16. AKAGERA GIRAFFES & NOMADS
About eighty kilometres after leaving Kigali the paved road turned north but we carried on east on a dirt road. This took us up and down some hills then down into flat land, Rwanda's "savannahs". It's amazing that such a little country has so many different geographical features.
I recounted a conversation I'd had the night before with a soldier who'd fought in the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) in October 1990, when they first came down from Uganda, and up until the liberation in July 1994. I asked him what it had been like, fighting in Akagera National Park, because I'd read that it was one of their bases. He said he hadn't liked it very much because, it being marsh and grasslands, there was nowhere to hide from the missiles being directed straight at them. I commented that that would have been very scary but he said they solved the problem by getting good at shooting them down. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" was a slogan I felt could definitely be applied to the RPF! Its adaptation could be, "When the missiles start firing, start firing at the missiles".
After driving about forty minutes along the dirt road, passing many villages along the way, we pulled into the gate to Akagera National Park:
After paying the entrance fee (and buying more film) we were introduced to the Park Ranger who would be our safari guide. He would accompany us in our vehicle and direct the driver on where to go to find the animals who make this 1,100 square-kilometre reserve their roaming grounds. Here in Akagera Park live Lions, Buffaloes, Zebras, Antelopes, Giraffes, Elephants, Baboons, Crocodiles, Hippopotamuses and over 525 species of birds.
Not long after pulling out from the Main Gate the guide directed the driver to leave the road and drive into the grasslands where he said we would find some Impalas who were grazing nearby. We were amazed at how our driver didn't bat an eye but ploughed straight ahead into off-road territory as though he were a jeep or a four-by-four instead of a Toyota Corolla sedan. It got bumpy and we were being hit in the face with tall grasses but onward, undeterred we forged, turning left one minute here, then right one minute there, sometimes to avoid huge sagebrushes in our path. But, sure enough, we were rewarded with coming upon a large group of Impalas, and shortly after that some big-horned Water Buffallo, and then after that some Zebras , and in between huge nests high in the trees - all of which were a thrill to see but of which my photos don't do justice. And, like a child continually asking "Are we almost there yet?", all I wanted to know was "Are we almost at the giraffes yet?" and "When can we go see Mutware?"
Finally, there they were - GIRAFFES - dozens of them. Naturally, as we noisily approached, a group of them quickly fled, but following instructions like a trooper, our driver followed close behind. Then there came a point where we stopped the car and I leaped out (without asking permission) and tiptoed as close as I could get.
The thrill of seeing a REAL giraffe, living in the wild, is hard to describe. Never in my wildest imaginings had I been this close. I probably could have gone up and patted one on the nose (I mean the lower chest) if I'd been allowed, but the guide was cautioning not to get any closer or they'd frisk away.
Seeing the Giraffes was the highlight of the grasslands part of the Park and next, said our guide, we would be leaving this area and driving down to Lake Ihema where the deer and the antelope don't roam but where elephants and hippopotami do, including, of course, the infamous Mutware.
Along the way back to the Park Gate, from where we'd take the road down to the lake, we came upon a group of people who were Nomads, said our guide.
We pulled over and had our picture taken with them. In the last photo, see if you can find me camouflaged in their midst.
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