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The Legend of Tarzan

Infant gorilla portrait, Volcanoes National Park, Virunga National Park, Rwanda (credit Pat McKillen)

The tale of the white British aristocrat who is Africa’s most famous son and saviour sits awkwardly with contemporary mores. Yet Tarzan, the original superhero inspiring the creators of Superman and Batman, and his tale of noble humanity in savage equatorial depths continues to grip popular imaginations, with a brand now worth millions. Audiences still crave his cinematic superhero thrills.

Tarzan’s author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, never set foot in Africa in his life. A youthful drifter and US Army reject and failed businessman, Burroughs began writing in desperation to pay his bills. Tarzan was first published in 1912 and Burroughs would go on to sell more than 100 million books. When Tarzan Of The Apes debuted in cinemas in 1918, it became the first film ever to earn $1million. Since then Tarzan has been adapted many times for radio, television, stage and cinema – it has been adapted for the latter more times than any book except Dracula.

Yet the real heroes of the African forests are unsung. Little is heard of the Gorilla Doctors dedicated to conserving mountain and eastern lowland gorillas through life-saving veterinary medicine. Even less of the rangers who protect parks and forest. Unlike Tarzan, the threat of death for a ranger is high. Yet a ranger’s greatest fear is not losing his life, but the impact his death will have on family members left behind. Theirs is a legend we should not forget

Virunga Fallen Rangers Fund

Read about World Ranger Day here and get in touch with us to see how you make a difference on your travels, email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Steppes Leading Ladies Issue Five | July | Primates

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“We admit that we like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes.” – Richard Dawkins

Our fifth edition of Leading Ladies champions our pioneering primatologists. Women like Dian Fossey who dedicated her life to the conservation of Mountain Gorillas and brought this endangered species back from the brink.

Women like Jane Goodall who arrived in Tanzania, age 26 with a notebook, a pair of binoculars and a strong desire to study wild chimpanzees. Now one of the worlds leading primate ambassadors whose conservation work continues to protect chimps, habitat and local communities worldwide.

Ashley Leiman, who first visited the rainforests of Malaysia in 1974, set up the Orangutan Foundation UK to help primate conservation and today leads our Borneo Orangutan conservation tour to Tanjung Puting National Park.

Justin WateridgeJustin round
Managing Director | Steppes Travel

P.S Every hour rainforest areas the equivalent to 300 football pitches are being destroyed in Malaysia and Indonesia by the palm oil industry.

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Dian Fossey changed the future of gorilla conservation.

In 1967 Dian Fossey set up camp in Rwanda’s Parc des Volcan. She found a species on the brink of extinction. Although Dian was not an advocate of gorilla tourism – it is this aspect and the money generated from tourism that has helped fund their conservation and pay the park guides to protect these great apes.

Almost 50 years later they are still endangered but protected and the population is slowly climbing with an estimated 880 Mountain Gorillas in the world.

“The man who kills animals today is the man who kills the people who get in his way tomorrow.” – Dian Fossey

FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS

GORILLA TREKKING HOLIDAYS

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“What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”  – Jane Goodall

Dr Jane Goodall DBE is one of the world’s leading primatologists in chimpanzee behaviour. 

Best know for her 55 year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Goodall’s research challenged long term beliefs that only humans could construct and use tools and that chimpanzees were vegetarian. She observed chimpanzees feeding at a termite mound placing grass stalks into the mound to fish for termites and also stripping leaves from twigs to make them more effective as a tool for capturing. She also observed chimps hunting and eating colobus monkeys.

FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS

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Ashley-Leiman, founder of Orangutan Foundation UK

Ashley Leiman founded the Orangutan Foundation UK in 1990. One of the leading figures in orangutan conservation, Ashley spends approx a third of her year in the field (predominatly in Indonesian Borneo).She is also leading our trip to Borneo

We asked Ashley to share her thoughts on who has inspired her to do what she does, what advice she would give and more…

Who has inspired you to to what you do?

Growing up I wanted to be Albert Schweitzer, the French-German theologian, organist, philosopher and physician. He inspired me with the words “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.”

