In the tea

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.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureWe 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 sinensis bushes.

Above: the pool house in early morning.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureWe 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.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove: the Lodge in the distance.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove: yellow native Crassocephalum montuosum poking up through the tea bushes.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove and below: views from the main building’s porch.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ure

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove and below: narrow paths through the field. A local cooperative picks the tea and keeps the income from its sale.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove: The cabins, with two to four rooms each, are sited at the edge of the tea field.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove: 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.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove and below: the front of each cabin is planted with native perennials and small trees from the forest.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ure

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove: these giant lobelias (Lobelia gibberoa) are planted right into the grass and other low weeds wild plants.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge/enclos*ureAbove: 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.

Nice things and Nyungwe Forest Lodge

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

Our oldest daughter has been visiting us — which is very nice — so this weekend, we took her to see the Nyungwe Forest in the south of Rwanda and to stay at the beautiful Nyungwe Forest Lodge.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge, enclos*ure
Orchids and tea bushes in front of the cabins at Nyungwe Forest Lodge.

The Lodge is located on the western edge of the Nyungwe National Park in a tea plantation picked by a local cooperative. The cabins front to the tea fields and their back windows look out on the forest.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge, enclos*ure
Rainchains in action on the main dining and lounge building at the Lodge.

The area is currently having clear blue mornings and rainy afternoons. On Saturday, our one full day there, we hiked the canopy walk before lunch (more on that later this week). Then we actually talked about going on another hike that afternoon.

rainchains, closeup

However, with the first raindrops, we gave in to the luxury of just parking ourselves in front of the many picture windows looking out on the gorgeous view and napping and reading until the 5:00 p.m. tea, cookies, and cocktails in front of a fire.

Lodge, interior, windows

Lounge at Nyungwe Forest Lodge, enclos*ure
The lounge at the Lodge. Photo by Mary Koran.

Lounge at Nyungwe Forest Lodge, enclos*ure

Just before tea time, we were rewarded for our indolence by finding about a dozen blue monkeys in the trees right outside our cabin’s back patios.

Blue monkey at Nyungwe Forest Lodge, enclos*ure
A blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitts) about to jump from cabin roof to the trees. Photo by Mary Koran.

I wanted to show you these side tables in the main lounge, which I loved.

side table

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask if they were locally made or imported — next time.

sidetable 2

The big chandelier was appropriately made of tea strainers.

chandelier, full

Chandelier, detail

chandelier 2, detail

Camellia sinensis leaves have little or no smell (only if you crush them hard) until they are processed as tea. But the hotel smelled very lightly of green tea fragrance from the soap and hand lotion in the bathrooms and gift shop. So, sitting on the terrace or in the main lounge looking out, I could smell what I thought the fields should smell like (but really don’t). I thought this was an interesting little manipulation of experience in a landscape.

My daughter brought me a Kindle Fire e-reader, another really nice thing, which allowed me to spend the afternoon switching from Vogue, to the third book of the Game of Thrones series, to Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies.

I’ve written about Nyungwe Forest Lodge previously here.

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.)