Monday, 21 June 2010

Into the Jungle

After getting acclimatised to Rwandan life and with a little time before work begins, it was time to plunge into the forest. So I spent half a week inside Nyungwe Forest and the other half in the village of Banda, right on the edge of the National Park.

At around 1,000 sq km, and between 1,500 and 3,000m high, this is about the largest remaining montane forest in Africa. Over 1,000 plant species to be found, so many birds they couldn’t manage a pocket guide, gangs of monkeys including chimpanzees as well as leopards and other secretive mammals rarely seen. And many of these species don’t live anywhere else but Nyungwe. Buffalo and elephants have become extinct in the park just in the last 20 years and plans are afoot to bring them back.

Nyungwe is on the tourist route as many people come to track chimps on their way to see gorillas in north-west Rwanda but it’s very few people paying quite a lot of money and the busy-ish season is a short one between June and August. Despite it being a National Park, white people are still very much a novelty in the towns here. I never saw a single other person on any of the trails, apart from my obligatory guide, Claver.

On the edges of the park are a number of tea plantations, which are a good source of local employment and form a good buffer to stop baboons and other beasties from munching people’s crops. Rwandan tea is great, although most people choose to ruin it with 4 sugars and a mound of Nestle powdered milk – nasty stuff!

It’s an amazing forest to look at with a prehistoric feel to it - plants of all different shapes, from tree ferns and giant lobelias to huge trees like mahoganies, some covered in climbers and epiphytes.

The forest spreads south into Burundi and from the peaks you can see west to Lake Kivu and the Congolese border.

A lot of water flows out of this forest, feeding the rivers Congo to the west and the Nile flowing to the north-east, providing around 70% of the country’s supply on the way.

It’s a thick jungle in parts and there be many forest critters. Here are some of the less scary ones, including an orchid that is only known in the world from this one tree!

I saw chimps drumming posts, their poos, half eaten fruits, their nests up in the trees, marks where they’d tried to break into bee-hives for the honey (below) and logs they’d broken open for termites. I even heard them calling through the forest, but haven’t set eyes on them yet. The token monkey picture is a grey-cheeked mangabey in a slightly uncomfortable looking position.

I couldn’t believe how nice the forest is. I was prepared for the worst but it’s a fine temperature and hardly a mozzy to be seen, even down in Africa’s biggest peat swamp at Kamiranzovu. I have to say Scotland is pretty hard done by.

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