Thursday, February 13, 2020

Rwanda ROCKS... one of the best days of my life!

Want a breathtaking, unforgettable experience? Trek into the mountains of Rwanda and spend time with the Gorillas... it is even better than you can imagine. Today was the highlight of the trip and one of the best travel experiences EVER.
First, you are not across a wide clearing from them (like I anticipated).  In fact, I did not use my zoom on any of these photos.  No kidding are right next to these magnificent creatures. They could reach out and hold your hand. The gorilla family we visited is one silverback male, 8 females and 5 babies (ranging from just a few months old to toddlers). The moms look deep into your eyes... soulfully. The youngsters play around you and are sassy and so very, very cute.
Can't you just see it in his eyes:  "What naughtiness can I get into today?"
The "Why are you disturbing my nap?" look
The toddler gorilla posing and showing off his tricks for us.. "Look what I can do... pick my nose and raise one foot at the same time.. I am a genius!"
The Silverback Alpha Male ...stuffing his face and deliberately ignoring us
This is how close you get to them
Before we started up the mountain (and it is an almost 3 hour trek uphill to get to where this family was hanging out), we met Francoise ... one of the guides who was Diane Fossey's tracker for 5 years. (The cool experiences and stories he must have!)
And then off we went...
Observation: Rwanda takes gender equality to a new level. It is against the law to pay women less than men and 68% of the parliament is female. The thought is that women are less likely to invoke unrest, a civil war or another genocide. Peace and prosperity are priorities and the country likes its chances better with women at the helm. I loved the fact that one of our trackers today was a young woman (there are only a few of those still). The rifle is supposedly to ward off aggressive buffalo but I'm betting if anyone tried to hurt a gorilla she might well use it on a tourist!!! I wouldn't mess with her, she was a badass.
The gorillas are so important to the economy and well-being of this region, the village has a special ceremony each year where they decide on the name for each new gorilla baby born that season. This is an auspicious event as they must select just the right name to bring good health and long life to every new gorilla.  The naming ceremony comes with pomp and circumstance and takes places in this special statue pavilion made from woven and braided wheat strands.
Observation: Popular names for young men born after the genocide (so 21-24 years old) bear witness to the country’s hope for reconciliation: we have met several with names like Innocent, Peace and Justice. One of our porters today was the third “Innocent” we’ve met. 
Children born of genocide rapes and then abandoned - or those orphaned when both parents were murdered - created a groundswell of street urchins in the mid 1990s. The government started a massive public education campaign asking people to adopt those kids and bring them into their homes. It worked. And today there are really no homeless people in Rwanda. No matter how poor they are, some distant family member will put an extra mat on the floor and give you a home.  

Yesterday, we visited a charity -Handspun Hope - that has built a place of healing and serenity for “vulnerable women” (defined as widows whose husbands were murdered in the genocide; women with HIV who are rejected by their families; disabled women with infant children). 
The women at the home raise goats and angora rabbits, shear them, wash, dye and spin the wool and then knit it into sweaters and scarves. The spinning wheel is powered by her foot ... which has to move at exactly the right pace and rhythm to make the yarn perfect and not tangled. It's seems crazy difficult.
They also  turn the rough wool into felt gorillas... for sale at hotel gift shops. 
The home and it’s gardens are bordered by a high wall which inspires a feeling of safety. And the whole property is beautiful, lush and peaceful. The women sit in groups all day, chatting and gossiping and working. You hear their soft laughter. There are also counselors and therapists available. This charity is clearly doing real good for traumatized women. You leave feeling better about their chances for true healing.
Shout out to Amakora Lodge where we stayed while in the gorilla national park area. Very high end and super pampering. There was - literally - a gaggle of people for the Gaiter Ceremony every morning where they tighten your boots and zip up your gaiters and bless your trek. (Because you are obviously not expected to be able to do those types of simple tasks for yourself).
I am not even exaggerating...this place takes Super Luxury to a new level. Everyone had their own villa ... each equipped with giant beds and claw foot tubs.
We were even met by drummers from the nearest village when we arrived. Audience participation encouraged.
Observation: My kingdom for a ... bicycle. In the villages, after a cow, the most valuable possession is a bike. And there is tremendous ingenuity around all the things you can pile onto a bicyle and still peddle it.
I leave you tonight with my favorite topic... the children of Rwanda.  I have hundred of photos of them.


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