Exploring Rwanda’s diverse tourism offerings by Rwandans is what the Tembera u Rwanda campaign is all about.
Tembera u Rwanda simply means “explore Rwanda.” It is also the hash tag for the domestic tourism campaign launched late last year by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the sector regulator.
In its fifth phase, the campaign intends to encourage Rwandans and foreign nationals resident in Rwanda to go out and explore the country more, in a bid to spur growth in the sector. We were further informed that Tembera u Rwanda stands for three things –love, see, and do.
The two day excursion happened on the weekend of November 25th and 26th.
We departed in two mini buses from the RDB Headquarters in Gishushu right after Umuganda. In all there were about forty people on the trip.
Most of these were winners from a media campaign run by RDB over the Liberation holiday, inviting people who wanted to visit the mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park. Winners had to be people born on July 4th, which is Liberation Day in Rwanda.
“We believe it’s not just Rwandans who were liberated, everything was, including the biodiversity, precious animals, etc,” explained an official from RDB who asked not to be named.
Some of the winners had personally dropped off their applications at RDB information offices in Kigali, Musanze and Rubavu, while others applied online via the RDB’s social media platforms. Other winners had been nominated by someone else, and these were allowed to come with the persons that nominated them. Winners were announced in a raffle on RBA (TV Rwanda).
RDB provided transport to and from the destination, meals, and accommodation.
An email from RDB made known the nature of excursion we were embarking on.
“You are kindly requested to take with you the following; raincoat, boots, jacket, scarf, gloves, water bottle, bites, and any other hiking gear. You may as well need to have a small amount of money to pay porters in case you need their assistance carrying your back bag while in the jungle.”
We had the mandatory stop over at Nyirangarama, home of Sina Gerrard for refreshments, and eventually a late lunch buffet at the La Palme Hotel in Musanze town. After lunch, we were supposed to head to Buhanga Eco Park for our first itinerary, but a stubborn drizzle ensured that we stayed put.
Later that evening we were treated to wine, song and food. A fireside storytelling session was interwoven into this. It was the perfect opportunity for the group to get to know a little more about each other.
Next day was D-day, as we would be off to trek gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, the highlight of the tour.
By 7:00 am Sunday morning, we were already at the RDB base camp in Kinigi, the set off point for gorilla trekking.
The cold was biting, and the courtesy coffees and teas came just in handy. It was also the time to do some last minute shopping for gorilla trekking paraphernalia like scarves, and raincoats from the resident craft cooperative.
Then we were divided into groups of up to eight people each, the maximum number of people permitted in a single gorilla trekking expedition.
The teams were assigned different gorilla groups. I visited the Titus group, which is the original gorilla family named after the Silverback Titus, born in the days of conservationist Dian Fossey’s research into the primates in the Virunga massif that straddles Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC.
The trek from our drop off point to the park boundary was the first arduous task, and indeed many people were left panting.
For most, it was the first time trekking gorillas. Therefore it was time to demystify all unanswered questions surrounding the gentle giants. One of the things that Francis, our guide for the day kept repeating was that gorillas are gentle creatures that mean no harm.
But it wasn’t an easy trek as we elbowed our way through lush tropical green in pursuit of our object of interest.
Through Francis, our guide, we learnt that Titus had lost his entire family (father, uncle, brother and mother) to poachers.
Some years later, Titus’s group was joined by five female gorillas. The group’s leader at the time, Beetsme, drove away all other males, leaving just Titus, the favored gorilla by the dominant female, Papoose.
If there is a time when people collectively have felt the need to take selfies and photos of themselves, then it was this. The guides constantly reminded us of the recommended space one must keep from the gorillas.
Aside from the gorillas, we enjoyed the flora and fauna, not to mention the loud chirping of birds in the dense tree canopies. But the stinging nettle leaves were a rude awakening for many.
After slightly over an hour of stalking the gorillas, our guide announced that it was all over, and once again thanked us for making the trip.
The walk back to our waiting mini bus was quieter, almost forlorn. Most people seemed to be in contemplative mood.
“Rwanda is one of the most acclaimed destinations in Africa and it should be appreciated by its residents. With reduced rates for Rwandans and road access to every tourism destination, we invite Rwandans to bear witness to the remarkable experience we sell to the international market,” remarked Belize Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at RDB at the launch of Tembera u Rwanda in September last year.
“The domestic tourism campaign is our call to residents to be active participants in the growth of the tourism sector by consuming local products and most importantly by contributing to the country’s brand. I appeal to the private sector to provide both tour packages and special accommodation rates for the domestic market especially at this time.”
For two days, lucky Rwandans were accorded the chance to tour the country’s cultural heritage corridor, with stopovers at different sites from Kigali to Huye district.