People who visit the Red Rocks Backpackers’ Campsite have this thing in common; they understand the art of nature conservation. They appreciate the fact that beauty is the work of the heart, hands and mind; they are people with a deep desire to figure out the innate connections between their selves and nature; people who want to see, smell, learn, feel and engage in something new everyday.
A deep, near-dizzying mysticism forever looms over this sprawling tropical African jungle. It is a mysticism that requires some gut to get used to. If you are the type easily intimidated by silence, sorry, this is not the place for you! The silence here is eerie and thick. It is loud.
If you are ill-adjusted to nature, you will find it the vibe weird, strange and odd. It will scare you for no apparent reason. There is an unspoken but near-spiritual, near-obsessive code of respect not only for self, but all living things; flora and fauna alike.
Red Rocks is favoured for that person with the ability to go with the flow, whatever flow. There is no radio, TV, internet hot spot or freezer. Drinks are chilled in water and sand.
There are no stiff, black-and-white uniform-clad waiters baying for the first opportunity to thrust their menus in your face. Just staff. Some are guides, some cooks, others gardeners. They are like friends guiding you to a successful stay at Red Rocks and in the country.
The one with whom you get along best will be your guide. Apart from mountain hiking and gorilla tracking, many of the international tourists enjoy melting into the community to experience the country’s culture, sights, sounds and customs first hand. They simply visit a local community or home, and become part of it. During this time, they try out everything their curiosity leads them to.
Cameras and binoculars pop out as they settle in for the ultimate Rwandan intercultural exchange; a tour of the green fields, making a harvest here and there, or apprenticeship at basket-weaving. One male tourist got down on his knees to grind millet on the traditional drinding stone, and boy, did he pull such a crowd of bemused locals! The really daring ones go ahead to not only sample the traditional banana beer, but also take part in its brewing.
It is next to impossible to see a visitor here without a hiking kit that comprises hiking boots, khaki pants and shirt, raincoat, binoculars and camera.
Red Rocks is located in the extremely remote Nyakinama village, a good 7 km outside of Musanze town in the Northern Province. It sits on a magnificent and rugged, crater-like valley that is completely cordoned off by gently cascading hills. It expressly targets international tourists, business and back pack travelers, and some locals. It tries to cater to their “Europe learns about Africa” instincts; to equip them with a rich story to tell once they get back home.
Red Rocks also targets anyone who has a bone to pick with the hustles and bustles of typical urban existence. Its informal outlook is also its real defining mark. You do not have to watch your back before you light up a cigarette.
I arrived on a Tuesday night, amidst sporadic rain, and was simply ushered into the modest dormitories, seven in all, and asked to feel free to take my pick. Then I was ushered into the self-service kitchen, where I tried some Irish and salad, but the cold was so severe, I hardly recognised its taste.
We sat in the dining hall, drinking beer and admiring the beautiful ebony wood carvings and masks that adorn its walls. This was easily the coldest night I have ever known. We could not light a camp fire due to the rain. Primus beer tasted flat, till after a couple of bottles. The resident rasta boys who act as tour guides by day offered good company, playing reggae after reggae song, singing and telling us stories.
In the morning, we woke up to a thick fog that had completely blanketed the surrounding hills. The cold had only gotten worse. By the time the coffee had brewed, the sun was out, but the cold persisted. I could hear a tropical cyclone occur in my ears!