Thanks to the generosity of St. Lawrence University and the Koski family, I was awarded the privilege of a travel grant to learn more about and experience first-hand the biological wonders of the great apes of Rwanda. In particular, I intended to travel to Rwanda after the completion of my study abroad experience on the Kenya Semester Program. Upon my arrival in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, I planned to visit the Rwandan Genocide Memorial in order to gain historical and cultural perspective of the country in which I was visiting. Thereafter, I intended to travel to Nyungwe National Park and Volcanoes National Park. In both parks, I would endeavor to further my knowledge of conservation policy in East Africa, as well as my interest in Rwanda’s amazing great apes, the Chimpanzee and the Eastern Mountain Gorilla.
I had been told before that no travel grant ever plays out just as it was originally intended; mine was certainly no exceptions. However I am lucky, because it could be argued that my adventure went better than “according to plan”.
In the last month of the Kenya Semester Program, each student participates in a month long independent study. With the help of my academic coordinators, I was able to conduct my independent study with the Wildlife Conservation Society on wild chimpanzee habituation in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda. So, rather than be prohibited a single day in the presence of chimpanzees, I got to impersonate Jane Goodall for an entire month as I followed these incredible, and frankly fast moving, creatures up and down the mountainous terrain of Rwanda’s countryside.
Two weeks into my independent study I traveled to Volcanoes National Park in the northern most part of the country. Because of the infrastructure in Rwanda, which although is good, is limited, I first had to travel back to Kigali. I took advantage of my brief time in Kigali to visit the capital’s Genocide Memorial. The experience is one that is extremely personal and I cannot describe it properly beyond simply saying that it was incredibly moving and informative.
The following day, I took a bus to Musanze, the town bordering the edge of Volcanoes National Park. There, I met with my two classmates. One of whom was conducting his independent study in Musanze with the Rwandan National Cycling Team. We were offered the privilege to stay with him, which was an amazing opportunity that I did not anticipate. My final day of that weekend was arguably the best day of that entire month and certainly one of the days of my entire life. From Musanze, I was taken into Volcanoes National Park with my guide and fellow Gorilla Trekkers! The hike of grueling, although undeniably beautiful, and the view upon our arrival was beyond worth it! As we pushed through the bamboo forests on which they were feeding, we could hear the rustling of the family group that we were tracking. As we got closer, we came upon the Gorillas and simply put, the sight of fifteen adults, juvenile, and one incredibly large silverback was awe-inspiring.
My time in Rwanda was the most incredibly beautiful, sobering, and awe-inspiring month of my life, and one that I will truly never forget.