The canopy walk, Nyungwe Forest

13 Moss on tall tree, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Last February, I wrote about our stay at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge.  Recently, however, I realized that I have never given you a look inside the forest.

The Nyungwe National Park, in the southwest of Rwanda, is 393 square miles of mountain forests, swamps, and moorland.

It has over 80 miles of constructed trails, but during our two-night stay at the lodge, we mainly wanted to relax — so we decided to walk the 1.3 mile Igishigishigi Trail, which includes a canopy walkway suspended 197′ above the ground.

The Uwinka Visitor Center

The trail begins at the Uwinka Visitor Center, which was renovated three years ago with U.S. assistance.

The center’s  interpretative display features panels on the mountain rainforest and Nyungwe’s biodiversity, its people, and its role in the Congo-Nile watershed.  The text is in Kinyarwanda, English, and French.

2a Uwinka Visitor Center, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Below are the steps leading to the Igishigishigi Trail.  The shadow with the camera was me, the one on the left was our visiting daughter, who was wondering what she had gotten herself into.

3 Steps to Igishigishigi Trail, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The view near the beginning of the trail is wonderful. Uwinka is at one of the highest points in the park.

7 View, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the left lower corner above, you can just see one of the towers that support the canopy walk.

Below is the trail,

7c Igishigishigi Trail, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

which includes several sections of steps.  The trail begins at 8,038′ and descends to 7,530′.

7d Trail steps, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

It sometimes passes along more open woodland, below.

7ba Hillside, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

We came across benches from time to time, although this double arrangement, below, didn’t look very comfortable.

14 Trail benches, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Several species of trees are labeled like this one.

8 Labeled tree, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The Parinari excelsa (or Umunazi in Kinyarwanda) grows to heights of 82′ to 131′ with a thick, cauliflower-shaped crown,

8a Parnari excelsa, Nyungwe Park:enclos*ure

way up there.

An assortment of ferns, mosses, lichens, and orchids live on the magnificent trees

13b Moss on tree, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

and on the forest floor.

13c Forest floor, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

One of the more common, and easily recognizable, plants along the trail is the giant lobelia, below.

1 Giant lobilias in the Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

There are two species of giant lobelias in the park.  I think these are Lobelia gibberoa (or Intomvu in Kinyarwanda).

After the explorer Johannes Mildbraed first saw this plant in Nyungwe in 1907, he wrote:

[It] would have awakened the interest of the veriest dullard at botany. . . .  When I first espied these strange shapes. . . my heart beat fast at the realization of a long-hoped-for sight, a feeling that is comparable only to that of a hunter at the first sight of some rare game.

13c Giant lobelia, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The one above was only a few feet tall, but more mature specimens towered over our heads.

13d Giant lobelias, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the canopy walk.

14a Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the photo below, our guide was explaining to us how the suspended bridges can support two cars, or twenty cars, or five elephants, or something like that.

15a Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Oh, why not. . .

16b Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Below:  looking down from the platform of the first tower. . .

18 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Below, we started out onto the middle and highest section. . .

19 Treetops, canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

and began to look down.

20 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

22 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

23 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

It is unsurprisingly difficult to take pictures while standing on a 12″ wide swaying walkway.

Below, you can see the tops of tree ferns, for which the trail is named (in Kinyarwanda), and we could hear water from a hidden stream.

25Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ures

A park guidebook says, “The walkway is strong and secure but will provide the visitor with a definite burst of adrenaline.”

26 View from canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the photo above, taken from the walkway, you can see what I think are the young reddish-rose leaflets of Carapa grandiflora.  There is a wonderful full-color field guide on the plants of the park (here*), but, of course, mine was sitting back home on my desk during our trip.  However, I’m sure this was the best thing for my relationships with my husband and daughter, not to mention the guide.

Although the forest is home to many species of birds and monkeys, we did not see any along this trail — possibly because the popular walk is a bit noisy with humans talking.  But we saw both blue and L’Hoest’s monkeys along the road on the drive back to the lodge and from the balconies of our rooms.  And there is another park trail that features groups of chimpanzees.

And the next day, when we were almost out of the park, we spotted this guy, below, and a friend walking along the side of the road (photo by M. Koran).

Baboon in Nyungwe National Park. Photo by M. Koran/enclos*ure

To scroll through larger version of the images, click on ‘Continue reading’ below and on any thumbnail in the gallery.

*Sometimes you can find it here in Rwanda at bookstores or museum shops.  However, they were not selling it at the park or lodge when we were there.
Continue reading “The canopy walk, Nyungwe Forest”

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.)