What inspires you?

My first experience in 1974 in the rainforests of Malaysia, I knew I was ‘home.’ Today it’s the continued motivation and enthusiasm of our Indonesian staff and knowing we make a difference.

What advice would you give to young ladies wishing to follow in your footsteps?

They are future conservationists – change is in their hands.

Read our full Q & A with ASHLEY here

JOIN ASHLEY IN BORNEO

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 11 DAYS FROM £2,795 PP

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Download our guide for expert tips and FAQ on what to pack, which parks to visit, our choice of accommodation and what family groups and behaviour you might see.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE GUIDE

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Alex Walker Ladybug safaris

In conjunction with Alexander Walker’s Serian, we are offering the first-ever fully female guided safari. Start your journey in Kenya’s Mara North Conservancy and then head into Tanzania’s Northern Serengeti.

FIRST ALL FEMALE GUIDED SAFARI

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Who has inspired you? Cast your vote as to who we should feature next. Send your suggestions to leadingladies@steppestravel.co.uk
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“It is thought that one in ten products found on supermarket shelves today come from palm oil. Rainforest areas the equivalent to 300 football pitches are being destroyed every hour in Malaysia and Indonesia.”

According to the UN  there is risk that by 2020 there will be no wild orangutan remaining outside protected areas. What can we do to help protect the habitat of the orangutan?

READ BLOG

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Beyond Steppes Travel FestivalBEYOND Steppes Festival Royal Geographical Society, London
17th & 18th September 2016

Ashley Leiman will be speaking at the Festival along with our many key speakers.

Buy your tickets

Featured speakers: Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Chris Packham, Benedict Allen, Alastair Humphreys, Colin Bell, Steve Leonard, Edurne Pasaban, Hanli Prinsloo, Monty Halls, Kenton Cool…and much more.

Get in touch to start planning your next holiday. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Gorilla Marketing: A New National Identity in Post-Genocide Rwanda

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“Security will be tight – His Excellency will be there.”

“The pope or the president?” I asked rather facetiously.

“Are you in Uganda!?” The official from the Rwandan Development Board retorted, a Canadian twang to her thoroughly African exclamation. “In Rwanda, ‘His Excellency’ always means the president.”

That was me told. But I had travelled to Rwanda unprepared for either of Their Excellencies to make an appearance. I had expected the event in question to be a low-key celebration of the country’s venerated mountain gorillas. However, the 11th edition of Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual naming ceremony for newborn gorillas, was anything but low key.

Rwanda Genocide MemorialA crowd of nearly 10,000 watched as the nation named the newest additions to the 19 gorilla families of the Volcanoes National Park. As I saw the emotion burst from Rwandan faces, it became clear that Kwita Izina was not just a celebration of conservation and environmentalism, but a celebration of a new, reborn Rwanda. A Rwanda where wildlife is protected, human life is valued and people can come together to celebrate their shared identity.

For the threat of extinction – both to humans and animals – is an issue that remains fresh in the Rwandan psyche, with the country’s notorious genocide barely old enough to be considered history. This 100-day frenzy of blood, hatred and fear left the nation one million citizens short and with horrifying, soul-searching questions that may never truly be answered.

Aged five, I had watched in horror as the Western media had finally began to show the true extent of the bloodshed. But what had escaped exposure was the impact upon the country’s four-legged creatures. Whilst images of grotesque machete-butchered bodies littering the streets had burned themselves into my young mind, I never once thought to consider the repercussions of total anarchy on the nation’s wildlife. This collapse in governance left Rwanda a barren land – without lions or rhinos, and home to an increasingly fragile population of mountain gorillas.

A rebirth was required; a new society had to rise from these crimson-stained ashes. Old prejudices and labels were cast aside to make room for a more inclusive, more sustainable and more equal society. Amongst the ideals of this new order, the conservation of Rwanda’s fragile ecosystem became a core tenet. Now, the Rwandan national identity incorporates a respect for wildlife, particularly the iconic gorillas, whilst sharing the revenues from ecotourism has all but eliminated the human-wildlife conflict of the past.

