“You’re going where?” our friends inquired. “Why would you want to go to Rwanda?” The answer, I replied, was that ever since I had seen the film Gorillas in the Mist, I had the desire to trek mountain gorillas. My wife, Carole, and I have done some rather exotic travels, including hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We have also done a number of safaris in Africa, but it did not seem there could be any other wildlife encounter that could match trekking mountain gorillas through Rwanda’s Virungas Mountains.
Rwanda is a land-locked republic lying on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift and the watershed between Africa’s two largest river systems, the Nile and the Congo. It is often called “the Land of a Thousand Hills,” and it is a mountainous country with a moist, temperate climate year-round. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and French, English, and Kinyarwanda are the most widely spoken languages. The population is a little over 8,000,000 people.
Although Rwanda is the world’s premier gorilla-trekking destination, it is best known to most outsiders for a single event, that being the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of over 1,000,000 of its population and forced twice as many people to flee into exile in Tanzania, Uganda, or the Congo. The genocide lasted just about 100 days and ended when the Rwanda Patriotic Front captured the capital city of Kigali. It is difficult to travel through Rwanda and not recognize the terrible events of 1994. Almost every town and village houses a genocide memorial paying respects to the massacred while also highlighting the survivors’ determination that such atrocities not be forgotten and or ever repeated.