Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Jungle Brother

Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda is unsurprisingly home to some impressive peaks.

But it's also home to some even more impressive beasts. This male mountain gorilla is the daddy of one of nine groups in the park which have been habituated to human presence. They're expensive and popular but I hopped on a moped at 5.30 one morning and managed to bag a half price ticket!

They go about their morning business and occasionally come a little close for comfort! People have studied and campiagned for their protection for around 40 years, starting with Diane Fossey who was eventually killed by poachers in the '80s.

After a morning feed and as the sun comes up, they start to get sleepy.

Tell me that doesn't remind you of someone!

Preening the big silver back.

A large section of the park consists of bamboo forest, which has its own special residents.

About 7,000 of these golden monkeys perform acrobaics in bamboo and munch on the shoots. Habituation to allow tourists in to see them is seen as the best way of ensuring protection. There are also elephants and buffalo in the forest but these are very shy. The park is on the border with Uganda and Congo and in the past they have had good reason to be wary of people from at least one direction.

Though most people come here to see gorillas, there's all kinds of wildlife here.

The volcanoes here mean the soil is great and apparently has the biggest earthworms known to man! They grow most of the nation's spuds here and get three crops a year. But the edge of the park is very densely populated with up to 1,000 people per square kilometre.... which explains why tourism, being about 30% of GDP here, is so important to keep the park protected.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

No children, no bananas.....just wildlife

Baboons and not a windscreen wiper in sight.






Baby learning some skills

Still no chimps, but this counts as very close.

Blue monkey (bear with me I've only got a little camera)

Great blue turaco

White naped raven

Mona monkey

House mate

Fearsome new security pairing in town

Sunrise on Lake Kivu

Napolean Island, Lake Kivu

Bad place to stand

They come back pretty quickly, but this is not really good tourism.....what's worse is someone's put cows on the island and the number of trees is diminishing rapidly.

Some fish, and the 3 in a row boats used to hang nets tocatch them. These sambaza fish are all over markets in Rwanda.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Bamboo for goalposts

The next round of interviews took us to the village of Uwumusebeya, along the southeast corner of Nyungwe National Park and again adjacent to Rwanda's southern border with Burundi. But there’s something different about the forest here.... it’s bamboo!

Now I remember using bamboo for goalposts, but it plays a bigger part in life here. For a start you make your house out of it, your fence out of it, your bowls, your bags, your furniture out of it….. Now that it’s banned to go into the forest and cut it, it costs around a day’s wages for one piece. So the temptation to go and get some is still high, despite the risks.

Roof freshly made of bamboo sheathing, ‘ingombo’ – this’ll last about 2 years

A house revealing its bamboo structure.

Lucky man with some bamboo on his land starting up a basket

Preparing a plot for planting with the bamboo forest on the hills behind

Between the villages and the bamboo is the tea plantation – it creates a few seasonal jobs but only for a strong and lucky few.

So most people work their own land and do some seasonal agricultural work. The soil here is not good away from the forest, so everyone wants some livestock and grass to make compost. Even finding grass isn’t easy and often involves running risks in the forest. These days money from tourists is put back into helping with these things and a goat can turn up on your doorstep.

Everyone brings their produce to market – at this time of year that means lots of spuds. It’s amazing in these places, absolutely no noise, no cars, no planes, no prams, no pedestrian crossings, no lawnmowers - just the murmur of voices negotiating a deal on market day.

And the streets quickly quieten down again.

And get noisy again to chuckle at me.

Generations in the village – perhaps an example for the youngsters to stay off the local ale.

Some young spuds growing up quickly. The forest behind them is Kibera NP in Burundi, and with a few obvious holes in the forest it’s not as well protected as the Rwandan side. Lack of stability there means they’re not getting the tourists’ money.

Youngsters making their way to school. New schools are cropping up in many towns now where previously children had to walk for hours on end to get to the nearest one. The governmental plan involves people moving into village centres now so they can provide things like water and power to them more easily in the future.

The project I’m helping on rewards villages for reduced forest use which includes money going to community bamboo and tree plantations for future use and at least one health insurance for each household. So we set about talking to people about the forest, to see how not going there is affecting their lives and where they manage to get things.

Joseph with a fond farewell from an older interviewee.

Myself, Solange and Rabaho, who remembers (a little) about the village pre-christianity.

Young couple with a nice bamboo fence.

Some of the answers make you realise the real difficulties people face here. Many people can’t even afford seeds to plant on their land. Up until two years ago there were bandits and militias using the forest. Theft of money and livestock was common and going to the forest a very risky business. Other people talk about strange dogs called mujeri coming some years with bites that kill people. There are many young widows in villages like this, who have to send their children out to help get firewood or look after the goats.

Some people are very interested in what you’re doing. Chinese whispers means people can sometimes get very mixed up about what you're doing there.

Morning mist around the holy town of Kibeho on the way back to Butare.

And some towny kids with their fancy water.