Tag Archives: ferns

In the ferns

“the elegant script of ferns. . .”*

Last February, we took our visiting oldest daughter to Nyungwe National Park and hiked the first half of the trail that includes a tree canopy walkway.  Last week, with second daughter and friend in tow, we completed the entire circuit.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

The hike started with us tucking our pants legs into our socks (against ants) and receiving walking sticks.

Although the paths are well-maintained, the sticks are necessary for the steeper, sometimes slippery sections.

The steps shown above are the first of many, many, many on a long descent to the canopy walkway. (The welcome center is at one of the highest points in the park.)

It was a hazy day, so I can’t show you the great mountain views that are otherwise visible along the way, but you can click here to see my photos from last February.

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by Laura Koran

Above: Our guide led the way.  He spotted a number of blue monkeys and turaco birds for us.**

(The earth walls that were cut when the trail was created — to the right of the guide above — bring the smaller plants of the forest floor to almost eye level. I’ve put pictures and names of some of them in a photo gallery, which you can scroll through by clicking on ‘Continue reading’ at the end of this post.)

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: We arrive at the beginning of the canopy walkway.

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: The middle and highest section is 187′ (57 m.) above the ground.

During last year’s visit, with only the three of us and the guide, the walkway swung less, and I stopped a few times to look down and take pictures. (You can see them here.)

This time, in a group of about fifteen — with eight people crossing the walkway at a time — the shaking made me keep my eyes on the back of the person in front of me.

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: Our guide starts across.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: I did look down after I reached the top of the second tower.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: Back on the ground below the second tower.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

When you cross the middle section of the walkway and (dare to) look down, you see a narrow valley of tree ferns and hear the moving water of a stream.  The second half of the hike continues on to that valley.  There, we saw hundreds of the tall ferns.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

In fact, this trail is named — in Kinyarwanda — for the tree ferns: the Igishigishigi Trail.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Cyathea manniana is one of two tree ferns in the park.  The other is C. dregei.  Manniana only grows in undisturbed forest, while dregei can be found along the sides of the road through the park (it also has persistent old leaves).

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: Looking up into the ferns. C. manniana can grow to almost 20′ (6 m.) tall.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

C. manniana is traditionally used as a medical plant to treat snake bites,” according to my field guide.*** There are nine kinds of snakes in the park, but only one is poisonous.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: A small bridge crosses the stream that we heard from the canopy walkway.  The guide meant to take us down to the water, but there were too many biting ants on the path.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Tree ferns are one of my favorite plants, but unfortunately, they would not grow well in the cold or the heat of our Washington, D.C., garden.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: Leaving the ferns behind, we started back to the welcome center.

The Igishigishigi Trail is 1.3 miles (2.1 km.) long and takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  It is rated ‘easy,’ but a large part of it involves descending and ascending steps.  It’s a solid workout.

The trail begins at an elevation of 8,038′ (2450 m.) and descends to 7,530′ (2295 m.).

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove (on the right): Nearing the final set of steps, we found a large group of Lobelia gibberoa or giant lobelias.

With their long candles of greenish white flowers, the plants can grow to 29′ (9 m.) in height.  Latex from the stems is traditionally used to treat irritation from stinging nettles.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: After the hike, we went back to the Nyungwe Forest Lodge on the Huye-Rusizi Road.  The yellow flowers along the edge are a Senecio species.

*from “Ex Libris” by Eleanor Wilner.

** It’s also quite possible to see turacos flying from tree to tree from the pool at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge.

***An excellent book about the park is the Illustrated Field Guide to the Plants of Nyungwe National Park [of] Rwanda by Eberhard Fischer and Dorothee Killman.  It’s 770 pages long, with color photographs of 650 plants.  You can buy a copy here.  Unfortunately, it’s $71.  Some copies were printed for the Rwandan tourism office, and  I bought mine in a Kigali bookstore for about $25, but I haven’t seen any on sale here for about a year.

