Gorilla Highlands embraces Rwanda

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Musanze View by Marcus Westberg

Rwanda! The country so similar yet so different from our home, Uganda. Many Rwandans are jealous of Ugandans, many Ugandans are jealous of Rwandans, and the conclusion must be: it’s a gift to have such a contrast of approaches to economic and social development.

Youth under Virunga Lodge by Marcus Westberg

Right from the start of the Gorilla Highlands initiative it was obvious that it wouldn’t be limited to Uganda. If anything, Rwanda was likely to like our beyond-the-gorillas orientation and focus on the private sector even more. We’ve taken a gradual approach to our expansion, making government contacts first, accumulating experience and waiting for the right moment.

Volcanoes by Marcus Westberg

That moment came when our leading photographer Marcus Westberg announced that he had booked a week for us, for anything related to Gorilla Highlands. The destination was logical: Musanze. Not only because it is the closest to gorilla national parks but because it’s the place of Greg Bakunzi of Amahoro Tours and Guesthouse.

Our colourful, cozy complimentary accommodation at Amahoro Guesthouse by Marcus Westberg

Remarkably, everyone from Rwanda we talked to first said “Greg” when we asked who could be the right private-sector contact for us. But Greg was abroad when Marcus was around, so he directed us to Harriet Ingabire.

Harriet Ingabire (second from left) by Marcus Westberg

This fascinating 25-year runs Red Rocks, her way to give back. A girl of Rwandan origin she grew up in Uganda and studied in the USA to become a psycoholigist, until Mama Africa called her back. She thought she would party in Kampala but instead found her purpose under the volcanoes, helping rural women – and generously hosting our multimedia volunteers.

Gorilla Highlands volunteer Katharina with ladies at Red Rocks by Marcus Westberg

In addition to Ingabire we talked to the good people of RDB, Gorilla Doctors, IGCP and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, met very many hoteliers and worked on a proper map of the town. It will take some time for these sketches and drafts to become something properly polished yet two things are clear: the next edition of the Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide will include Musanze and the next Silverchef will be open to chefs from the area.

Virunga Lodge Lake View by Marcus Westberg

We didn’t neglect the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo of course… Praveen Moman, the founder of Volcanoes Safaris, invited us for breakfast at his Virunga Lodge. We ended up enjoying it twice, as the first morning was too cloudy for photography.

Boys under Virunga Lodge by Marcus Westberg

Honestly speaking, we did not expect to spend a full week at Musanze, nor that it would feel like a second home!

Photo: Marcus Westberg