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.


Nyungwe Forest Lodge

Last month, we finally made a trip to southwest Rwanda, after having rescheduled twice since the spring. For me, the chief attraction of the three-day visit — which involved many hours on some very rough and curvy roads — was the drive through the 378 square mile Nyungwe National Park, one of the most species-rich mountainous rain forests in Africa.

We also spent two nights at the wonderful Nyungwe Forest Lodge, possibly the best hotel in Rwanda. (Above: early morning breakfast at the Lodge.)

Located on the western edge of the park, the lodge offers beautiful views of two environments: the natural forest of the park and the agricultural fields of a tea plantation.

The cabins rest on the very edge of a field of tea. And their back-facing picture windows look into the forest trees (monkey sightings are common and guests are warned to close windows and doors at night).

The road leading to the Lodge passes through bright green acres of tea bushes.

A local cooperative picks the tea (right up to the lodge and cabin doors) and keeps the income from its sales.

(Above: the road to the lodge and a tea collection shed.)

The (tea-side) entrances to the cabins are landscaped with plants from the forest. The Lodge was not allowed to bring any other plants onto its grounds.

The cabins are built on posts, lifting them off the ground.

Above are some of the plants at the entrance to our cabin.  I think the tree fern in the  center background is a Cyathea manniana (a.k.a., Alsophila manniana).  I haven’t been able to identify the plant in the foreground. Way in the back on the right is a wild banana (Musa ensete).

Unmown wild grass grows along the paths and among the larger plants.  I believe the small tree in the center, above, is an  Anthocleista grandiflora.  I think the plants just to the right of it are Lobelia gibberoa.

A park trail entrance is located near the Lodge grounds.  Guests are not allowed to hike, however, without paying the park fee and taking an official guide.  Both can be arranged at the Lodge.

The main Lodge building (with the lounge, bar, and restaurant) rests in the center of the tea field.

The interior is beautiful, as well.  (Above: a wall of Rwandan pottery.)

The tea grows right up to the foundations of all the buildings.  (Above: the main building terrace with rain chains.)

The tea bushes are mulched with the branches cut in the last pruning.

The Lodge’s main paths are earth-colored concrete and are set slightly below the level of the tea field.

The smaller paths are also partially hidden below the tea.

Orange Kalanchoe crenata plants line the paths.

Above is the view of the forest from the pool.  The trees are full of monkeys (we learned to look for shaking branches; then we saw them everywhere).

There’s one (above.)

He jumps.

And lands.  (OK, my nature photography is not so good.)

Here’s a slightly better picture.  It’s a L’Hoest’s monkey (Cercopithecus lhoesti).

Unfortunately, our travel schedule didn’t allow time to hike the park.  But my plan is to return as soon as possible.  Many people come to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas in the north, but the Nyungwe Forest is equally remarkable, and tourists should soon begin to see it as good reason to spend more time (and money) in the country.  (Tourism is Rwanda’s number one revenue producer, followed by tea and coffee exports.)