a hill of thicket through branches and thorns over and under bushes. The pace was more like an uphill marathon than a holiday trek but being a bit of a competitive soul I kept right behind the guide not wanting to show him I was struggling. In the end I realised that trekking is a Sisyphus task anyway. The struggle and the occasional internal (or external) anger bouts about the never-ending story are half the fun. The other half of fun is each hike’s aftermath when the exhaustion and aching joints and muscles all melt into a divinely sweet cocktail of delightfully exhilarating bliss. The brain releases an internal Woodstock of Endorphins and it’s one big party. Even though we didn’t succeed in catching up with the Chimps it was a wonderful day.
A few days later and we were ready to tackle the biggie: stalking gorillas.
The Volcano National Park, in the countries northern region, bordering with the Congo and Uganda, is home to the famous Silverback Mountain Gorillas. There are 650 remaining gorillas, half of which live in families scattered throughout this forest, needing the high altitude and climate of the region to survive. We set out just before 6 am to join the other tourists at the National Park’s offices. I was soon to learn that this was a tough trek. There are no paths to walk along. Our guide had to chop through the thicket with a machete. There is no turning back and the group must stay together at all times. One slowcoach in the group and you are busted. On top of that, the length and difficulty of the trek is determined by the gorillas because where ever they are we need to get to and back. Just before crossing over a little stonewall and entering into the National Park, it began to pour with rain. Now the trek was not only steep but also extremely slippery. We began hiking up and down, over stones and under branches right through the overgrown forest. The mud was literally up to our knees it felt like I was mud-skating. Left and right huge stinging nettles you do not want to fall into and we were warned about the aggressive ants you do not want to step into.
The trek requires stamina, a fairly balanced equilibrium and discipline. After less than two hours of battle (I was expecting a lot more) Augustine our lovely guide and my walking aid who helped me avoid falling flat on my face, jerked my arm. “Do you want to see a gorilla”, he asked. I could barely contain myself from jumping up and down so excited and pumped with adrenalin was I. We were standing on slippery twigs and branches on a fairly steep hill between bushes and plants. 360 degrees around us green hills, trees and the Volcanoes in the distance. The surrounding landscape was breath taking, open, vast and lush at the same time as being overgrown and jungley. It’s stopped raining and only a slight hue of mist lay in the distance. And then I saw him. Just a glimpse of furriness lying quietly amidst the branches twenty meters bellow us, his black coat peering through the vegetation. After all the anticipation and effort I was ecstatic. Little did I know we would soon be so close, I could almost touch him. Suddenly just a mere couple of meters away a big male is lolling around munching on a strand of bamboo. He looks at us interested but not too fussed. There is a tiny little baby hopping from branch to branch and then quickly hiding behind his mother’s back. A large Silverback, the president of the bunch, shuffles past while a younger male seemed so scarily close to me he could easily have grabbed my leg.
The whole gorilla experience was out of this world. I imagined I’d be thrilled but looking into the eyes of these wild animals, sitting amongst them, being part of their life if only for a mere hour, was beyond imagination. Never have I felt the ambiguity between intruding into foreign wilderness at the same time as feeling almost welcomed into it, as strongly as here.
Barely have I managed to tell you how wonderful my Rwanda experience was and now it is time to wrap up. Pondering on our pitstop in Lamu together with my two English girlfriends although very comical and full throttle will stay untold for now. Oh well maybe next time… but just to say what a contrast from Rwanda’s tranquillity to the Lamu probably Africa’s sceniest spot.
On that note au-revoir, till next week where I will be processing the madness of the Haute Couture shows in Paris. My main reason for going aside from finally getting my messy hair tamed by my beloved hairdresser David is the following: I lovingly do hiking boots and Patagonia fleeces but hell my brand new baby-blue silk and feathered, Manolo ankle-stilettos, are still unworn and they too deserve a proper outing, don’t you agree? Talk soon. Xxx.
For more Info on travelling Rwanda check-out http//www.thousandhills.rw