4AM this morning was one of my most anticipated moments of our trip - we were going to go hiking in one of Rwanda’s national parks! It was more than just hiking - this particular hike would be specifically trekking to see chimpanzees (hence the 4AM wakeup time). The prospect of seeing the chimpanzees was exciting to most of our delegation, but it was an added bonus to me - I was just excited to hike. Several others on our trip were concerned about this experience for various reasons - the early wakeup time, the uneven terrain, the length (we’d be in the jungle for several hours), but I was ready - I'd hiked a fair distance back home, as well as on my travels in Vancouver, and Europe - this was my favorite part of travel!!
We arrived at the national park at around 5AM. Our trek would take us deep into the jungle, so we didn’t start right from the entrance. Instead, we took a series of jeeps deep into the thickest part of the jungle. I'm sure we put their suspension to the test, as this was the bumpiest ride we’d encountered on our trip so far - and we were packed pretty tight in the vehicles, with four in the trunk (with no seat belts, naturally!).
Once we actually got into the forest, it got very quiet. Our guide informed us that the chimpanzees were extremely intelligent, and could hear us approaching from a fair distance away. I didn’t mind the silence. It gave me time to focus on the incredible landscape and scenery. Even as our guides ushered us off the beaten path and cleared us a walkway with machetes, I was enthralled with how bright and vivid all the colors were. Every shade of green imaginable shone through the trees, and there was a still, reverent quality to the forest as the sun rose. I got to take lots of pictures (I stayed near the front of the group most of the time, waiting for others to catch up).
We actually did see some chimpanzees, high in the forest canopy. They are LOUD, fast, and much bigger than I’d imagined. I was actually glad we didn’t see any on the forest floor, as it would have been terrifying! I didn’t get a chance to take photographs of the chimps, as they were too far away to get a decent shot, but seeing them is a memory I will treasure from this experience. At times it almost felt like they were observing us as much as we were observing them, and I was worried they might climb down from the trees for a closer look (though thankfully, none of them did)!
I appreciated the time we took to have a quiet trek through the forest. It was a good chance to rejuvenate, and have time to reflect on the natural beauty of Rwanda. Not everyone in our delegation felt the same way (especially as we hiked a few hours back uphill to the waiting vehicles), but I absolutely loved it. If I ever have the chance to travel back here, I want to spend most of my time hiking and trekking through the forest. I could easily have spent another week here!
I am traveling to Rwanda with the intent of a sponge - I want to absorb as many unique experiences as I possibly can, and bring them back to share with my culture. I am a multifaceted artist, and Rwanda is a treasure trove of valuable experiences to draw inspiration from. As a visual artist, I look forward to seeing unique handmade art, and letting it inspire an artistic vision. As a musician, I look forward to hearing vastly different than what I’m used to, and letting that inspire music from my soul. And as a teacher, I’m looking to see teaching methods different than what I have known. I want to bring these gifts back and share them with my culture.