My daughter and her friend visited us last week — after hiking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. (It took them seven days, and my daughter reached the summit during a blizzard with lightning!)
While they were here in Rwanda, we went down to the southwest to see Nyungwe National Park, the largest protected mountainous rain forest in Africa.
We spent two nights at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, which I know I’ve written about twice before. But I still wanted to post these photos, because I find its landscape so serene. . . and so romantic — a tea garden at the edge of a rain forest.
The design is simple, yet extravagant — a few curving paths through thousands of Camellia sinensisbushes.
Above: the pool house in early morning.
We arrived on Wednesday in early afternoon. There was a lot of mist, and it was so chilly that we turned on our room’s heater for about an hour. But it only rained once, briefly, during our stay.
Above: the Lodge gatehouse.
Above: the Lodge in the distance.
Above: yellow native Crassocephalum montuosum poking up through the tea bushes.
Above and below: views from the main building’s porch.
Above and below: narrow paths through the field. A local cooperative picks the tea and keeps the income from its sale.
Above: The cabins, with two to four rooms each, are sited at the edge of the tea field.
Above: the bushes around the Lodge looked like they had been picked recently. Only the terminal bud and the top two leaves of each stem are plucked off.
Above and below: the front of each cabin is planted with native perennials and small trees from the forest.
Above: these giant lobelias (Lobelia gibberoa) are planted right into the grass and other low weeds wild plants.
Above: each cabin’s back balcony looks out into the rain forest. The land drops down very steeply about six or seven feet behind the cabins, so their windows really look into the tops of trees. It’s not uncommon to see monkeys there.
In late December, we were included in a Christmas season lunch at the home of the Director General of Sorwathe and his wife. Sorwathe is the Société Rwandais de Thé or, in English, the Rwanda Tea Company, and is located about 70 kms. north of Kigali.
Before the meal, we had a chance to tour the factory, which is the largest in Rwanda and produces over 6 million lbs. of made tea annually, almost all of it for export.
Sorwathe was founded in 1975 by American Joe Wertheim. It remains 85% owned by Mr. Wertheim’s Connecticut-based company, Tea Importers, Inc. It cultivates 650 acres, mostly in drained swampland (marais). Click here to see some really nice photos of their tea gardens.
After coffee, tea is Rwanda’s most important export. Tea cultivation began here in 1952, and Sorwathe was the first private factory. Although the factory sustained serious damage during the genocide, it was also one of the first to reopen in the aftermath.
Sorwarthe was the first tea factory in Rwanda to obtain ISO 9001:2000, ISO 22000:2005, and Fair Trade certification. It is also a participant in the Ethical Tea Partnership. The company was the first to manufacture orthodox (rolled, whole leaf) and green teas (also white). (They will proudly tell you that they export green tea to China.) It is also the first to start organic tea cultivation in Rwanda.
Sorwarthe creates 3,000 job opportunities for the surrounding Kinihira community. It also supports the local tea growers’ cooperative, ASSOPTHE.
[UPDATE: The U.S. State Department presented its 2012 Award for Corporate Excellence to Tea Importers, Inc., and SORWATHE, in recognition of their commitment to social responsibility, innovation, and human values. The award is given annually to two American businesses abroad.]
The factory’s buildings are detailed in shades of green, and its surroundings are friendly and sometimes rather whimsical.
You can order Rukeri Tea, Sorwathe’s garden mark, from Tea Importers’ website. The company also runs a guest house next to its factory.
Our lunch was eaten on the patio of the couple’s house, which overlooks their lovely garden and a knockout view of the tea gardens in the valley below.