Climate and Landscape
What beautiful weather we had this month! The second rainy season of 2017 has almost come to an end – at the beginning of the month it was still raining occasionally, which is just enough to keep everything very lush and green. Flowers are everywhere and the colours in the fields and village gardens are mesmerising. The pyrethrum, a locally-grown insecticide, was in full bloom during the month and most farmers are harvesting the flowers now.
Our guests often ask us how the procedure works for gorilla trekking. How do the trackers know where to find the gorillas? Should they choose an easy, medium or difficult hike? What is the difference?
Groups of trackers start at 05h00 in the morning to find the various gorilla groups. The locations of the different groups are then communicated to the headquarters. At 07h00, when all guests have assembled at Volcanoes National Park HQ, the guides allocate guests, by groups of eight, each to visit a different family of gorillas. In total, 12 groups of gorillas can be visited each morning. In fact, there are actually more than 12 habituated groups, the remaining groups being observed for research purposes. Depending on the stability of the group and their location, it is then decided which 12 groups will be viewed that particular morning.
Based on preferences and fitness levels, guests are allocated to groups from the easier-to-reach to the more-difficult-to-get-to families. But guests are made aware that this categorisation is not guaranteed! It is possible that the gorillas will move whilst the guests are tracking. Because of this, an “easy group” might turn into a “difficult group” and vice versa. The trackers keep following the groups of gorillas and communicate their locations through to the guides who are with the guests. The good news is that it doesn’t matter if you do an easy or a difficult trek. Everybody has one hour to spend with the gorillas and this is always wonderful! The difference is the duration of the hike itself to find the groups and the amount of time you spend in the national park to enjoy its beauty.
Reforestation and Conservation
With this rainy season coming to an end we are amazed by the growth of the trees over the last months. Tiny trees that were planted last year are now taller than us.
Many mammal and bird species have returned to Bisate too, and we are recording new species on an almost weekly basis.
So far over 17 000 trees have been planted, Hagenia abyssinica being one of the most characteristic indigenous trees. This month we found a variable sunbird pair nesting in one of the first hagenia trees that was planted. If you look closely at the picture of the nest you can see the little chick hiding inside! The parents are watching from the newly-planted bamboo.
We planted bamboo at the foot and lower sections of the Bisate hill. In the first months the bamboo had a bit of a slow start and in some areas we started doubting that it would actually take and start growing at all. Well, we do not doubt anymore! The bamboo is growing so quickly that we are convinced that we will have a thick bamboo forest very soon.
Bisate Lodge and the Bisate community are so much a part of one another that it is difficult to imagine one without the other. We share the same environment and live like true neighbours. We witness the community harvesting their crops or celebrating a wedding and when we need help to cut the grass in our staff village, we invite a few cows from the neighbouring farms.
We try to involve the community at Bisate Lodge in every way we can. This month we asked the ladies in the community to help us weave the Christmas decorations, and little Rwandan peace baskets – agaseke in Kinyarwanda – were made for our Christmas tree. We showed the ladies a picture of the end result and they loved it.
Our guests Lee and Stephanie, asked us to buy some soccer balls in their name for the Bisate community soccer team as during their community visit they had seen how the team practiced with a homemade ball made of wrapped plastic and rope. As we were shopping for the soccer ball we realised that we might just have enough money to buy soccer uniforms for the whole team. We emailed pictures of the very proud team to Lee and Stephanie and the team has promised us they will win every match from now on! If you are in the neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon, do take the time to watch one their matches at the Bisate School soccer field.
The December holiday spirit was definitely embraced by the Bisate team. All of the Bisate team members were proud to wear their Christmas hats and Christmas carols were hummed and sung in the main area, whilst cleaning rooms and even whilst planting trees.
Guests who stayed with us over Christmas were treated to a seven-course menu that was delicious, light, and created with fresh ingredients. Our chefs were very happy to see all the plates coming back empty after each course! Before the main course staff surprised our guests with a beautiful chorus of Christmas songs.
“Best Christmas ever!” commented our guests who were on honeymoon.
December was a month of some goodbyes. Lisl, the executive chef who helped to train our Bisate chefs, returned to Cape Town. Lisl completed six months of intense training with the whole kitchen team and the chefs are feeling capable of standing on their own feet now, proud of their work and what they have achieved. The dishes coming out of the Bisate kitchen are 10 out of 10! We will miss Lisl as she became part of the team and we will also miss the beautiful pictures she took whilst at Bisate (some of the pictures you see in this newsletter).
We also had to say goodbye to Dave and Ondyne who helped with relief management at Bisate whilst Rob and Ingrid had a break. Thank you very much, Dave and Ondyne, we know that you have fallen in love with Rwanda so we hope to see you back one day!
“Just three days – but forever in our hearts! Thank you very much for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, for planting trees, hiking up volcanic mountains, meeting gorillas and for being part of the Bisate family! Thanks for the excellent food and an unforgettable evening in the wine cellar! See you soon!”
“So wonderful here with all the people. The beautiful view and cosy fires in the villa. Had the most spectacular meeting with the gorilla family that went out in the fields.”
“Ingrid and Rob you both are special people who make this place even more so special. Beautiful, lovely no words to describe this camp. Will miss the gorillas the elegant, gentle, giants forever.”
“I and my family are delighted to be hosted at Bisate Lodge. A fantastic investment and of added value to high end tourism in Rwanda. Your standards, personal touch and experience are memorable.”
“This is one of the best places on earth…. The resort and the beautiful people. Thank you so much for this amazing experience. Oh! And the food! Please look after our trees!”
Ending Off an Amazing Year
What an amazing year it has been! In January foundations were being set and volcanic rock carried up the hill by hand for the building. The construction team worked continuously until the minute Bisate opened. In February we started with staff recruitment and in March and April with the training of our Bisate team. May and June were all about getting Bisate ready for opening and at the end of June the moment was there: our first guests at Bisate Lodge!
Since that moment many lovely guests have stayed at Bisate and we cannot wait to host many more in 2018!