I looked at that mountain again and again during my commute to Kigali… It was marvellous. It was also as imposing as it gets, so it wasn’t difficult to identify it on the map: its name was Mount Kabuye. There were claims on the internet that it was the the highest non-volcanic peak in Rwanda that I didn’t take seriously — but 2,700 metres (8,800 feet) was a decent altitude.
For some perspective: I was born in an Alpine country in Europe called Slovenia where the tallest peak, the one proudly featured on the national flag, only raises to 2,864 metres. When a group of people decide that a mountain is going to be their symbol, you can probably imagine that they like hiking. For a Slovenian, it is near impossible to see a hill and not want to climb it. The benefits are obvious: great views, exercise and hopefully some peace in a pristine natural environment.
I am also lucky to have a Rwandan in my life who shares the passion. We had to wait through the lockdown, months had passed between the idea and the realisation, so it felt particularly sweet when we finally set our foot in Gakenke (if you want to sound cool, pronounce it as “Gachenye”). We thought we were doing it for fun.
Professionally we had spent a couple of months putting together a different kind of a tour experience — one with a guide helping you over the phone instead of driving with you. You know, something particularly COVID-19 friendly: you can keep to yourself while still having support and entertainment whenever you require it.
But then, on the slopes of Kabuye, a new idea popped up: could we do something like that for a hiker? Unlike roads, walking paths are many and confusing, so let us reveal our first surprise: after an hour or so of walking we bumped into the first signpost! With signage available, assisting somebody over the phone became more realistic.
We wondered who would go to the trouble of putting metallic signs and even toilets for hikers… The local government? The Beyond the Gorillas Experience guys? The Musanze-based company had been known for bringing tourists to Kabuye — but they wouldn’t need all this infrastructure… Intriguing.
Allow me to take you back to the Slovenian mountains. I said that being alone in nature was one of the bonuses, but there is another side to it: the huts, the drinking and eating places, even hotels high in the hills. Such places enrich your mountaineering life and I always miss them in East Africa.
So imagine our shock when we reach the wooded top of Mount Kabuye, and there are tents pitched around a permanent building! We did NOT expect that, there was NO mention of that on the signposts!
We were fortunate to run into Theodore Nzabonimpa soon afterwards. He was helpfully moving around with a plate full of tasty little fish mixed with vegetables, a wonderful appetiser to prepare his guests for lunch. Ha ha, and we carried a load of snacks with us! Theodore is the founder of Beyond the Gorillas Experience, and he liked our ideas.
He invited us back to Kabuye some weeks later, our full team, equipped us with his guide Francis and shared everything they had learned about the place thus far. To top it all, we were welcome to spend the night in his tents.
I could go on and on about the beautiful crafts we encountered on the way, about the fascinating king’s cave Francis showed us, about several more interesting sites we explored, about the dancing troupe, about the amazing food we ate… But the main takeaway is simply: customer service with extreme attention to detail. Theodore is one of those people who were born to be hosts, who actively look for more ways to impress.
An example: he sends a water container with his staff to the craftmakers’ place, just to help his guests refill their bottles. There is no dire need for that but it makes a hiker happy, and that’s what matters.
Mind you, Theodore doesn’t live on Mt Kabuye and it doesn’t make economic sense for him to always be around, or come with an experienced chef. His people are nearby and no matter when you do Kabuye, somebody will be on the top to serve you some drinks. But it does make a lot of sense to announce yourself in advance (call/message us on +250 784 112 355).
Allow us to now show you what we have created with Theodore’s assistance:
Mount Kabuye Adventure – Hiking Only
Mount Kabuye Adventure – Hiking & Fun Challenges
The official start of these activities is Saturday, 31 October 2020, when you are welcome to experience them with a promotional 15% discount.
text and photo: Miha Logar