January 27, 2018
Fred, our driver and nature guide, arrived to pick us up 10 minutes early at 5:50am. “Dis is terrible! We must go. Should have been on dee road at 5:30am – will heet so much traffeek!” he proclaimed with annoyance. Now, it’s Saturday morning and here he was claiming that traffic could be overwhelming but made more tolerable by a 30 minute head start. “Why’s there so much traffic on a Saturday morning?” I asked. He explained to me that one Saturday, each month, everyone in Rwanda participates in a day of service, typically cleaning up the streets. The event brings everyone outside at once, and often leads to increased pedestrian traffic in the roads.
We made excellent time, cutting the 3 hour drive east to Akagera National Park down to just 2.5 hours. Fred drives this route as many as 5 times a week and just took a group there yesterday. Established in 1934, the park is roughly 1200 miles of woodland, swamps, low mountains and savannah. The park used to be much larger, but was reduced in size by about 40% in 1994 after the Genocide. As refugees returned to Rwanda, the government took land from Akagera and gave it to the refugees for new settlements.
Our vehicle was a classic Toyota Landcruiser with a pop-up metal roof. It could have seated 6, but we enjoyed the extra space with just 4 of us (Frank stayed back in Kigali as he’s a touch under the weather). The drive out to Akagera was just what I had been missing. We’ve spent the entire week in the city and hadn’t yet explored the countryside. We passed by small but busy villages with people carrying giant yellow plastic water jugs 3 at a time, 300+ pounds of green bananas for the market, piles of sticks the size of a VW… all balanced on top of their heads or on the backs of bicycles.
Most houses are simple squares made of bricks or rocks and plastered in clay. Bright blue front doors seem to be in style. Children and little goats play in the front yards. Unfortunately the potholes in the gravel road doomed me to take only blurry photos as we sped by.
We entered the park just before 9:00am after picking up our picnic lunches for later in the day. It took less than 5 minutes for the animals to start introducing themselves. The entire day was filled with not just brief sightings, but appearances of multiple species at lengths long enough for close study. I can’t recap the whole day in words, so I’ll just let the pictures tell the story.
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