As the rainy season sets in over the Virunga Massif, the volcanoes are as majestic and lush as ever. Two months in and we still constantly marvel at the wondrous landscape and how lucky we are to be on the edge of the mountain gorilla’s natural habitat.
Last month, on September 24th, Rwanda held the official annual baby gorilla naming ceremony, or Kwita Izina, in Kinyarwanda. By coincidence, the date corresponded to the exact number of babies that were to be named – 24 in total. This ceremony has taken place since 2005 and is modelled on the century’s old tradition of the Rwandan naming ceremonies for children celebrated in the presence of family and friends.
Mother and baby gorilla recently named ‘Mugwire’ – photo credit Natasha Montrose
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the ceremony was postponed last year (2020) and this year it was virtual. It still brought together a host of celebrities, sportsmen and dignitaries to name the individual infant primates and to highlight the conservation efforts and work that is going on to primarily protect the gorillas but also serves to empower the local community.
Gorilla trekking this October – photo credit Natasha Montrose.
The opening of the new Dian Fossey Campus, which was also postponed due to the pandemic, is back on track and scheduled for February 2022. The new campus is a stone’s throw from the lodge and excitement is mounting in the area for the opening. The main building and several outbuildings are impressive rotunda shapes with large panes of glass installed around the circumference, conveying the impression that one is sitting in the midst of the forest.
The Dian Fossey campus nearing completion.
Back at the lodge, the nature walk that we have carved out on the grounds is thriving. Vegetables are sprouting and the flowers are slowly budding, providing a riot of colour. It has become our daily routine to go for a walk alone or with guests and sit on our bamboo benches listening to the river flow or the cacophony of the chirping birds. This walk highlights our long-term commitment to protect and nurture the land we are on and develop a holistic and organic approach to wellness and wellbeing as mirrored in the food offerings we have here at Sabyinyo.
Sabyinyo’s nature walks through bamboo forest.
Sabyinyo’s organic vegetable garden.
In brief, the nature walk starts in the flower garden, meanders through a forest of eucalyptus, which is now also where we are currently working on a re-wilding project for indigenous trees (eucalyptus is not one of them). We have also moved our beehives, so that they are close to the re-wilding area which should provide us with delicious honey. The indigenous tree planting project is also in line with the long-term goal of the Rwandan Development Board that is spearheading a park expansion in the Volcanoes National Park, looking to extend the park boundaries which would include the lodge and the surrounding local area.
Sabyinyo’s bees provide the lodge with the most delicious honey.
We are planning to create an open-air kitchen under a ‘mother’ tree, where our guests can eat freshly picked vegetables whilst taking in the breath-taking beauty of Mount Sabyinyo – ‘old man’s tooth’ in Kinyarwanda – and also admire the glory of the blooming ‘kitchen garden’ that sits beneath the volcano.
From this part of the garden, there is a path that leads to an enchanting bamboo forest and another stream alongside which we have installed a meditation bench that, if you are lucky, it is the perfect viewing spot to see one of our resident golden monkeys. From the meditation bench, one continues down the winding path towards the farm we are creating, and a green hilly area that we have earmarked for a tea plantation so we can produce our own tea.
An beautiful spot to sit and admire the view.
On the fledgling farm we currently have 35 laying hens who produce the most glorious eggs with yolks of a bright orange/yellow hue. We have 20 sheep, our natural lawnmowers or grazers, and hopefully we will be soon be welcoming some pigs along with a jersey cow so that we can churn our own butter and create our own supply of milk to make a delicious clotted cream for afternoon tea and all manner of other wonderful delights for the kitchen.
Sabyinyo’s natural lawnmowers.
Our farm-to-table ethos is one of the key projects that we have been working on, harmoniously merging the relationship with the land, the farm and the kitchen. Our chefs, Alphonsine (Fofo) and Michel, are always eager to create dishes using produce that is sourced directly from our garden.
