Rwanda Rwanda is a small rural African country, that most people didn’t even know existed, until 1994 when it sadly became a byword for a mass genocide. Triggered by the death of then president who’s airplane got shot down supposedly by Tutsi rebels (but possibly set-up by rival faction in the government), majority Hutu population prompted by their leaders turned on their Tutsi neighbours and within 4 months between April and July 1994 massacred up to 1 million of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This wasn’t an industrial cold efficient affair perfected by totalitarian regimes in Europe, but messy gruesome one with fanaticized ordinary people eagerly taking part in the killings using rudimentary agricultural implements. The genocide was eventually stopped by the Tutsi rebel movement RPF, which defeated the government forces and took over the country. In the aftermath millions of Hutus run into the neighbouring Congo fearing reprisals from the new government - which did follow them across the border contributing to the civil war in that country. While I do not generally share the western guilt about everything that goes wrong in Africa and this horrific act was primarily internal Rwandan affair, I think the world represented in Rwanda by the impotent UN peacekeepers did fuck-up big time and many people could have been saved if UN leadership have shown some courage. I understand that Americans have just burned their fingers in Somalia and weren’t interested in another African adventure, while UN was heavily involved in the war in Yugoslavia. But there seems to have been a solution available (and I think I read somewhere that UN honcho Kofi Annan did consider it at the time) - using private mercenary company such as South African Executive Outcomes to put out the fire quickly. Executive Outcomes have done exactly that successfully in Angola and Sierra Leone for a fraction of the costs of any UN deployment, and with zero political risks stemming from possible casualties - they are just disposable dogs of war at the end of the day in most people's opinion. Instead UN leadership decided to keep supposedly high moral ground and avoid using the mercenaries. Which most probably resulted in avoidable death of hundreds of thousands of people - not the first or last time that empty morality costed many people's lives. When I arrived, 10 years after the genocide, the western media were portraying Rwanda as a country that has been through hell, then catharsis and is fast on the mend. I didn’t see it that way. Most predominantly Hutu people seemed stunted and withdrawn - there seemed to be palpable poisonous undercurrent of guilt and defeat just waiting to get out. Given half a chance I felt they would be back at it again in the blink of an eye. There are many people - including some of the former RPF fighters criticizing the current government, and I’m sure they are no saints. However, it seemed to me that possible alternatives were much worse and strong government was reasonable price to pay to prevent another catastrophe. My route through Rwanda: I crossed the border in Gisenyi, which is basically extension of Goma on the other side of the border. On the border I got accosted by a local guy with horrific scar across half of his neck - somebody clearly tried to cut off his head with machete and got only half way through, how he survived that is beyond me. He was friendly, spoke English (Rwanda, apart from local languages of course, is part of the former francophone Africa) and helped me through the procedures - I didn’t dare to ask about the scar. From Gisenyi I headed on good widing tar east to Ruhengeri sitting on the southern side of Ruwenzori mountains. Ruhengeri is the place in Rwanda to visit gorillas. I found accommodation in a local guesthouse and started to ask around about the gorilla trek. Many people warned me that the treks are booked months ahead and there is no way to just rock-up and go - which didn’t dissuade me to do exactly that, I hate booking anything ahead. People in the guesthouse didn’t know if there are any spaces left, and told me the best would be for me to try arrange the trek next morning at the park headquarters about 20 km out of town. Next morning I followed another car with tourists heading for the trek to the park headquarters, where they said no problem, I paid my admission fee of 370 USD, was allocated to a group of 4 other tourists waiting for the trek and got introduction of the gorilla family we are going to visit (there are multiple families and each is visited every day only by one group of tourists and the visits are limited to one hour). We were assigned English speaking guide and a very professionally looking military support group with clean fatigues and more importantly clean well maintained AKs. They kept their distance and didn’t want us to take the pictures of them - their presence felt reassuring as there were 8 tourists killed on gorilla trek on the Ugandan side by Congolese rebels few years back. There were trackers since early morning up the mountains looking for the gorilla family - the gorillas are habituated to human presence, but they migrate every night, so park sends a forward party every morning to track them down and direct tourists to the apes. Occasionally they fail and the tourists will miss the gorillas. We drove few more km and debussed at the local school playground to start the trek checking the mountains above us. The Rwenzori mountains are impressive chain of 6 or 7 volcanoes towering over 4500 meters high. Their higher reaches are overgrown by dense rainforest, the lower reaches are heavily populated and the forest was cleared for tea plantations, sadly encroaching on the gorillas habitat. At the park headquarters: The schoolyard - star of the hike: The lower reaches of the forest have lots of bamboo - gorillas love bamboo shoots as they keep them slightly intoxicated: Once you reach the slope of volcano the going gets really steep: And then there they were . I have seen most of the african animals in the wild - including great white sharks and saltwater crocodiles, but nothing - and I mean nothing - matches meeting gorillas in the wild. It’s probably cliche to say that they look like long lost forest tribe, but they do. It’s just eerie feeling to be completely exposed in the midst of a group of animals that can take your head off with one blow while they just go quietly about their business unperturbed by the bunch of neurotic hairless apes in their midst trying to keep their little anxieties in check. And there is something very humbling when they look you in the eye without any trace of aggression or nervosity, just curiosity. Mother with a baby: This one seemed to be the group's intellectual: The males - youngster and the dominant silverback, who most of the time kept away from us: Mischievous youngsters - a bit of a problem as they tried to touch us and we were told to avoid any contact so that they do not catch our ugly diseases. We ended up back-pedalling a bit from the little ones: About half way into our visit I almost screwed-up big time - I was busy taking pictures of the young male lazily showing off about 3 meters from us, when unbeknownst to me the silverback (dominant male) crept to about meter and half of me and started pissed off growl and aggressive display - telling the youngster to cut it off or something. Taken completely by surprise by the sight of 200 kgs of pissed of meat within an arm's reach, my immediate instinct was to run. Now in the induction we were told that whatever we do, we should never run as it will trigger the hunter’s instinct in the animals and they will give a chase, which of course we are going to lose. We were supposed to stand our ground and if shit hits the fan, bow down in a display of submission. Now that is nice and dandy if you at least have a clue that it’s about to hit off, but I didn’t and taken by surprise my instincts took over. Luckily, the guide has seen it coming and pinned me down to the ground (I was crouching to get picture and he was standing behind me) with all his weight hissing through his teeth “Stay where you are!”. Which I did and everything returned back to normal as soon as the silverback felt satisfied that the young jock got the message. The young jock showing-off - just yawning, not threatening: And the boss: Funnily enough, exactly an hour after we found them and our allocated time slot expired, the gorillas all stood up as one man and moved off - not unlike most other 9 to 5 employees I know.