My Family’s Visit to Rwanda. It’s People. Food. The Lodge. Mountain Gorillas. And More.
I was nervous about going to Rwanda. I’ve had never been to Africa. And I didn’t know what to expect. Would the people be friendly? What would I eat? How about the country’s condition? Would it be safe to hike and interact with gorillas? What about the bugs?? I had a zillion thoughts running through my brain. My wife always dreamed about the three of us visiting Rwanda and Kenya. Her bucket list included hiking with the gorillas, meeting dads / cooks to share in the love of food, and having our son play his violin for the local people, small villages, and community. Luckily, she’s the planner in the family.
Finally, I decided to go with the flow and just enjoy the journey.
What I didn’t realize is I would be completely blown away by everything Rwanda offers. Let’s start with the people. Warm, genuine, thoughtful, outgoing, and ready to laugh! I immediately started joking around with everyone I met (of course, that’s who I am) – but, that’s how easy it was to get to know people. The people we met are now folks I can call my friends. Take for example, the dad who drove us around for a few days while we were there… Johnson Mbanzamihigo. Bless his soul. Best driver ever. Kind with a great sense of humor. Look forward to cooking with him and meeting his wife and kids someday!
And the team at Singita Kwitonda Lodge. We wanted to stay somewhere special for our 20th wedding anniversary, and man, that place is something else. And I felt so comfortable just hanging out with the staff (Sam, Gilbert, Chef Alice, Chef Moise, Erica, Cynthia etc.) who work at the lodge. I could cook with them, chat about food, talk about family stuff and hear about their lives. Brad and his wife, the managers, even have two little ones… so this is a very family friendly place with outrageous views!
Now, let’s talk about the food…
Flavorful, layers of taste, farm fresh, and homemade goodness.This was food you could eat all day and I did. I came back with an extra 5 lbs around my gut, which means I now need to lose 10 lbs (ooops), but it was worth it. The local dishes – especially the local African Beef Stew, Potatoes with Peanut Sauce and Creamed Greens or Dodo – check out the whole episode featuring Chef Moise Nezerwe! I also enjoyed the fresh fish, chicken, farmed veggies, and all the desserts that were outrageously good with local fruits. I tried it all. Hence, the weight gain!
What about the Gorillas!!!
I haven’t mentioned the big daddy of them all who lives close by in the mountains – the Silverback. He is the 350 lb big papa of the Mountain Gorillas. The Silverback or in some cases, multiple Silverbacks, live together with female gorillas and their babies in the Virunga Mountains. It’s a short drive to get to the start of your hike. You request the type of hike you hope to have – although sometimes the gorillas you are tracking move up the mountain so you never know exactly how long your hike will be. Our family’s hike was pretty easy – of course I say that after almost passing out one day – maybe a tad too much scotch the night before?? (It’s a possibility).
When I saw the gorillas, I wanted to yell out to the rest of the group since I was one of the first in the group to spot them, but then I remembered you’re not supposed to do something loud or obnoxious – that could seem aggressive. You are told to only make submissive noises that remind the big dude (the Silverback male leader) that he is indeed King Kong. When you see him up close, you won’t have any trouble keeping your mouth shut. You definitely don’t want to make this guy mad. Nope. I made sure he knew he was the boss. Definitely seeing those gorillas and their babies made me think that everything is going to be ok with the world. It also made me want to help the planet survive. Can you believe Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2008?? Something I need to work on at home.
Beyond the Gorillas: The Community Visit
I want to tell you so much more but one thing that’s important. Don’t miss the community visit with Theodore Nzabonimpa from Beyond the Gorillas Experience. You can book it through the lodge. Our son who has played the violin since he was little brought his instrument and played with the local musicians in a community gathering. What a joy to meet the local people, see how they live and understand a bit about their culture. Their smiles are unforgettable.
Ok. One more thing to bring up. This is the cleanest place I’ve ever been to in my life. Man, they know how to come together and build a beautiful country. They experienced a lot of turmoil 25 years ago. But now, you see how this country is thriving. It was incredible to feel the love they have for each other and how they live peacefully together. Such a welcoming, safe place and not once did we worry about traveling around Rwanda.
This may sound cheesy, but I fell in love with this country. Yep, they say this “land of a 1,000 hills” is magical. I would totally agree. If I could, I would jump on a plane and go back to Rwanda tomorrow. And no, I wasn’t paid to say any of this, and if I were, I would tell you. You can still count on me to tell you – my DTC Fam – the truth.