However, the story of Rwanda’s mountain gorillas is not merely a tale of success and survival against the odds; it is also a rags-to-riches bestseller. Gorillas are now big business, thanks to a surge in ecotourism. This has aided their conservation, whilst cementing their status as valuable natural assets. In a unique alignment of oft-conflicting ideologies, the survival of these threatened primates has become both an environmental and economic goal for the country. With these dual agendas supported by a newfound love for these majestic creatures, the future for Rwanda’s gorillas is looking bright.

Gorila, Rwanda

Gorila, RwandaAnd as I heard the name ‘Gasizi’ announced by one of the ceremony’s esteemed gorilla-baby surrogates, this bright future became more tangible, more personal. 24 hours earlier, I had walked amongst the 34 gorillas of the ‘Pablo’ family. Eating, playing and tumbling through the lush vegetation that clings to the slopes of Virunga Massif, the family had been completely unconcerned by my presence. Gasizi – then still nameless – had clung to his mother’s back as his wide, curious eyes searched my unfamiliar, pale face.

Now, I had a name to put to those black, innocent orbs, to accompany the incredible memories that I would never forget. And hopefully, it was a name that would lead to more names – and the next chapter in Rwanda’s remarkable recovery story.

Get in touch with us for more information on  planning your Rwanda gorilla trekking holiday call us on 01285 601 625 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

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Steppes Beyond | Uganda & Rwanda: Gorilla Trekking

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Gorilla trekking in Uganda is an excellent option for those looking for a more comprehensive wildlife experience but are more flexible on time and budget. Despite the trekking being much tougher than in Rwanda, Uganda is certainly no one trick pony.

Below is copy of my presentation on Gorilla Trekking holidays at our Steppes Beyond event in March 2015. For more information on any of our destinations please do get in touch.

Start your gorilla trekking adventure with us, call us on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

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A Close Encounter of the Silverback Kind

The first thing that struck me about Rwanda was the colour. The bright red and yellow fabrics wrapped around women with babies asleep on their backs, with bunches of yellow, ripe bananas (and jugs of banana beer!) all set against a backdrop of lush, forested volcanoes.

As our car climbed higher and higher through the winding roads, past mud-baked homes and every doorway filled with families, Rwanda’s “thousand hills” fell away in the distance and I was intoxicated by the country.

As we continued to the Parc National des Volcans, home to the mountain gorillas which I had come to see, we turned off along a dirt track passed rows of cabbages, corn and the ubiquitous banana plantations with our final destination being Virunga Lodge. Set high atop a hill looking out across the dramatic Volcanoes from which the park takes its name and two volcanic lakes in the distance, the view was spectacular.

As I looked across to the volcanoes where I was to trek, I could see how perilous the gorilla’s plight was. A clear, horizontal line split the volcano in two – the thick dark forest contrasting starkly against the patchwork of agricultural lands where the gorillas home stopped and human presence began.

However, as I listened the following morning to my guides brief before we set off to trek, gorilla tourism is currently one of the biggest success stories in Rwanda, allowing for jobs, opportunities and a healthy increase in gorilla population. An example of which I saw firsthand just over 2 hours later having trekked through thick, muddy bamboo forests as the 5 day old infant peered at me from underneath his mothers protective arm (and cautious gaze.)

The silverback never took his eyes off us as he pulled down bamboo plants as if they were straw, more a show of strength than lunch. The quiet grunts and coughs of the silverback himself echoed by our guide helping to calm and reassure the group that those watching were no threat.

A young juvenile suddenly appeared from nowhere, stood up (all 3 foot of him), beat his chest and fell over, rolling into the thick vegetation at our feet. Moving back we suddenly saw the bush part to our left only a few metres away before another female ambled past. Given the thick terrain and the tiny ridge on which we were balanced, our group made an increasingly, unsteady huddle of tourists, holding on to each other and our cameras as more and more gorillas appeared out of nowhere, surrounding us as they made a bee-line for the silverback.

