Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The wandering writer - Rwanda and DRC- part 1

Trust me; there is nothing more addictive than Africa.
It is in the red soil, in the warmth of the people and their simple life, which is far more true than the one western people live.
It is in the vast forests and the white sands.
It is in the harsh deserts and volcanic areas.
It is in the wildlife and the still surviving biodiversity that reminds us we are part of it and should never try to divide from nature.
It is in the violent thunderstorms, and the pitch black nights when the clouds cover the moon.
It is also in those starry skies that people living in the cities have never seen, and probably never will if not from the TV.
All those things and much more make Africa great; of that greatness that is far from technology. It is far more advanced as people have a better understanding of nature and use resources without abusing them.
However, it is still a land cursed by civil wars and exploitation, which goes easily unseen by the rest of the world.
Africa, the beautiful, is also the bad consciousness of a world who believes not seeing is equal to not existing.
Once again, we decided to go, and the next targets were Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The choice was not easy, and the organisation of the journey was more complicated than we thought. Reaching Rwanda would have been quite easy, as the conflict that plagued the country was far and gone, there weren't any safety issues involved. Another question was reaching DRC.
The threat posed by the rebel groups to the general population, tourists or foreigners, in particular, was not to be underestimated. For this reason, we took our time to assess the risk, and work out a safer travel plan.
I had to admit that the reason why I wanted to visit the country was to be able to see the mountain gorillas in their habitat. There are left quite a few individuals, and they all risk the extinction. Much probably in the near future, the only ones we will be able to see will be the ones kept in captivity.
We were lucky to have a few contacts within the UN missions which helped us and offered us a backup.
Rwanda, as we experienced in Sierra Leone was on the road to reconstruction, and the future looked bright. Streets were well kept, and life was once again flourishing.

It was, of course, a must to visit the genocide museum and all the main landmarks. However, differently than the people in Sierra Leone, they weren't eager to talk about the past; they just wanted to forget.
Organising the transportation to the border of the DRC, was perhaps the easiest thing, and we decided to go with a local bus.
The journey wasn't supposed to be very long (at least not even closely comparable with the trip between Arusha and Mombasa see the post finding an inspiration). However, the bus was not in its best shape, and it was supposed to be quite crowded, with more travellers than its capacity. We were not truly happy about it, mainly because our luggage didn't look to be safely arranged on the roof.
We spotted a taxi at the gas station, and without even consulting each other, we went there and asked the price to reach the border. Obviously, it was more expensive than going with the bus, but we could have stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures or for our physiological needs, which not necessarily would have taken into account by the bus driver (I still remembered the previous experience).
We took our luggage and started our journey with the taxi. It was a wise choice, and we had an easy trip. We safely reached the border, and we arrived in Goma.

The first thing that we could notice as soon as we crossed the border was the difference between the two neighbouring countries. The roads were mostly unpaved, and the ones who were once paved were quite in bad shape.
Buildings were more to be considered ruins or shacks. Nevertheless, people were going on with their lives and once again, they looked happier than we do.
We reached our hotel effortlessly; for security reasons, it had to be a four-star hotel. After a long shower and a change of clothes, we were ready to relax and wait to meet our first contact from the UN mission.
She explained us the actual situation and how to reach the offices of the Virunga National Park, to arrange a visit to the gorillas.
The following day, we had a walk around to explore a bit the town, and have an idea about the place we were. There was a big old, and semi-destroyed Christian church. According to the information we got from the people passing by, the church was built a long time ago and went destroyed many times by the eruption of the volcano, likewise the rest of the city. Nevertheless, disregarding the threat posed by the volcano, people remained there, and preferred to rebuild their homes than move away from the place they called "home."

We went to the offices of the Virunga Park, and we set a visit after a couple of days. I was excited.
We left early in the morning before the sunrise; the volcano was already awake, and it was glowing in the darkness. However, besides that slight activity, there weren't any warnings about a potential eruption.
We reached the offices of the park rangers where we would have joined the guides and a group of six fully armed guards.
"This is not for the gorillas," the ranger explained us, "this is to have a sort of backup in case of an attack by the rebel group."
For some reasons, I wasn't feeling reassured, but at that point, I wasn't intentioned to come back, so we acknowledge the risks of that trip, and we left.

I have no idea about how dense a forest can be until I could enter the core of the Virunga National Park. Sure there was a terrain, but we could not even touch the ground with our feet, so thick was the coverage of the roots of the trees and bushes.
It was also quite slippery, and after the first time that I fell on my butt, I started to realise the best way to walk in that intricate net of roots.
We walked quite silently, looking around and listening to the sounds of the many creatures living in that great environment. Time by time, our guide, produced some guttural sounds, which were supposed to be interpreted by the gorilla as a friendly call, something like "we come in peace."
He might have known the spot where the gorilla used to be, because quite soon, we could spot the first one.
That was one of the most intense moments of my entire life.
They saw us and didn't pay attention to our presence until a massive silverback (the older male of the group) appeared just behind me.
We all turned our gazes, being very careful of not making any eye contact, which can be interpreted as a challenge to his authority.
We were in his territory, and the last thing we wanted was to be disrespectful.
He sat down, looked at us and with a grunt let us be.
Our journey ended in the late evening, but I assure you, there is nothing that can compare the feeling of being in front of these amazing apes. Once again it reminded me how close we are to them; the only difference is our endless greed and willingness to destroy everything to satisfy it.
...to be continued


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