While the gorillas are the blockbuster stars of any visit to Rwanda, this small country has so much else worth seeing. One day we take a helicopter ride to Gisenyi, a border town on the vast 2,700km² Lake Kivu, which separates Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We hang out at the least touristy place we can find — laidback beachfront bar New Tam-Tam. As we sip a Skol beer and share a plate of salty deep fried sambaza, a whitebait-like fish served with hot pili pili sauce, we watch the locals cooling off in the water.
Another day, we head back into the Volcanoes National Park and go trekking to see the chubby-cheeked golden monkeys flying through the trees, then stop for a shopping fix at the Kinigi Craft Centre where we buy kitenge fabrics and pretty raffia bowls as souvenirs.
There’s more shopping too, in the capital Kigali (the cleanest city in Africa), where we spend a night at the elegant Kigali Serena Hotel. We call in at Inzuki Designs, run by local designer Teta Isibo, see contemporary African art for sale in the Inema Arts Centre, and wander the stalls of the Caplaki Craft Village.
We also visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the 1994 genocide. The experience is harrowing and informative, and the memorial serves as a marker for just how far this country has come in such a short time. Everyone we meet, from the women tending crops in the fields to the owners of the Repub Lounge restaurant in Kigali is full of pride and positivity towards the future.
I leave Rwanda with a piece of paper in my pocket, given to me by the agronomist at Bisate Lodge. Part of his job is to help willing guests plant a tree before they check-out. They are given co-ordinates so they can find it when they return — something which I hope to do before too long.