Restaurants can easily be categorised by the size and type of menus they have in place. I’ve been to quite a number and I am always fascinated by what they have to offer and how it is presented.
In some big restaurants you will be presented with a drinks menu, then one for starters another for the main course and lastly one for dessert. I have also been to places where the menu has so many items that you have to flip through what looks like a children’s book. Oh! and we do have those that don’t trust customers with their menus. Instead they write everything overhead for hungry folks to crane their necks and read for themselves.
The ones that fascinate me the most are the low cost eateries. In here the menu is only to be found in the head of the waiter or waitress. It is often just a summary of what is left in the kitchen. You hear things like, “Hasigaye amafiriti n’inyama gusa” (We are left with only fries and meat). As if that is not bad enough, the waitresses will often return with more sad news. “The meat is finished too but there is sauce.”
If you really love food like I do, then you’ll agree that when you are really hungry all you want is a buffet set up. Over time I think it is safe to say that Rwanda has moved from the memorised brief menu to a buffet set up when it comes to tourism. About 15 years ago there was very little to say about Rwandan tourism besides the mountain gorillas.
Efforts were and are still being made by the Government of Rwanda to not only diversify the tourism sector but also grow it in all possible ways.
This last week I joined a select team of journalists from around the world to sample some of Rwanda’s tourism dishes. The journalists and communications professionals were selected from countries like South Africa, Kenya, Turkey, Uganda, USA and local journalists from the different media houses. There was also a media team from the East African Tourism Platform that included yours truly.
The City Tour
The first item that we sampled on Rwanda’s buffet was the city tour. The city tour is a great offering given the fact that most of what people outside Rwanda hear has to do with how Kigali is such a clean and organised city. Many see glossy pictures of Kigali city but remain doubting whether it is real or simply the work of some smart graphics designer.
The city tour affords visitors a chance to slowly move around enjoying the neat and orderly city that Kigali is. They also get to learn about the history of the city and the country, the present and get an idea about where the country is headed.
We toured part of Nyamirambo and the Central Business District before heading to the Genocide Memorial Centre in Gisozi for the vital lessons on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. We concluded the tour by checking out the Special Economic Zone where several industries are located.
Good tales from Akagera National Park
The next day we attended the Conversations on Conservation conference before setting off for Akagera National Park. We arrived at the park just in time for some sunset photos. Many just dropped their bags in the rooms and rushed to set up their tripods and cameras as the sun briefly posed for some golden shots.
After dinner, the park’s marketing guru, Sarah Hall gave us a presentation about the park and what African Parks (that manages the park) is doing. The park is on course to having the Big Five now that lions are back and already growing in number (fourteen if you are counting). White rhinos will soon be added to the Akagera menu as well.
We got up early again to catch some stunning sunrise photos overlooking the lake from the Akagera Game Lodge before embarking on a day-long game drive with a brief picnic lunch. Akagera Park that used to have just one lodging facility – the Akagera Game Lodge, now boasts of the exquisite Ruzizi Tented Camp as well as mobile camping facilities and plans for another facility are in high gear.
A park that was known for people – wildlife conflicts, now has a 110km electric fence and a resolute law enforcement team complete with a canine unit that keep poachers wishing they had other career ambitions. The park is also fairing well when it comes to conservation with animal populations growing each day and grey crested cranes being reintroduced into the wild using Akagera as their home away from the brutal domestication in the city.
Musanze the home of the money makers
We all know that tourism is a big cash cow for Rwanda but Musanze is where a lot of that money is made. After all, this is the home of the famous mountain gorillas. The next day had us setting off for Musanze at 4am. Here we were divided into two groups with some going for gorilla trekking while others went to trek golden monkeys.
Musanze seems like the main course menu on those multi-categorised menus. Not only is the place blessed to have the prized primates, it also has caves and other cultural sites that we got to tour.
I enjoyed the caves experience most and I would certainly recommend it to anyone visiting Musanze. The highlight of the caves experience was that therapeutic moment when we all stopped somewhere and the guide told us to switch off our headlamps for a moment, to meditate in total darkness – literally, darkness at noon.
We ended the night by showing up at Red Rocks where Harriet Ingabire and her folks treated us to a marvellous cultural tourism experience. Red Rocks is not only about things from the past and camping. When it got really dark, there was nice music being played at their small club house. We honestly didn’t want to leave when it was time for us to do so.
Our trip ended with us showing up to cover the 12th edition of Rwanda’s premier tourism event and a celebration of the country’s conservation success story at Kinigi with President Paul Kagame as chief guest.
A total of 22 baby gorillas were named at the event that was well attended by the people living near the park as well as conservation enthusiasts from over 28 countries.
At the end of it all, one could tell that Rwanda’s tourism had come of age and the journalists will have lots of tales to take back home as they fly out of Kigali International Airport. Many will make a return trip to check out other tourism gems like Nyungwe Forest, Gishwati – Mukura forest, the Congo - Nile trail as well as the Lake Kivu resort spots of Rubavu and Karongi not forgetting Nyanza the cultural centre of the country. Rwanda is ready.