We believe change starts in the ground and moves to the kitchen, providing education on organic farming practices and healthy eating. The soil around Sabyinyo and the climate lends itself to some of the best produce that can be farmed and cultivated. We are trying to use everything around us for the well-being of the lodge and our guests. For example, we have an abundance of eucalyptus trees, so we are using these leaves to make essential oils that are used to scent our candles.
Now on to the birdlife we have here in the foothills of the Volcanoes National Park. We are lucky to be at an elevation of (2500 metres or 8211 feet) and surrounded by trees, where the birdlife becomes more and more fascinating and varied. Some of our recent guests have been ornithologists who, together with our in-house birder, have spotted some wonderful species that flutter around the bushes, trees, and flowers at the lodge.
A variable sunbird in Sabyinyo’s grounds – photo credit Mark Nodine.
Sabyinyo is almost like being in a giant aviary, except you never know what bird you are going to see … our latest sightings have included the streaky seedeater and a yellow-bellied waxbill, and we are forever being enchanted by the bright blue plumage of the variable sunbirds that feast on the nectar of the fuscias.
A yellow-bellied waxbill seen on a nature walk photo credit Mark Nodine.
A streaky seedeater enjoys a plentiful supply of seeds, courtesy of the lodge – photo credit Mark Nodine.
Since we arrived here, we have also discovered many activities beyond Gorilla trekking. We ventured over to Gisenyi, which is an hour from the lodge and is on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a vibrant balmy border town alive with music and color, and that even has a small beach on the banks of Lake Kivu. It’s a half day trip but it’s worth the journey to see the pottery or ceramics factory plus some of the Congolese merchants who sell furniture, masks, and colorful fabrics.
Gisenyi, on the north shore of Lake Kivu – photo credit Alisa Karstad.
Then there is Lake Ngezi, a short trail in the Volcanoes National Park that leads to a small scenic lake nestled in a volcanic depression at the foot of Mount Bisoke. If the weather is clear, the trail offers scenic views over the Congolese parts of the Virunga range and there is the possibility of seeing a variety of wildlife, notably mountain gorillas, elephant and buffalo.
In addition to the hikes and nature trails already mentioned, and dozens of interesting walks around the Volcanoes National Park, there is also a two-day return trek to Mount Karisimbi. Part of the joy of being here is discovering how therapeutic and meditative it is to just go and hike, and no one hiking trail is the same.
One of the easier hikes is Mount M’Gahinga, which is known for its caves. At around 3400m it is the smallest of the six volcanoes in the Virunga Range. There is also a bamboo forest, and the crater at the summit is quite shallow with its floor covered in swamps where plants like Alchemilla, Senecio and Lobelia thrive.
The Buhanga Sacred Forest is a hidden gem situated between the lodge and Musanze town. The forest takes on a different dimension depending on the time of day, season of year and weather conditions. Tall, majestic trees and plants means that the forest is teeming with birdlife and butterflies. A surprising network of trails made entirely from cut lava stones meander along the forest floor and lead to various observation platforms.
Both Nico and I are quite adventurous, and Musanze town has a channel of caves that we want to explore. At 1.25 miles long, the caves developed from Cenozoic volcanic and are also home to a Megabat colony. Speaking of bats, Hallows Eve is upon us and some of our crafty staff are carving pumpkins and gourds into some spooky shapes.
The monthly clean up known as Umuganda that happens across Rwanda on the last Saturday of every month was particularly poignant this month as all our staff worked with the local villagers to help clean. This is a time when collectively all the Rwandese or people living in Rwanda mobilise to clean the streets of any litter. It is yet another example of how the tiny nation of Rwanda, which has an area of 26,000 skq kilometers and is the smallest country in Africa, comes together to celebrate and promote their land.
As we move from the dry season to the rains and the holiday season, we look forward sharing further developments here at Sabyinyo Silverback lodge.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge news courtesy of Natasha Montrose and Nico Eden. Our progress and live updates can be followed on Instagram (@sabyinyo_silverback_lodge)
To find out more about the Governors’ Camp Collection of properties, or to book a memorable wildlife safari with us, please see www.governorscamp.com