Walking in Dian Fossey’s footsteps… Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

“When you realise the value of all life, you dwell less on what has past and concentrate on the preservation of the future” – Dian Fossey

A silver back sitting eating in the Volacnoes National Park, Rwanda

A silver back sitting eating in the Volacnoes National Park, Rwanda

It seemed fitting to finally trek and visit where Dian Fossey or Nyiramacyibili, as local Rwandans call her, had spent her days researching and working so hard to protect the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and neighbouring DRC and Uganda.

So a few days after our climb in the DRC we were meant to hike to the top of Bisoke to view the crater lake but with sore and tired legs we decided to take a smaller hike and visit Karisoke and the area Dian Fossey had spent so much time in working to protect the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

Sunrise over Sabiyano Volcano

Sunrise over Sabiyano Volcano in the Virunga Volcano Range

We set off early in the morning ahead of the groups trekking to the Gorillas – hoping maybe we might stumble upon them first and have a wee glimpse at the great apes she had worked so hard to protect.

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Walking through farmland towards the park and Bisoke

“Little did I know then that by setting up two small tents in the wilderness of the Virungas I had launched the beginnings of what was to become an internationally renowned research station eventually to be utilized by students and scientists from many countries.”  — Dian Fossey, writing in her book “Gorillas in the Mist,” about the founding of the “Karisoke” Research Center, a name she created from the nearby Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Visoke (Bisoke). 

There were signs along the trail that one of the Gorilla groups were near. We saw prints and fresh pooh but they stayed hidden from us amongst the forest and we were all hoping to catch a quick glimpse of them but it was not to be.

Gorilla prints fresh on the trail

Gorilla prints fresh on the trail

I can’t recommend this hike enough. I have been up into this range of mountains three times prior to this, each time on a different mountain and every time has been different in the trail and the experience. The jungle on this trek was nothing short of stunning throughout the hike, that alone and the views of the mountains (we did have an exceptionally clear day) were truly breath taking – along with knowing you were trudging the trail a true legend had many times before.

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Becoming at one with nature

At 2967 meters the trail splits, with the left branch leading to the grave site of Dian Fossey and the right climbing to the summit of Bisoke.

IMG_9808_thumbWe reached the area Dian Fossey and her team lived in worked in which was a  relatively flat area that was being reclaimed by the forest. There were many pieces of the old buildings still remaining in place and we could see why she had chosen such an amazing spot to live and protect the gorillas.

IMG_4990Dian Fossey spent 18 years in and out of the forest studying and trying to protect the Mountain Gorillas. She brought much attention to their plight and surely without her efforts they would certainly not be around today. In 1967 she founded Karisoke research centre – those two tents she first set up were the beginnings of a world known research centre. Sadly on December 27 in 1985 Dian Fossey was killed at the age of 54. There are many theories on her murder but it was never determined who killed her.

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Dian Fosseys grave – known to the people of Rwanda as Nyiramacyibili

The Gorilla graveyard was the final place we stopped at on our visit to the area. It was quiet and peaceful with beautiful light coming through the trees. Dian was laid to rest along one of her favourite gorillas Digit who she had met in 1967 but was brutally killed by poachers in 1977.

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Her beloved Digit’s gravesite right next to where Dian Fossey was laid to rest

Learn more about the Volcanoes National Park here and other treks you can do or visit Rwanda Tourism to learn more about activities in Rwanda.

To book your trek to visit and pay respects to Dian Fossey visit  contact reservation@rwandatourism.com

The trek costs $75 usd and you will need to have your own transport as you have to meet at the park head quarters in the morning and be transported across to the trek.

Ruzizi Lodge, Akagera Rwanda

I’ve been fortunate to take two trips to Akagera National Park in Rwanda and stay at the chilled and stunning Ruzizi lodge on the banks of lake Ihema that boarders Tanzania in the east of Rwanda. Everything at the lodge is relaxing and scenic — from the walkways that connect the lodge, the outdoors dining area and the tents to the monkeys swinging through the trees in the morning. Just a 2 hour drive from Kigali you can find yourself in the Park on a game drive and after a long hot day in the park its a perfect retreat kicking back in your bed just gazing out to the lake and listening to nature.

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One of the best parts about the lodge is that there are only 9 tents so its never too busy. You have your own private patio area at the front of your tent.

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The lodge prides itself on being eco-conscious and is entirely solar powered. The dining location is unbeatable for a view of sunrise over the lake. Dinner and breakfast are a real treat – watching from a raised platform that serves as a dining room. The hippos sometimes pop their heads up to say hello, the monkeys playing, and the many bird species at the end of the day settling into the trees for the night.

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The raised wooden pathways are gently woven into the trees un-interrupting nature and just letting it get on with itself lead to the tents that are hidden amongst the trees.

