I’ve always held high respect for safari guards; the Swahil term is Askari. In Rwanda, the Kinyarwanda word is Umuzamu. They patrol African lodge grounds, braving the random Cape buffalo or hippo, who in the cover of darkness, meander into camp to forage on grassy landscapes. Long ago at Governors Camp, two hippos brushed the edges of my tent and bellowed to each other in greeting; hippos have a chilling deep guttural roar and next to my tent in the dead of night, I was certain of imminent death. I called a dear friend to say goodbye. He was surprised to have his Chinese dinner interrupted by a near death call! Through the dark canvas, I saw the dim arc of the Askari flashlight arching above my tent – warning the hippos – head back to the pond. Saved by Askari!
My recent visit to Rwanda for gorilla trekking through the deep rain-forests introduced me to a marvelous group of Umuzamu at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. http://www.governorscamp.com/property-descriptions/silverback-lodge-parc-national-des-volcans-rwanda
Not only do these local Rwandan guards protect you from stray wild animals, they provide addditional important responsibilities on property. Situated in the foothills of the Virungas Volcano chain, the lodge itself is perched at around 8000 feet; on arrival, guests make their way to the lodge in the dense vegetation. The walk is up a steep stone path, which when raining, is slippery – my Villa, was of course, at the highest location on the property; so from the lodge, I had a another stunningly beautiful treacherous climb home after dinner and a long day of trekking. Imagine rainy foggy climbs with our luggage balanced on the heads of the guards – traveling light has never been a description applied to me. Umuzamu trekking uphill with bags atop their heads in fog and mist, no complaints from me on the initial passage!
Each day Pascal and his cadre of guards were my heroes. My initial dawn trek in the dark for breakfast at the lodge; late afternoon return trek up to the lodge and my villa following an arduous 4-6 hour gorilla trek and again in the evening – keeping me upright in the dark on the damp and steep path to dinner and later back up to bed. I didn’t look forward to the last trek to my Villa in the dark after dinner.
Pascal and I found a comfortable conversation pattern; I was either sleepy on the dawn walk or beyond exhausted after the gorilla trek following dinner. Chatting about his life was a marvelous distraction up and down the slippery path – before I knew it we arrived at each location – honestly, some trekking days, I wasn’t certain I could climb to the lodge, let alone my Villa. Clinging to his arm kept me upright, rain pounding on his umbrella; Pascal was surefooted, calm and happy to share his story. In his spare time, he studies languages and after a work week, he bicycles two hours to his home to see his family. I learned much about local customs and his family life…layers, I always encourage chatting with locals and understanding their culture.
Pascal was also the ultimate fire builder – my Villa fire roared and crackled all night; fire and a toasty hot water bottle at the foot of my bed guaranteed a comfy warm sleep…until the crack of dawn 6 am coffee wake-up at my villa. Gorillas are waiting in the mist.
Porters are also often forgotten…separate blog post on the other group of heroes who kept me upright in the rain forest!
Thank you to Pascal and his team for keeping me upright, safe and entertained!