Just another day in paradise

What if we just let it all go?

A path in the early morning fog.
Virunga Safari Lodge in early morning fog.

Just cut paths through the brush and then beautifully paved them?

path - Virunga Safari Lodge

Pushed out a few garden rooms with low walls and columns built of local stone?

Sunflowers at the entrance to a garden room.

The central path crosses a garden room.

Mowed the grass only in those small spaces? Gardened (sometimes) with a machete, not hoes and shovels?

wildflowers beyond wall
A terrace overlooking the wild hillside, the roofs of cabins in the background.

That’s what I kept thinking during our overnight stay at the Virunga Safari Lodge in northern Rwanda a couple of weeks ago.

The path to the local village.
Path to the local village beyond a wall.

The hotel consists of a main dining/lounge building and eight very private cabins.

The stone terrace of our cabin in morning fog.
The stone terrace and bench of our cabin in morning fog.

A central path through the hotel grounds runs along the top of a hill, and the cabins are sited on both sides on a level below.

roof of our cabin
The roof of our cabin.

In the brush, wild natives and naturalized exotics grow together in a jumble.  They were noisy with birds and insects.

plants over wall

Perennial sunflowers.

As we took a walk through the neighboring community, I realized that the light-touch landscaping of the hotel grounds created, in a sense, the least artificial environment in the area. Rwanda’s country land is highly cultivated — almost every square foot is part of a vegetable garden or field or wooded plot for timber.  A steep slope is rarely an obstacle.

Fields on a nearby hillside.
Fields on a nearby hillside.

At the end of a relaxing stay, we had lunch at a table overlooking Lake Burera and its little islands. Then we were off on the 2-hour drive back to Kigali.

The view at lunch.

It’s sad to leave Eden.

View from our table at lunch.
View of sunflowers and the lake from our table at lunch.

To scroll through larger versions of these images (and several more), click ‘Continue reading’ below and then on any thumbnail in the gallery.

To see more photos of Virunga Safari Lodge from a brief visit last year, click here.

Continue reading “Just another day in paradise”

Beautiful dreams

Last weekend, we spent a night at the Virunga Safari Lodge in northern Rwanda. While there, we took the village trail to Mwiko Primary School, a public school that receives support from the hotel.

Rwanda school mural

There is an inspiring mural of the students’ hopes for their school on one of its buildings.

Below, on the right side of the mural, there are classrooms and well-built latrines* with a hand-washing station.

3 School dream - left

There is also a computer, a teacher talking about HIV-AIDS, and students and teachers joined by love.  The organization Mothering Across Continents mentors teachers at the school and sponsored the mural.

School dreams - detail 1

Below, in the center of the mural, there are solar panels and tanks to catch rainwater runoff from the classrooms’ roofs, a grassy playing field, a smiling graduate.
4 School dream - center

The mural was painted by Igala J. and Kabuye G. working from ideas from 50 paintings by the children.School dreams - detail 2

On the right side of the mural below, there are chickens and rabbits, hills terraced for planting, the mountains, and Lake Burera.
5 School dream - right

The children currently raise rabbits in pens behind the school.

School dreams - detail 4

The school’s motto is  “knowledge, wisdom, hope.”

Below is a photo of the school, which serves over 800 children and has 12 teachers.  You can see more pictures here and here.  There’s a video of a class singing here.

School dream -school

*More information on the importance of adequate latrines in schools in developing countries is here and here.

Bird’s eye landscape

A recent visit to the Virunga Safari Lodge in the north of Rwanda made me think of Russell Page’s book, The Education of a Gardener, and his words on handling a hilltop site with a view.

About halfway up the nearest volcano, you can see the line between cultivated fields and the park, where the mountain gorillas live protected.

The Lodge –near the Parc National des Volcans and the famous mountain gorillas — has extraordinary views. Guests can see two lakes and several volcanoes.  But Page wrote that such a location is not ideal for the gardener.

“If I were to choose a site for a garden for myself,” he wrote, “I would prefer a hollow to a hilltop.  A panorama and a garden seen together distract from each other.  One’s interest is torn between the garden pattern with its shapes and colors in the foreground and the excitement of the distant view.  Everything is there at once and one has no desire to wander to make discoveries. . . .”

If, however, one does have to have a view, he advised: “Above all avoid any garden ‘design’ or any flower color which might detract from the main theme, which in such a case must be the view. . . . If there must be flowers they should be close against the house or below a terrace wall and so only visible when you turn your back to the view.  I would arrange the gardened part of the garden — flowers and shrubs — to the sides or far enough below, so that they and the view are not seen at the same time.”

Landscaping around the dining hall and lounge is simple.

The landscape designer for Virunga Lodge seems to have worked right from the book, with beautiful results.

There are a few garden flowers and shrubs, but usually the existing wild brush has simply been cut back to allow for a few flat grassy areas and paved paths.
The focus is on the gorgeous view of Lake Burera.
Local volcanic rock was used in the construction of buildings and walls.
A path to a banda or individual cabin.
A trail to nearby villages. The lake is in the middle distance, topped by more hills and clouds.

About three hours drive from Kigali, the Lodge has eight “bandas” or individual cabins, which operate on solar power and use rainwater recovered from the rooftops.  It is very expensive at $600 per person per night,* although this is inclusive of all food and drink (including alcohol).  (We just stopped by for a look.)

This simple grass “room” sits along one of the main paths.
The path crosses this room, which is outlined with a low wall.
A long room with regularly spaced columns near the entrance to the Lodge.
The bandas have stone terraces.

To get a better sense of the layout and location of the Lodge (and what it’s like to arrive by helicopter), you can watch this short YouTube video.

The same morning as our stop at the Lodge, we visited two local schools and a nearby village family. Our guide was an American businessman working with faith-based development endeavors in Rwanda.  He took us to the site of a house he is building for himself. At the moment, it’s just a stone and concrete foundation set on the edge of a hill.

But again, the views were absolutely amazing.  He wisely plans to leave the land surrounding the house (which is all sloping downward) very natural, hoping to attract as many birds as possible.

Lake Burera.

Living here, one might begin to feel like a bird.

*There are reductions for Rwanda residents.