A quick, almost imperceptible nod from him and the apes started to slope off down the hill away from us to the strange sound of digital cameras clicking, before they disappeared in to the undergrowth and we all stood there in silence. This gave us a change to reflect on a scene that had no doubt been played out for millennia and if gorilla tourism is to continue to work, I hope countless more.

Discover Rwanda with Steppes, call Chris on 01285 880980.

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The Mountains of the Moon

Africa brings people together. It provides an unbreakable common thread which endures and serves to unite friends and family. Here are a few of my most favourite itineraries that I have put together for my clients.

For a holiday to Kenya, I helped bring together four generations of family, exploring the Mara and Laikipia by foot, vehicle and camel. While recently one of the most memorable trips was helping the relative of a famous explorer retrace their ancestor’s footsteps. The great grandson of the explorer John Hanning Speke (who discovered the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria) crossed the “Mountains of the Moon” the Rwenzori Mountain range in Western Uganda to see Mount Speke in all its glory.

We have also organised for a private group of vets to visit Klaserie Private Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger to get hands-on experience of darting, notching and micro-chipping a white rhino. The feedback we got on this trip was humbling; “…a poignant reminder that it requires actions not words to save the planet’s most endangered animals”.

Some of the most unforgettable trips we have organised to Africa have involved giving our clients an insight into conservation and we are proud that our clients were a part of the habituation process of the Nkuringo group of gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

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Gorillas know no rules.

“Excuse me, excuse me, coming through, coming through” said Intambara as he brushes ever so gently past me.  Intambara was speaking Gorilla beringei beringei or otherwise known as gorilla speak.

I was standing in the middle of the rainforest of the now dormant volcano called Bisoke, watching the amazing mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Intambara is the 250kg silver back gorilla in this group of 17 gorilla. With his family around him and his now extended human family watching in wonder he soon settled down to enjoy some stinging nettles for a light snack.

Patrick our guide explained that the gorilla’s hands are hard and covered by a wax type substance that prevents them from getting stung.  With my pinkie finger having just touched a stinging nettle I somehow wish we humans had the same.

With less than 900 mountain gorillas left in the wild living between Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo I feel ever so fortunate to be watching these incredible animals. Sharing 97% of the same DNA as humans I also feel that I am watching a little bit of my family!

Our day had begun a few hours earlier where we went to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters to check-in and get our permits. Our guide for our safari, Francis then went along with the other guides to start the delicate process of negotiations to which group went where to trek.  Made up of three options, easy, medium and hard, we opted for a medium climb.  Once our group was allocated we met our fellow trekkers taking the trekking group up to 8. Patrick then introduced us and explained the do’s and don’ts of gorilla trekking, later driving for about 40mins to the Besoki volcano to start the climb.

Taking the option of hiring a porter was the best decision I made all day.

He proved to be invaluable in assisting me up the steep slopes of Besoki.

We began our trek walking through small farms, growing mostly Irish potatoes. As we edged ever closer to the forest and buffalo fence, which forms the boundary of the park and the farm lands, we stop for a moment to take in the view. Rwanda is not called land of a thousand hills for nothing. I feel like I am half way to heaven looking down on a spectacular landscape.

Further along and higher up we trek. Into the forest stopping every now and then to catch our breath whilst staring out to the land beyond us.  Patrick then stops and jokes that Intambara called and says he can feel we are starting to tire so he his bringing his family to meet us.

Leaving our bags with the porters and taking only our cameras we continue on.

Before I know it Intambara is brushing past my leg. Strangely, I feel no fear, more of a reassuring comfort and welcome.

The rest of the family are dotted around. Some are climbing high into the bamboo trees to get the freshest and newest shoots. One of them underestimates his weight and comes tumbling out the tree with a thud as the bamboo snaps.  The younger ones seem inquisitive and came well within the 7 metre maximum distance that we were told to stay away from them.

Rules to humans, easily broken by gorillas.

All too soon our hour is up. Intambara seems to be a good time keeper as he stops for one last group family photo shoot before he heads off deeper into the forest with his family following behind.

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Remember. Unite. Renew.

