More to Rwanda than just gorillas
Kigali - At the end it was worth it; after more than nine hours bumping down dirt tracks in a four-wheel-drive, we finally got to see two young bull elephants taking their afternoon bath in Lake Ihema.
It was an uplifting moment at the end of a tour of Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda, one of the most beautiful savannah reserves in Africa. For newcomers to the continent it’s ideal.
A big tour from the Akagera Game Lodge in the south end of the park to the Kilala Plains in the north takes almost 10 hours and there’s plenty to see.
There are two main routes through the park: the road along the western border, which winds its way across a low mountain chain and beyond the Kilala Plains, and Lake Shore Road, which takes you round the park’s many lakes from north to south.
In the lushly vegetated bushland a few kilometres from the lodge, the first buffalo with their curved horns can be seen bathing in small waterholes.
“Buffalo love muddy spots like that,” explains the guide, Bosco. “They can cool themselves down and the mud keeps the flies away.”
Nearby there are a couple of defassa waterbucks, a kind of antelope native to sub-Saharan Africa. “They give off a strong odour when they’re attacked,” adds Bosco.
The 25-year-old is one of 24 freelance local guides and had to compete against 200 other people for one of the much desired training contracts. Poachers were a big problem that has since been contained here, he explains.
The further north we go, the sparser the vegetation becomes. The surroundings transform themselves into grasslands with acacia trees.
There we see tope antelopes with their distinctive reddish-brown coats, brownish-black hind quarters and ridged horns. The white fur on their legs makes them appear as if they’re wearing socks.
After two hours travelling along the western border, we reach the park’s highest point at 1 825 metres, also known as Mutumba Hills.
There are a few camp fire spots, toilets and a small cabin as protection from the elements. There’s also a nearby park ranger station for emergencies.
“European visitors often like to camp up here,” says Bosco. “It’s cool, there’s always a bit of wind, so there are no mosquitoes, and you can reach the animals on the Kilala Plains quickly in the morning.”
On the way down again we see impala as well as oribis, the small, delicate, shy, pale brown antelopes. And one of the highlights: zebras. There are countless numbers of them, each with a striped coat as individual as a fingerprint.
They stand in the bush, under trees, right in the middle of the path, in groups or alone or in pairs, graceful and completely serene.
Past the candelabra cacti and the bushy trees, the tour continues into the open steppes, the grasslands. In the distance we can see giraffes, which weren’t always native to Akagera Park.
“Six Masai giraffes came here in 1986 as a present from south Kenya,” says Bosco. “It was an experiment to see if they would manage here.” It seems to have worked and there are now 70 giraffes in the park.
Then we go on to the south of the park. More antelopes, gazelles, warthogs, banded mongooses, swallows, guinea fowl, birds with greeny-blue iridescent plumage and red wings, yellow and white butterflies, green monkeys.
On this day only the elephants had been missing. But on the way back to Akagera Game Lodge, we make a quick detour down to a lake and there we find the two bull elephants.
Now I’ve really been to Africa.