By Gilbert Mwijuke
The modern traveller is always looking for authentic experiences. In Rwanda, tourists may still want to trek the iconic mountain gorillas that reside in the Volcanoes National Park, but they may also want to see more.
The Congo Nile Trail is one of Rwanda’s most recently launched tourism products that can provide the cultural experience modern travellers seek.
Winding by stunning bays and peninsulas, it is a 10-day, 227-kilometre hike that begins from the shores of Lake Kivu in Rubavu district and goes through Rutsiro, Rusizi and Karongi before winding up in Nyamasheke district.
I recently delved into this trailblazing expedition together with a group of local journalists and celebrities, including current Miss Rwanda Jolly Mutesi (pictured above).
Riding in a 4WD (recommended car for such a bumpy road), we started our expedition from the Pfunda Tea Estate, which is located a few kilometres out of Rubavu town on the Rubavu-Kigali highway.
Just a few kilometres into the trail, a place called Imutende offered us spectacular views of Goma, the far-famed city across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
From Imutende, we went through Nyamyumba Sector before chugging on to Rutsiro district. With just a few kilometres of paved roads, Rutsiro is one of the least developed districts in the country, which explains why, unlike most areas in Rwanda, this part of the country treats travellers to an up-close peek into rural life.
Along the trail, we passed women harvesting tea, some selling sugarcane by the roadside, and others burning charcoal in a tiny eucalyptus forest.
We also met several village men carrying on their heads jerrycans full of Urwaga, a local beer made from sorghum and banana juice. Urwaga is a favoured drink not just here but in most parts of Rwanda, we were told.
It got colder as we approached Gishwati Forest, which was turned into a national park last year. A true picture-postcard material, this beautiful forest is home to a couple of mammals, including monkeys and chimpanzees. We stopped here for several minutes to take pictures and also enjoy the cool breeze that perfuses areas near the forest.
Further afield at a place called Cyimbiri, the trail offered us tours of coffee harvesting and processing procedures as well as the opportunity to sample some of the richest coffee in the world.
We could have continued to Karongi district but our mission was to complete the 91-kilometre Pfunda sub trail, which took us back to Rubavu through Nyamyumba, home to the Bralirwa brewery.
Lovely though the trip was, the star of the show was undoubtedly Jolly Mutesi, who became a tourist attraction in her own right. Wherever we went, strangers would smile and ask to take pictures with the beauty queen.