Mary, aged three. Favourite food, ice-cream. Best friend, her dad. Died, single machete blow to the head.

I am standing in front of a single photo of Mary who is looking back at me with eyes so innocent and full of hope. I am standing in the children’s room in the genocide memorial. I am standing here 20 years on from a genocide that saw over a million people be brutally murdered in 100 days, a genocide that shocked the world and yet shaped the nation I am now in, the wonderful, beautiful and inspiring country of Rwanda.

Arriving in the capital city of Kigali, the first thing I pick up on is the sheer beauty of this African city. It is so unlike any other I have travelled to in the past, it is spotless. Not a bit of rubbish to be seen anywhere. Our guide Frances explains that on the last Saturday of every month all the communities across the country come together to clear and clean up the area they live and work in. Even the president, I am told, joins in.  It all started about 8 years ago to bring people together and make everyone feel proud of being part of a community and more importantly proud of being Rwandan.

As I continue on my journey we pass the many rolling hills that look similar to a green patchwork quilt as they have be cultivated to grow crop such as potatoes, tea and coffee.  The land is still as clean as it was in Kigali. I see a lady who is sweeping up leaves alongside the main road and had clearly made her way along the whole road ahead as there was not a leaf on the ground in sight. Every road we drive along and every corner we turn is just as inspiring as the next.

We see some volcanic rocks that have been piled high in a neat pile along the road and Frances tells us they are for sale to build houses.  Next to it is a fruit stall filled with bananas and potatoes. There is no one around so we ask if people don’t just take them without paying and his answer was is simple – No! Why would they? It does not belong to them so therefore not theirs to take. If only the rest of the world had that mentality, what a better world we would live in.

I start to wonder how this nation has become so peaceful and respectful of one another after the shocking events of 20 years ago. How someone can forgive his neighbour for coming into the family home, killing his parents and brothers in front of him. Leaving his sister and him to face the rest of their life alone, at 15.  Then some years later seeing the neighbour in the streets of Kigali, going up to him, saying he forgives him, but needs to hand him over to the police. The neighbour agreeing and pointing out the nearest policeman. Incredible and inspiring.

I had noticed various banners hanging over the main streets of the villages we were passing through. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide.  Part of it written in Kinyarwanda and part in English…. Remember. Unite. Renew.

I am positive that if Mary was 23 now she would be a proud to stand up and say I am Rwandan. Proud to show the world what can be done to renew a county in 20 years. Her dad would still be her best friend, still love ice-cream and proud to stand up and say those simple three words out loud. Remember. Unite. Renew.

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Rwanda’s genocide, 20 years on.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

Whilst it is important never to forget what happened it is equally important to look forward to the future. The genocide is also about moving on and Rwanda is surmounting its problems with a determination worthy of support.

I am pleased to say that tourism has played a supporting role and indeed has been a key part in Rwanda’s recovery – tourism is now Rwanda’s top source of foreign income. I have been lucky enough to travel to Rwanda a number of times and below is a description of my first trip to Rwanda some fourteen years ago. I hope it gives some sense of the beauty and energy of the country, yet does not brush over its grim past. Travel to Rwanda and discover that this country is synonymous with more than just the hundred days of 1994.

The land below me was not how I had imagined it at all. A series of round–shouldered buttes, wave after wave of hills and hillocks that were green, very green, productive and full of energy. It struck me that before I had even set foot in the country I had been bamboozled by stereotypical press images. My predetermined view of Rwanda was one of genocide and perhaps to a lesser extent gorillas. I had fallen foul of the adage that “the tourist sees what he came to see and the traveller sees what he sees.” Thus as I emerged from the modern airport after a smooth and seamless passage through customs and immigration – further myths laid to rest – I was determined to take Rwanda at face value.