Continue reading

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Among the mountain gorillas

Last Saturday, we hiked into the Volcanoes National Park to see the mountain gorillas.

A baby mountain gorilla.

It was an amazing experience.

Mother and baby mountain gorillas.

When we arrived at the park headquarters, we asked to see one of the gorilla groups who normally live closer to the edge of the park. We didn’t feel up to one of the really strenuous hikes. However, nothing is certain with wild animals, and we walked (and climbed) for 2 hours before we found our group (the day before, they had been right inside the wall of the park).

I would have liked to have taken some photos of us tackling the steeper parts of the trail (and skirting the edge of an old volcanic crater), but I was too busy trying not to die at the time.

Earlier — after the first (easy) 40 minutes or so — our guide had stopped and given us a Rwandan saying: if you kill a cow, you cannot stop eating until whole thing is gone, tip to tail (this obviously originated before the freezer). Then, he said that the trackers ahead of us had just radioed back that our hike would be 10 cows long, and that we had already eaten 4 cows. However, only the 6th cow would be a big one.

Holy cow! (An American saying.) I climbed up much of number 6 on my knees and came down it on my bottom. Thank goodness for our porter’s hand and my walking stick.

When we found the gorillas, though, it was well worth it. They were lovely — smaller and fluffier than I had expected. Their fur had a healthy sheen, and they seemed quite content to spend an hour with us. Throughout the visit, our guide made low “hrrmm hrrmm” sounds, asking the silverback’s permission to stay; sometimes he would rumble back similar sounds in return. Several times, the little ones showed off by beating their chests.

A baby gorilla in the ferns.

For more pictures and story, click on ‘Continue reading’ below and then on the first thumbnail to scroll through large photos and captions. To see a short video that I made, go to this link. Continue reading

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On the road

The farm in yesterday’s post overlooks the Nyakabingo tungsten mine, located about 10 kms. north of Kigali.

The mine was the first stop on a two-day bus trip organized by the Foreign Ministry for the diplomatic corps. We felt a little like we were on a school field trip — only one with ambassadors, a police escort, and a press van.

While we were at Nyakabingo, I turned down the invitation to see the mine from underground and instead photographed it from an upper road.

Paths and steps descending the hillside of the mine. About 700 people work there removing tungsten, a chemical element used in incandescent light bulb filaments, x-ray tubes, and superalloys.

The afternoon itinerary included a stop at the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.

The Lodge is one of two “swishy” (as Bradt’s Travel Guide puts it) places to stay in the vicinity of the Parc National des Volcans and the mountain gorillas. The other one — the Virunga Safari Lodge — we toured last month. Both cost around $500 to $600 per night per person.

Paths to the five cottages, with the volcano in the background.

Sabyinyo has the advantage of being only 10 minutes drive from the entrance to the park headquarters. Like Virunga, it offers accommodation in individual cottages.

A Sabyinyo cottage. The lodge levies a $58 per person per night community fee, and the community also receives a 17% cut of the lodge's profits.

Two other cabins.

Also like Virunga Safari Lodge, the landscaping is kept simple so as not to compete with the gorgeous views.

The view from a cottage window.

One of the views at Sabyinyo, somewhat obscured by clouds.

A path through the bamboo.

Patio at the entrance to the main building.

A large fern by the patio steps.

Another very large fern near the main building.

Ferns and other wild plants along the path.

A smaller wild fern

Fern detail.

Impatiens native to Rwanda.

The water retention pool.

Small stream gorge filled with bamboo and eucalyptus.

We ended our day in the village of Susa, largely made up of 96 homes built with the assistance of the Rwandan government.  The people who live there include Genocide survivors, Batwa (pygmys), and Rwandans formerly living in exile in Tanzania.

Village homes with tanks that capture rainwater runoff from the roofs.

As the light began to fade, we were greeted by dancers.

Susa village dancers.

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