I knew next to nothing about Rwanda, and for me, that was all the more reason to see it for myself. I was quickly humbled by my own ignorance - how did I not know about the staggering beauty of this place? The moment I stepped out of the airport, I was awestruck by Kigali, the nation’s capital. Brimming with positivity and warm, welcoming people, it now ranks as one of the safest cities in Africa.
The drive up to One&Only Nyungwe House was breathtakingly scenic. As I arrived I could hear drums and realised, much to my delight, that it was a welcome committee. I couldn’t take it all in. Everything was so beautiful. The people were so friendly it warmed my heart, and the green was so rich that it hurt my eyes.
My first activity was a hike, and I was so excited to take a walk in Nyungwe National Park. Our guide insisted I use a walking stick, even though for my mountain climbs I’m used to an ice axe or, very rarely, a pole. I felt like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.
The surroundings were lush and full of life. I saw the canopy but didn’t imagine we’d be quite that high up; it’s 60 metres above the forest floor which filled me with sheer excitement. Stepping out onto that suspension bridge made me feel like I was in one of the adventure movies I grew up watching. It was just awesome.
What was truly amazing about this canopy walk was how it seamlessly integratated into the environment even though it’s made out of steel. It both contrasted against and blended in with the greenery, all whilst swaying within it. People who are afraid of heights may not like that kind of movement, but I absolutely loved it.
The panoramic view of the valley from there was breathtaking, and if you looked into the distance, you could see the mist coming in slowly. I joked that Tarzan would surely come swooping in at any moment. Video cannot convey how incredible it was in person, and just how serene it felt to be up there.
Later, I had a very special one-on-one with Treasure, the Head Chef at One&Only Nyungwe House. He began by telling me his incredible story of fleeing Zimbabwe and living on the streets in South Africa before getting asylum documents which allowed him to get a job cleaning the kitchens at One&Only Cape Town. He was so passionate about food and so eager to learn that he went from starving on the street to Head Chef at the One&Only in six years! Meeting incredible people like this, who light a fire in me with their strength and spirit, is the reason I love travel so much.
After sharing his journey, Treasure invited me to visit his garden at Nyungwe House. Full disclosure: I’m a complete disaster in the kitchen. I’d never actually pulled a carrot out of the ground before and everything just looked like lettuce to me, so it was wonderful to see how things grow and hear how Treasure uses the ingredients from his garden in his dishes.
After the garden photoshoot, the team surprised me with a beautiful lunch out on the deck. Beautifully set up, they had even left out a blank canvas and paints in case I was feeling inspired. And how could I not be in such an incredible location? Since Treasure had used so many things straight from the garden, each dish was bursting with flavour, making me wish I could eat farm-to-table all the time.
Another highlight for me was learning archery. I don’t know what it was that made me pick it up so well, but I did the best out of everybody, channeled my inner warrior princess and managed to hit the bullseye twice. It was great to learn a skill that has been used for generations in so many parts of the world. In Asia and the Middle East, evidence of bowhunting dates back earlier than 10,000 B.C. It felt like I was participating in a living history exercise!
We got up early the next day to join trackers for a chimpanzee hike. Nyungwe is lucky to have one of East Africa’s last intact chimp populations. Whenever I see animals in the wild like this, I feel a sense of both happiness and sadness: happiness because I get to see them, and sadness because I worry they won’t be around for my future children to see. It was fascinating to stand in the shadows between the trees and just watch them. Their mannerisms are so similar to ours and some of the things they do are incredibly endearing; like how they take care of their young. I felt so honoured to witness their intimate moments.
Tea is a huge part of Rwandan culture. A tea expert at Nyungwe House took me out to the tea plantation and showed me the entire process of harvesting African tea leaves. I was fascinated by the intricate details and how long it took to find the right leaves to harvest. The youngest leaves, which are at the top, are the most flavourful, so you only want to pick those. However, there might only be two or three of those leaves on each plant. Once you get the hang of it, the process becomes very deliberate and meditative. The care and patience shows in the final brew, which was incredible.
This trip reminded me that I am so lucky to have travelled the world as much as I have, and I’m grateful for each and every experience. This was genuinely one of the most special places I have ever been, and between the scenery and the one-of-a-kind service, I honestly think that no words could ever do it justice.