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I made 3 trips to Rwanda in as many weeks and liked it more every time I went back.
First, I came to organise some gorillas permits, unobtainable in Uganda
where I wanted to see them. With
Rwanda being less of a tourist hub than Uganda, the expensive permits
were still readily available. In hindsight I count myself lucky that they were.
Seeing the gorillas was one of the greatest things I have done so far.
Due to meeting a great fellow traveller (you know who you be) I was
told how to make sure we got to visit the Susa Group, the biggest and
most rewarding gorilla family on the Rwandan side. After a 2 hour trek
through fields and bamboo forests we finally found them. There
was one big oaf sitting calmly in the undergrowth chewing on something
leafy (which didn't taste good.) We all stood there as quietly as
possible amazed by him. In total contrast he looked totally bored by
us, no doubt used to the daily tourust visit.
I'm not really sure how to describe a gorilla or what the whole
experience was like. I think "cool" would be an apt word. There were
several silverbacks, mostly eating or running around, and numerous
youngsters, playing or fighting with each other.
One of the little guys thought it would be fun to kick me as he walked
by. He then thought it would be even funnier to pause as he continued
walking, look back at me as though to give me the finger, and to kick
me again with his back foot. Then the little shit ran off. I would
have taken him had his mum not been 3 times bigger than me.
The $375 for one hour with the gorillas was definitely worth it. And
word on the street is that they're putting the price up to $500 from
June(2007). My advice is if you have the time and money and are in the
area to go and see them for yourself before they hike the price up
Before my parents had arrived I had had time to kill in the capital,
Kigali. By coincidence I happened to be around on the last Sunday of
the month, when everyone goes out and cleans up the country, eg cut
the grass or sweep the streets. This was great and some people even
asked me to help them out. It is a real testament to
see everyone working so hard to rectify the problems of the past and
getting on with life.
I also went to see the famous Hotel Des Milles Collines, synonymous
with the movie 'Hotel Rwanda,' previously one of my favourite movies.
I went with the intention of staying there for one night. It had been
here that so many people had been murdered and a hero had been made as
he saved thousands of lives. However, a few of the locals I spoke with
had other things to say, and many of them were not concurrent with
what had occurred in the movie. I do not know who to believe, or
whether the movie exaggerates the heroics of its main character far
more than it should do, or whether it exaggerated things at all. For
this reason I will not delve any further into what actually happened,
because in all honesty I don't really know.
I learnt much from visiting several memorial sites around the country,
including 2 churches and a museum-like
building erected on one of the biggest massacre sites.
They were left as a reminder of the ghastly Genocide of 1994, in which
Hutu militia systematically murdered over a million people, mainly
Tutsis, in just 2 months.
The blood-stained clothes of the victims were still there. Thousands
of skeletons lay in piles in churches where several atrocities took
place, sometimes at the command of the clergymen and nuns. (Of the 2 churches I visited
5,000 had been murdered in one, 10,000 in the other.)
Thousands of skulls remain stacked on shelves. One could still see
where bullets had penetrated. On the smaller skulls you could see the
indentations where children and babies had been swung by their feet
against brick walls. Horrifically it even seemed like some of the
church walls were bleeding.
There were stories of how people with money had paid their murderers
to kill them with bullets; the easy, more painless option. It is sad
that I will always remember seeing machetes stacked in the corner of
one church memorial as I was walking out.
The memorials were a shocking, yet important, reminder of what had
happened and what should not happen again. It is amazing that the
world did nothing when this was going on. I would like to think that
it will never happen again, but this is an unlikely reality. The world
fucked up, just like they are doing now in the Sudan and Chad. And yet
looking around me I have rarely come across people so friendly and
welcoming. It just doesn't make any sense how your next door neighbour
or your friend or your priest could turn out to be your killer.
1,000,000 lives in 2 months
500,000 lives in one month
125,000 lives a week
17,857 lives a day