“It was like, ‘Kaboom,’” Joan Gilroy recalls.
A seasoned traveller, Joan always looks forward to the arrival of the B&R brochure, where she can get a sense for the destinations on offer each year. But when an email entitled “Rwanda Walking Trip” crossed her path, it immediately clicked.
“I literally walked downstairs and said to my husband Bob, ‘B&R’s doing a walking trip to Rwanda—does that not sound like something we should do?’”
“A wonderful, wonderful place”
Though he hadn’t met the Gilroys yet, veteran B&R guide Chris Goodwin had already answered that question for himself.
“It’s absolutely amazing—a wonderful, wonderful place,” the native South African gushes.
It didn’t take long for Joan to share her guide’s opinion. Upon landing in the capital Kigali, she was struck not just by the country’s natural beauty, but its upkeep.
“I think we arrived on an early evening flight,” she recalls, “and the first thing that got me when we were being transported to the hotel, was how orderly and tidy everything looked… I was just dumbfounded by the look of Kigali.”
“14 million Nelson Mandelas”
The cleanliness, Chris explains, owes to a national attitude toward service. It’s one reason why, despite Rwanda’s many natural attractions—from gorgeous rolling hills and bountiful banana fields to national parks that grant up-close access to silverback gorillas—he didn’t hesitate when asked to pinpoint his favourite part of the country.
“It’s the people, generally,” he says. “(Rwanda has) an obvious background, in terms of the 1994 genocide and what went on there. So there’s a lot of negative perceptions in terms of what you’re going to experience. But then you arrive there and… you can feel this incredible sense as to where these people have been and where they feel they’re going. You’re dealing with a country that is 14 million Nelson Mandelas; they all have the same kind of attitude,” he says.
“There is certainly more of a genuine smile on people’s faces,” Joan agrees. “You can tell they’re sort of all full of expectations. There’s just a general mannerism about them; they seem like a proud and happy people.”
“They’ve been through this incredible trauma, but they have this amazing ability to assimilate it, deal with it—not forget it—but certainly forgive it and be able to talk about it and move on from it,” Chris adds.
A Fast Favourite
Talk to people who have been to Rwanda, and a common theme tends to emerge. In addition to glowing reviews of the lush landscape, the people and the spirit of a progressive country on the rise, the comments often go something like…
“I’m lucky enough to have done a lot of travel in a lot of different places and this is easily one of my top destinations to be in,” as Chris put it.
“We have said several times to ourselves that even though we’ve been to a lot of different places in the world, I think it was maybe our best trip,” Joan echoes. “But I’ll tell you, Rwanda, the beauty of the country and the people and the smiles and the clarity that they seem to have, the look on the people’s faces—that’s really sticking out.”