There was so much that was incredible and unforgettable about Nyungwe Forest National Park that I could write about it forever. To save us all some time, I’m going to keep this mainly to pictures, which I think tell most of the story anyway.
We kicked off with the Waterfall Trail, which is around 11km, departing from Gisakura. From here you walk through the edges of the tea estate to the beginning of the trail itself. Even on this introductory half hour or so, the views were spectacular, looking north to Lake Kivu, with glimpses of Idjwi Island (part of the Democratic Republic of Congo) behind.
Idjwi (the landmass just visible in the mist) is apparently the second largest inland island in Africa, and the tenth largest in the world. So there. Don't say this blog isn't educational
Me with our guide, Robert
We’re usually a bit reticent about hiring drivers or guides because we prefer to do things at our own pace and stop to look at weird things along the way. But in Nyungwe you have to have a guide with you, and we struck gold with Robert. Not only does he know Latin names, common names and folklore surrounding every plant, animal and bird in the forest, but he also has an informed opinion on the merits of everyone on the fringes of the England squad. He’s a great guy to have along on a walk.
The rainforest lived up to all possible expectations.
The forest makes you realise that the word 'green' covers many, many colours...
...and here, trees aren't just things that grow - they're places for everything else to grow, from creepers to funghi, mosses to vines
We made exceptionally slow progress; there was always something wondrous to stop and gawp at
Predictably enough, the Waterfall Trail ends at a waterfall. The night before our walk, it had rained hard all night. As a result, the noise was thunderous and the air seriously wet as we approached the falls.
In fact, we really were blessed (if you like loud noise and getting soaked) – Robert told us it was biggest he’d ever seen the waterfall. And yes, he’d seen the waterfall a lot.
The obvious question to ask about the photo above is what we’re pointing at. Well, the conversation went pretty much like this:
Robert: (indicating the point right by us where the water from above crashes into the pool below) What do you think would happen if you fell in there…?
Simon: You’d get very clean.
Robert: No, you’d die.
There was me thinking it was a trick question.
And these were the photos that I wasn’t going to post, because I figured that it wouldn’t be a good idea to let Jess’s mum see that I stood by while her daughter climbed a very wet rock next to a potentially lethal waterfall:
On the way back, we achieved our secondary goal of seeing monkeys without having paid for any expensive primate tracking. We saw Dent’s mona and red-cheeked mangabeys. However, the downside of not paying for the expensive primate tracking is that the primates aren’t habituated, so you don’t get close enough to get decent photos. Mainly you see branches bobbing up and down like crazy as the monkeys run away from you, with the odd glimpse through the leaves of something looking at you very suspiciously. But on the upside, these are wild, wild monkeys and you still get to hear their amazing noises (especially the mangabeys, which tweet loudly like birds).
The next day we took the pink trail, which is shorter than the Waterfall Trail but a bit more up and down, so probably of a similar (or harder) difficulty (NB none of these are difficult, this is just relatively speaking.)
The pink trail offers breathtaking views across the forest
It's also called the Umoyove, or mahogany, trail... and this is why
Halfway through, we stumbled upon some mountain monkeys (also known as L’Hoest’s monkeys), which like to walk around the ground and were using our trail when we encountered them. They quickly scarpered to the other side of the river and watched us from there. Again, we didn’t get any great photos, but the next day we saw one by the road, and it obligingly posed for a portrait.
Mountain monkeys have a red back, a white beard and, bizarrely enough, red testicles (not pictured)
In the end, part of me wished that I could forget Nyungwe. It would be the perfect excuse to go back…