In the previous post about Nyungwe, I gave you an introduction about this park, so it’s time for the next installment of our adventures! As you may remember, we spent a few days hiking there, and since chimpanzee tracking is the main attraction, we had added it to our agenda as well, although we weren’t sure if it would definitely work out. So, did it? Read on to find out! 🙂
On our first day in Nyungwe (it was a Monday) we had a great pleasure to hike with a fantastic guide, Evariste, and we wanted more. The chimps were, in theory, booked for Wednesday so on Tuesday we decided to check out other trails. One of the top activities in the park is visiting the Canopy Walkway. It’s certainly not cheap, $60 per person ($50 for T. and I as we are residents, so not much less) but all sorts of internet forums and guide books highly recommended it so we gave it a go and parted with a sizable bunch of banknotes. Luckily, you can combine the Canopy Walkway with one of the trails called Igishigishigi (great name, isn’t it! 🙂 It’s a type of tree fern), and we received a 50% discount on it as we were staying for more than one day and did more than one hike. It was money well spent, as it turned out, although we weren’t so lucky with the guide this time. We got a sulky man who wasn’t saying much and who clearly didn’t fancy getting to know us better. Luckily Evariste had told us so much the day before that we didn’t really have any questions.
The Canopy Walkway is certainly worth its price. It consists of three bridges suspended high up in trees and joined by viewing platforms. It’s all a bit wobbly, and I do suffer from a slight fear of heights, so I held on to those ropes for dear life so as not to fall over (falling out would have required jumping and somersaulting I guess) 😉 From this perspective you really can see how incredible this forest is, and how huge those trees are! Just check this out 🙂
Having received such a nice adrenaline kick, we set off on the proper trail. Igishigishigi is not difficult so we could take our time to soak up the beauty of nature. At one point we reached a junction, with another path to the left. Our guide stopped and informed us that the path is part of our trail and leads to a colony of colobus monkeys. We asked if we could go there then, as these monkeys are one of the park’s main attraction, and they do look cool in photos. “No” – came the short answer. “Why not?” – we were surprised. “Because it’s a different trail” – said the guide. “But you said it was part of ours.” – “Well, yes.” – “So why can’t we go there?” – “Because it’s not the same trail.” And so we conversed in this manner for a bit until we finally understood what he was saying: yes, the path was indeed part of our trail but in order to go that way, you need to pay an additional fee to pay a visit to the monkey colony. Shame they hadn’t told us that when we were booking this hike!
Anyway, we just sighed and kept on walking, paying attention to the path so as not to step into a swarm of fire ants. They’re aggressive and they do bite! Walking around Nyungwe requires long trousers and you need to tuck them into your socks to avoid the ants climbing up your leg as their sting is quite painful. I got one of those, I must have brought it from the forest to the base as it made itself known as I sat down for lunch. I took my shoes off and suddenly felt something biting me on my calf and then my thigh. I ran to the bathroom to take off my trousers and there it was, a large and angry ant.
At one point we had to stop as a group of handsome L’Hoest’s monkeys were hanging out on the path 🙂
They didn’t pay us much attention and busied themselves with picking leaves from bushes and trees. These monkeys are calm and friendly, they allowed us to come fairly close! It’s the most common species of monkeys in Nyungwe, and you must admit – they’re quite pretty 🙂 And even though they’re quite big, they’re also very nimble and graceful!
When we got back to the base, we pressed our man at the reception to tell us once and for all whether our chimp tracking was booked or not. And we finally got the full picture. So yes, the booking existed, and we already knew the trek began at the base in the west of the park, but we wouldn’t be able to pay on the day as it’s an early start and there might not be anyone to take the payment there, so we should go and do it now (about half hour to drive one way). It turned out that we would need to be there for 5.30am the next morning, take the guide into our own car and drive for another hour or more on a bumpy road deep into the forest where the chimpanzee group lives. The man was unable to tell us what the quality of that road was, and whether our 2×4 with five people on board would manage. T. and I had already considered not doing it at all this time as we were both coming down with a nasty cold and just didn’t feel up for getting up at dawn. But we can do it another time, while our friends might never visit Rwanda again so they did want to stick to the plan. We decided to talk it through yet again over lunch. Funnily enough, there was a loud group of chimps quite close to the Uwinka base and we could hear them already during our walk with Evariste the previous day. We could certainly hear them now as well, and closer. The receptionist advised against tracking this group as it’s not habituated and very difficult to find. We were sceptical though, so after lunch T. and I went back to the tent to drink some Lemsip and our friends took advantage of the free afternoon hike, available to guests who had done several hikes already (luckily they understand the principles of discounts and promotions at Nyungwe). Evariste happened to be available so they asked him to guide them.
And here we get to the drum roll point.Our friends were supposed to return after about an hour and a half but they only appeared after about three. They were quite tired and sweaty but very excited. It turned out that this apparently difficult to find, unhabituated chimpanzee group was on their trail! They needed to get into the bushes a bit but managed to get quite close, to the point where the chimps were dropping fruit skins on their heads. A few individuals were on the ground so they also got the chance to watch them for a bit. Maybe the proper trek provides a closer and longer interaction, and maybe you see even more of them, but our friends saw enough to keep them happy and save those $90 they would have spent on a probably very similar experience 😉 Evariste asked us not mention it to anyone at the base as officially chimps are not included in this particular hike 😉 This was simply a stroke of luck which worked very well for all of us. Sometimes it’s good not to stick to the plan too religiously 🙂
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing, wrapped in jumpers and jackets, with winter caps and scarves on as nights in Nyungwe are really chilly. From our tent platform we watched great blue turacos flying past and making funny noises 🙂
We cancelled our Wednesday chimpanzee tracking and booked another hike instead, in the west of the park, where the main attraction is a waterfall. I’ll tell you all about it next time though! 🙂