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Visited by monkeys in the morning swinging through the trees – if you leave the window shades to the tent and door shades up you can watch them from your bed running around the front of the tent and swinging across the trees.

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Likewise at night you may get visited by a hungry hippo – don’t panic the tents are raised and so they can’t get to you. Although I have to admit with the complete stillness of the night and the noise they make it can be quite exciting. We were fortunate enough to have one come up around the lodge after dinner so we could watch it grazing on the grass and then another was around our tent crashing about in and out of the lake for a while at night so we got to watch it as well.

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The park itself is monitored by African Parks. The park has flourished since my last visit “Animal numbers have doubled since the first aerial census in 2010, when estimations put fewer than 6,000 large mammals in the park. The most recent 2015 census counted over 12,000 large mammals, revealing that populations of elephant, buffalo, waterbuck, zebra, topi, warthog, roan antelope and our newly reintroduced lion have all increased!” Amazing!

Lions were released into the park just a few days after my last trip in 2015. It has been amazing to follow their progress and reintroduction back  which is an exciting re-addition for Rwanda and Akagera. Their population has already doubled, births of seven cubs in 2016 and have even been spotted climbing trees!

The views around the park are stunning, especially from some of the higher spots in the park looking down over the lake. If you’re headed to Rwanda this is a great place for a weekend getaway, its a lot cheaper than many other safaris on the continent at just $35 usd for international travellers. For more information on the park and getting there visit African Parks website.

Wanderlust… travel… adventure…

Why do I travel? To make the world a smaller place!

“I haven’t been everywhere but its on my list” – Susan Sontag

Botswana

Botswana

Wanderlust: An irresistible desire to travel to understand ones very own existence

Burma

Burma

I’m in love with the cities I have never been to and the people I have never met

“We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us” – Anonymous

Namibia

Namibia

“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Rwanda

Rwanda

And then I realised adventures are the best way to learn…

India

India

“Travel. It leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta

China

China

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
– Lao Tzu

“I would rather own little and see the world than own the world and see little of it”
– Alexander Sattler

Tibet

Tibet

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving”
– Lao Tzu

Burma

Burma

Travel: The one thing you buy that makes you richer.

India

India

“Happiness to not a state to arrive at but a manner of traveling”
– Margaret Lee Runbeck

India

India

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Peru

Peru

“People don’t take trips. Trips take people” – John Steinbeck

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”
– Gustave Flaubert

Thailand

Thailand

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai

Sri lanka

Sri lanka

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself” – Danny Kaye

Nepal

Nepal

“A nomad I will remain for life in love with distant and uncharted places”
– Isabelle Eberhardt

Bhutan

Bhutan

“We lean forward to the next crazy adventure beneath the skies” – Jack Kerouac

Opening Hearts in Rwanda

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to join an amazing team visiting Rwanda in October last year. The Healing Hearts Northwest team from the USA is one of four teams that come to Rwanda annually to perform live changing & saving surgery every year. Hearts were opened, repaired and sewn back up… my heart was filled with admiration for a team so committed and talented truly changing lives.

Looking into surgery

Looking into surgery

The visiting team had brought a photographer/ videographer along to document the stories of some of the patients and she was more than happy for me to join her in following the team which I was truly grateful for the opportunity.

Here are just a few images of the amazing work that took places and the hands at work. For patient privacy I have not included any images post op of the women who were incredibly tough and up in moving with in 48 hours of surgery.

Surgery prep

Surgery prep

I learnt a lot about the process of surgery, the different ways surgeons operate and the loving after care that goes into the work. Over 8 days 16 surgeries were performed, sometimes the surgeons were in surgery for 8 hours attempting to first repair a value before having to replace it. They stood in one place for that entire time; no drink, no toilet breaks, in the same spot. I on the other hand sat, stood, walked in and out of the operating room, moved from the foot to the head of the bed, went out for a snack and drink – they stood, worked and problem solved. I was in awe of their work, the way their hands moved, hearts were moved to bypass and then powered back to life.

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The initial incision is made though an electrical cut

Of the patients operated on 14 were women, a lot of them young women who had not yet had families. Why does this matter? In Rwanda (as in many countries) a huge amount of womens value is placed on being able to bare children and have a family. Once someone has their valve replaced then they have to stay on medicine for the remainder of their life, pregnancy can cause blood clotting issues and potential death, therefore it is incredibly risky for women to get pregnant following valve replacement.

First incision is made

The sternum has to be cut through

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Incredible focus for hours

Teamwork

Teamwork at its best

Monitoring

Monitoring

Precision

Precision as the new valve goes into the heart

Many hands doing precise work on the valve

Many hands doing precise work on the valve

Bypass machine

Bypass machine