Five Go Wild In Akagera!

Once upon a time in Rwanda, five VSO volunteers, Abdel Illah, Cathy, Louise, Mark & Phil, had a spiffing idea. They thought it would be a great jape to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle and spend a day on safari in nearby Akagera National Park.

They were assisted with their plans by a local friend, Msafiri, who arranged for a large Toyoto Land Cruiser to pick them up at six o’clock on Saturday morning from Cathy and Louise’s house in Kibungo.

It meant an early start for the five intrepid volunteers but they were all so excited they could hardly sleep, especially Abdel and Mark who spent the night on sofa cushions in the living room. Everyone was ready and raring to go when Innocent, their driver for the day, arrived.

Cathy and Louise had prepared and packed a special Rwandan Safari picnic, fresh baguettes filled with cheese or honey, juicy red tomatoes, sweet ripe bananas, scrumptious green apples, chocolate and coconut biscuits, and bottles of water for everyone.

There were concerns about the weather because on Friday afternoon it had rained none stop for over four hours. Everyone wrapped up well and packed their waterproofs but by the time they reached the northern, Nyungwe, park gate the early morning mist had cleared and layers of warm clothing were being peeled off and replaced by safari hats and sunglasses.

Safaris aren’t cheap and the five travellers had been saving up their VSO pocket-money for the eagerly awaited wild day out at Akagera. Once the tickets had been paid for, their guide, James, showed them a large map of the national park and pointed out the route they would be taking as they drove south towards the Akagera Safari Lodge exit.

He also told them lots of interesting information about the park which covers 1,085 square kilometres and takes its name from the Akagera River that runs along its eastern boundary and forms the border with the country next door, Tanzania.

The four-wheeled drive had a special pop up roof which meant they were all able to stand up and look out for animals as they bumped their way along the narrow dirt tracks.

Mark, a keen ornithologist, had brought his binoculars and was soon displaying his expertise, excitedly identifying many brightly coloured birds from a checklist of 550 species! There were lilac breasted rollers, woodland kingfishers, hornbills, fluorescent blue starlings, tawny eagles and fish eagles perched up high, the grotesque marabou stork and the noisy bare-faced go-away bird, with its distinctive call, to name but a few.

James was a very friendly and knowledgeable guide, answering many questions from inquisitive Mark as well as helping Cathy with her homework by patiently spelling out the names of all the animals in Kinyarwanda so that she could write them in her exercise book.

Louise had come with her own I Spy Safari Animals  hit-list  in anticipation of ticking off those she  spotted. By the end of day there were big ticks for giraffes (her favourite), zebra, water buffalo, hippos, baboons, vervet monkeys and many different kinds of antelope including impala, topi, oribi and water buck.

She was rather disappointed that the elephants were hiding away (although there was the consolation of seeing some big piles of elephant pooh) and that the last remaining pair of lions in the park, who have not been seen for some time, had once again failed to put in an appearance.

Abdel Illah contributed his usual range of insightful observations displaying his Gallic charm as he happily munched his way through a box of biscuits. Phil contented himself by taking many photographs with his long lens camera. He was particularly happy when he got a shot of an adult and young hippo wallowing in the lake, mouths yawning wide open.

The zebra proved very popular with everyone and prompted a great debate as to whether they were white with black stripes or black with white stripes! Zebra were also the winner of the ongoing quest to find the fastest animal of the day.

There was an exciting moment when James shouted out, ‘Look!’ and Innocent braked hard as a black mamba snake slithered across the track, in front of us, and away into the grass. James told everyone that if they were bitten by this highly poisonous green snake (with a black mouth) they would be dead in fifteen minutes!

It had begun to rain by now and that seemed to be as good a point as any at which to end the safari. As the light began to fade Innocent headed back to Kibungo, dropping off the five weary and ravenous volunteers at St Joseph’s tea shoppe, where they were soon tucking into omelette, brochettes, salad and crinkle cut chips served with salt, vinegar and tomato sauce. And of course there were lashings of Mützig and Primus. A perfect end to a perfect day!

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