‘When you realise the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past, and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.’ – Dian Fossey, renowned primatologist

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The full significance of Dian Fossey’s last diary entry 33 years ago still reverberates through Rwanda to this day. Coupled with an ever-increasing interest in the plight of the endangered mountain gorillas who find refuge in Volcanoes National Park, travellers to the country’s northwest are drawn to transformative gorilla-trekking encounters, as well as the commemorative hike to her burial site.

IMAGE COURTESY OF: Bob Campbell Papers, African Studies Collection, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

Set within lush meadows and wetlands and overlooking the spectacular Virunga Mountains, Singita Kwitonda Lodge and the exclusive-use Kataza House are located right on the edge of the park and puts these encounters within easy reach, while being part of far-reaching conservation initiatives in the area.

Fossey’s final resting place, in a small cemetery on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi, pays tribute to her love for the gentle giants of the forest and the 18 years she spent studying them in the rainforests of Volcanoes National Park. The journey there resembles a pilgrimage to those who followed her story closely, and it’s impossible to not be touched by this reflective experience.

IMAGE COURTESY OF: Bob Campbell Papers, African Studies Collection, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

Setting off from the headquarters of the park, which is also the starting point for gorilla-trekking, golden monkey treks, and – for the more adventurous – hikes to the Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes, the guided half-day outing takes visitors to the saddle between Bisoke and Karisimbi and requires a fair level of fitness.

It’s well worth the effort though. The route embraces a range of landscapes filled with breathtaking scenery and birdlife, as well as possible glimpses of animals like elephants, forest hogs and a variety of primates. At first, the narrowing path leads over rough stones, and after about an hour, you enter the green canopy of the forest – lush with huge hagenia, lobelia and hypernicum trees, vines and ferns. The walking stick that’s provided comes in handy, with muddy areas requiring a little bit of balancing act at times.

IMAGE COURTESY OF: Bob Campbell Papers, African Studies Collection, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

Towering in the distance, the blue silhouettes of the volcanoes frame every step of the way. As the path gets narrower, and steeper, the hike adapts the the stillness of a meditation – an apt mindset as you cross a magical meadow and stream before reaching Fossey’s former Karisoke compound.

The inscription on Fossey’s headstone refers to ‘Nyiramachabelli’ – the name given to her by locals. It means ‘the woman who lives alone on the mountain’. And yet, she always had her beloved gorillas as companions. Even in this sacred site, they’ve joined her, with the final resting place of the one she loved most – Digit – next to hers.

IMAGE COURTESY OF: Bob Campbell Papers, African Studies Collection, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.

While the trek inevitably fills one with sadness, it’s also a profound source of hope. Mountain gorilla numbers continue to multiply, owing to dedicated efforts and the support of environmentally conscious benefactors and conservationists. Similarly encouraging, Rwanda is inspiring the world with its remarkable rebirth in the wake of a painful past.

This all adds prophetic meaning to Fossey’s final journal entry, which seems to be finally coming true.

Singita Kwitonda Lodge in Rwanda features a dedicated conservation room and this interactive educational space is managed by Singita’s specialist conservationists. It gives guests a unique window into the world of the endangered mountain gorillas and includes an inspiring conservation wall, two iMacs, a big-screen television, maps and books – as well as a private collection of Robert Ian Martin (“Bob”) Campbell’s travel and photographic equipment. This renowned English wildlife photographer and filmmaker was best known for his footage and photographs of Fossey and mountain gorillas published in National Geographic.

Singita Volcanoes National Park opens to guests on Thursday, 1 August. Find out more here and enquire now about a stay at Singita Kwitonda Lodge or the exclusive-use villa, Singita Kataza House.

 


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