Immediately, I was struck by the beauty of the country. It is spectacular to behold and more than worthy of its epithet of the “Land of a thousand hills”, Mille Collines. This landlocked country, half the size of Scotland, is the most densely populated country in Africa and its perfectly rounded hilltops are woven with steeply terraced slopes of banana and plantain. Even the steepest slopes are tilled, shaded only at their summit by a vestigial crown of tall trees. The silvery silhouette of eucalyptus trees stand out against the brilliant green of the tea plantations. Misty, moody rainforest in the south gives rise to lushly forested volcanoes and bamboo in the north, dugout canoes ply the tranquil waters of Lake Kivu in the west and undulating grass plains of Akagera in the east are interspersed with light acacia woodlands.

Due to its small size, few journeys are long and arduous in Rwanda rather they are absorbing. The roads teem with people, streams of human traffic, walking many miles to the local market. Multi-coloured umbrellas emblazon. Women in brightly coloured sarongs with their young strapped to their back balance impossibly heavy loads on their heads with grace. Young boys ride ridiculously oversized wooden bicycles. Others struggle to push their bikes uphill laden with bundles of sugar cane or the ubiquitous yellow water containers.

On the rich red earth at the roadside, coffee beans lie on grass mats drying in the sun. Clumsy red bricks are stacked by smoking kilns. Barefoot children tend to goats, pigs and sheep. Sacks of potatoes, bags of charcoal offer visual evidence to the population density and the intensity with which every part of the land is worked.

Sadly too there is evidence of the genocide, one of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century in which 800,000 people, a tenth of the population were killed in six weeks. That is a rate of slaughter five times greater than the Nazi concentration camps and hence Rwanda has become synonymous with genocide. In almost every village there is a memorial site to the dead and billboards everywhere announce the next Gacaca, the village court system seeking to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to trial.

Rwanda’s well-documented and grim history cannot be easily ignored. Did I want to see a genocide site? I had the feeble excuse that it was to write this article, to inform others but was that really the case? Was I driven by some perverse fascination? I am ashamed to say that this might have been the case before I visited Nyamata genocide site; it was certainly not afterwards when all I felt was revulsion.

The church in the small village of Nyamata, some twenty bumpy miles south of the capital, Kigali, was the scene of a horrific massacre where some 20,000 were killed in the first few weeks of the genocide. We arrived at a nondescript red brick building and were met by an elderly guardian of the church who quietly relived the horrible events of April 1994. When he had finished I asked in my stilting French,“Les morts sonts ici?” “Oui la ba,” he replied.

In a courtyard behind the church were several underground chambers in which are stored and displayed the skulls and bones of many of the victims. Row upon row of hollow skulls stared lifelessly back at me. A poignant reminder to those killed.

Inside the church was a very different story. I was immediately hit by the musty smell of the dead that permeated my every pore. There were a number of charred bodies laid out on a platform, the shrivelled remnants of bodies twisted in the grimace of death. The remains of one woman stuck in my mind, her arms bent in terror trying vainly to protect herself from impending death, her face frozen in a grotesque and ghoulish scream. It was a gut wrenchingly sickening sight to see. Such a sight seemed a wholly inappropriate form of commemoration and memorial.

The genocide should not be forgotten but the dead should at least be allowed to rest in peace. They should be remembered with dignity and there are many sites throughout the countryside that do just that.

Its smiling people are wonderfully friendly. They have courage and warmth and yet there is an innocence to them that is not always so evident in other parts of Africa. Wide-eyed children ran excitedly from the fields and their houses, tripping over themselves to reach the road and greet me an outsider, a visitor to their country. Even the old smile and wave, seemingly genuinely pleased.

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Karisoke

“What was she like?” I asked, to which he replied: ” A strong woman! Big temper, passionate.”

On my recent Rwanda trip to the site of Dian Fossey’s final resting place in the Virunga Mountains, I was struck by the stillness and silence of the area. Roland, my guide, was old enough to have worked with Fossey.

I was also surprised by how moved I was standing on the site of the old Karisoke Research centre, her home, the physical building of which had long disappeared. My guide then produced an old photograph of the exact same spot on which we stood, Fossey with notebook in hand and the building intact behind.

“I like coming here as it’s peaceful” Roland said, “but I work here to make her proud.”

Follow in Dian Fossey’s footsteps and journey to the Kingdom of Gorilla on our Rwanda group tour.