Here we are in the south-west corner of Rwanda, in the Nyungwe National Park. This is chimpanzee and monkey territory. We were greeted first thing by several monkeys just hanging out along the side of the road. Upon checking our resources, they were easily identified as L’Hoest’s Monkeys, known for.. wait for it… hanging out along the side of the road. Nice of them to stick to the job description.
After exchanging the jungle scenery for rolling tea plantations, we arrived at our accommodations. It’s a long drive in and there are very few options, so I went with the posh lodge because I could. Turned out to be an excellent call as the posh lodge in Volcanoes National Park is a previous generation yet much more expensive and, frankly, showing her age. Nyungwe Forest Lodge deserves the international awards earned. Sitting amongst the low rolling hills of tea fields, grander mountains in the background, it’s an oasis in dark wood, flagstones, fireplaces, and expansive windows. The buildings of individual guest rooms are set away from the lodge, along the edge of the tea fields, facing the forest, primed for primate passing.
Obviously, the staff has been rigorously trained for European-type tourists. The dining and bar staff were nearly obsequious. I think the new servers were instructed to ‘go over’ the menu with each table, but didn’t dare risk assuming that we could read the actual words for ourselves. There were always vegetarian options for Jimm and myself, even if they were too often Italophile. Why do non-Italian, even non-European, places think people who have travelled to a foreign land would want the food they’ve left behind for two weeks? Because they do. Which is a shame. Cuisine is such an integral part of a place, of a people, chefs should take pride in their own and share it gladly. Tourists who want their own food in a foreign land need to expand their horizons just that bit much more. I’ll tell you about the amazing, expanding, delicious ugali in an upcoming post.
In addition to providing breakfast-to-go for early morning treks, a beautiful spa space with resident massage therapists, and an infinity pool looking out into the jungle, the general attentiveness of the staff was outstanding. We’d done a particularly muddy trek one morning and the boys left their boots outside our rooms because they weren’t fit for indoors. Several hours later as we were relaxing in the lodge, having drinks and nibbles, enjoying the fireplace, a young man appeared, flourishing two pairs of boots… clean nigh onto sparkling boots. Jimm didn’t recognize his own. No charge. Sadly, I’d left mine in the car. An Austrian friend has since informed me that it used to be that way in all the nice European hotels.
So, a nice European lodge has been set neatly down in the heart of Africa, surrounded by a variety of monkeys who casually pass by the secluded balconies. We did an official trek ~paid permit with guides~ for Colobus, which was wonderful. We were able to observe them from as close as directly beneath them and their gorgeous bell-pull tails. However, they do in fact live in the trees immediately surrounding the grounds of the lodge. We saw a few, looking ever so miserable in the rain, as we were on our way out.
We were also visited by a troupe of grey-cheeked mangabeys commuting just behind our balcony. Rwanda’s only population lives in Nyungwe.
And I’m certain there was one Red-tailed monkey in the lead. Lodge staff said they are very rare in that area, although they are not “Endangered.” I think homo sapiens, cockroaches, and rats may be the only species on the planet who aren’t endangered to some extent. Anyway, he was too quick for me to photograph, but this is definitely my guy. There was no mistaking that incredible tail.
I’m afraid I’m going to give short shrift to the chimpanzees. After a long drive over rough road in the very early morning, a tortuous and muddy jungle trek up & down & up & down following the professional trekkers who were following the troupe, those wonderful apes didn’t deign to alight where they could be seen as any more than shadows high up in the trees. This is as it should be, truly. They are wild and deserve the ability to escape from prying human eyes. However, if I’d known that on that first up we’d seen a few as clearly as we were going to, I could have forgone the rest. Their conservation is so important that I’m still glad to have contributed, both to the organization and the local guides and trekkers who are trying to make a living from keeping them alive rather than the other thing. More on this when we get to the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.
And the rest of the day looked mostly like this: