Before we attacked our to-do list in Kigali, we headed to the Akagera National Park, a wild game reserve about 2 hours outside of Kigali. We hired a driver and a 4X4 and took off early Monday morning--Carl's experience suggested this would enable us to see the most animals possible before they retreated from the hot sun of the afternoon--this would not be the last time Carl did his impressive National Geographic narrator impression--give him the job! Again, the trip there was filled with what has become my favorite sights: beautiful landscapes and busy roadsides filled with the people of Rwanda moving through their routines--Cirrque de Solei would be in awe of what Rwandan's can carry on their heads--and with effortless smiles.
When we arrived at Akagera we checked in at the ranger's station, paid our entrance fees and were introduced to our guide who would be riding with us through the reserve. Her name was Pannini--I told her her name sounded like a delicious Italian pastry--I think she liked that. We found out later that she was orphaned during the genocide, has a 3 year old daughter (Christine), who lives in a nursery boarding school and they get to see each other 5 days a month, during Pannini's days off. This sounds harsh by American standards, but this s actually a good story: She has terrific education and great state job--she simply has to live in the park when working. This is not to say she doesn't miss her girl terribly--it was clear she does, but what a success story! Christine is fortunate to have such a mom.
After we were given a basic introduction to the park we set off and not 5 minutes into our trip we came upon a wonderful moment: a mother giraffe crossed our path (not 20 feet in front of us--awesome!) and following her was her pristine 2 week old baby! Mom had crossed the road and expected her new child to follow--baby giraffe spent the next 10 minutes negotiating the road crossing--she knew mom wanted her to follow her, but she also saw us gawking at her--after multiple attempts, and a PATIENT mom, she actually galloped across the road and met mom--lesson learned. It was a real privilege to witness this moment. The next few hours were filled with many gazelle, impala, buffalo, exotic birds , zebra, hippo (just their ears--too hot to get out of the lake), and baboon. We were honored to have met the King, boss of all bosses baboon--he sat regally on his hill and allowed us to be in his presence--we watched, bowed and left. Pride Rock lives!
|Children on their way to school during ride to Akagera|
|An awesome view of Akagera--its a huge park|
|The baby giraffe--"I don't seeee you..."|
|I thought this looked like the AFP tree gone Africa|
|Pannini laying out our journey|