What’s Hot in Rwanda: Bisate’s Latest News
At the beginning of April we achieved another milestone in the setup of the lodge. Our Bisate team arrived on site and started to live and work on the beautiful property.
This was a big move for everyone, especially for those who have moved from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city. Bisate lies at 2,600 metres altitude, roughly 1,100 meters above Kigali. Adapting to the altitude was the first step. The second step was adapting to the weather. At Bisate you can have many different weather types in a short period. You can experience four seasons in one day – which is wonderful but also surprising if you come from a more stable climate like Kigali. In one day it is possible to have mist, sun, rain (we have even had a hail storm!) with many different temperature variations throughout the day.
The complete team!
Moving in to a building site means you have to start from scratch. The team started with lots of cleaning, placing furniture, organising storerooms and unpacking supplies and equipment. It turned out that moving to the site was a great opportunity for team building and to get to know each other.
Cleaning, cleaning and cleaning!
One of the highlights for the team was attending the wedding of Innocent, who will soon start working as a waiter at the lodge. It was wonderful for the Bisate team to celebrate this special day with Innocent. We would like to wish him and his wife Agnes a beautiful and loved-filled life together.
Living on the site also means that we are able to identify many more bird and mammal species that are sharing our new home with us. We have seen side-striped jackal already, as well as African wild cat and Egyptian mongoose. Chameleons seem to be everywhere! We have a Rwenzori bearded chameleon resident in our garden. We are also adding many new bird species to our list.
The Rwenzori bearded chameleon
Northern olive thrush
The building of the lodge is progressing well. With the main area and all six villas taking shape we can now begin brainstorming the activities and experiences that we will offer our guests. The guest rooms will be absolutely stunning, with breathtaking views.
The weather is our biggest challenge at the moment. As mentioned earlier the weather changes quickly and April is the wettest month in Rwanda. This is very good for our tree planting but not good for the construction team. With all the rain it means the buildings are covered in plastic. We have decided to keep you guessing a bit longer, but promise to share photographs of the villas with you soon!
Engaging with the Community
Many meetings were held in the past with the Bisate community to discuss the development of the lodge. However now that the lodge is about to be completed the first meeting between the Bisate community and management of Bisate took place. This meeting focused on setting up community projects so that the relationship between Bisate Lodge and the Bisate community can grow in the future. The Bisate Community President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Accountant, Consultant and the Secretary were all present.
Members of Bisate Team smile for a group photograph
We discussed some of the ways that the community can benefit from the lodge – beginning with supplying fresh produce to the kitchen. The community will initially supply the staff kitchen but in future this will extend to the guest kitchen as well. Fresh vegetables such as potatoes and beans have been purchased straight from the surrounding fields, supporting the local farmers that live in the area.
More exciting projects will follow in the upcoming months!
Meet Orlane – Bisate’s Talented Masseuse
Orlane (on left) during her training in Botswana
Orlane Delice Umutesi is Bisate’s wonderful masseuse. Orlane was born in Rwanda and studied hotel operation in Kigali, completing her certificate as a masseuse in 2016. Orlane has recently returned from Botswana from an extensive training course with the greater Wilderness Safaris’ team. During her five weeks of traveling she attended training in Maun, Abu Camp and at Vumbura Plains. In her own words, “This was my first time outside of Rwanda. I learnt so many new things and met many wonderful people.”
After a morning or afternoon of hiking in the forest, taking in the smells, sounds and sights of the rain forest, nothing beats a good massage to relax the muscles and renew your energy. The very healthy and fresh mountain air mixed with the smell of eucalyptus and indigenous forest gives you the feeling of being in a Spa or Health Centre already!
Whilst the construction company is busy building the lodge, the Bisate team has been very busy with the soft landscaping in and around Bisate. Many trees, plants and grasses were planted in April. April is one of the wettest months of the year and we had to take this opportunity to plant as much as we could. In total 15,033 trees have been planted on the Bisate site with April seeing an additional 1,247 trees planted.
We identified two nature trails on our 27 ha Bisate property, one short and easily accessible trail and one longer and slightly more challenging trail. The highest point of both trails is the top of the Bisate hill that lies at an altitude of 2,670 metres above sea level. From here you have a beautiful view of all six volcanoes that comprise the Virungas Massif. Our guests will be able to hike the two trails on their own as it is easy to follow the sign-posted trail. However it will also be very interesting to walk the trail with Aline, our guide, as she will be able to point out many interesting sights along the way.
Over the last one-and-a-half months we had six Bisate staff members training at different Wilderness Camps in Zambia and Botswana. Once again we would like to thank all our Wilderness colleagues involved in making this training journey possible.
The training room
The daily English classes for the community members who we have employed but need extra training are going well. Now that the employees are exposed to English on a daily basis through the class, and also because of interacting with their English-speaking colleagues, the English level is improving fast and everybody is getting more comfortable in the language.
In the coming week the training sessions at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge will be complete. In total 19 of the Bisate employees attended a two-week internship at Sabyinyo, where our partners at Governors Camp assisted in training the team. Thank you Governors and all staff at Sabyinyo for making this possible!
The excitement and enthusiasm of the Bisate team is encouraging. We aim to have our first ‘graduates’ by next month!
Bisate’s Culinary Creations…
Linda van Rensburg, chef and Wilderness Safaris’ food experience specialist, has helped us to set up a beautiful and delicious food concept for Bisate, and the menu is almost complete. Our chefs have been for training in Zambia at Toka Leya Camp and at Kings Pool and Savuti Camps in Botswana. Linda will visit Bisate, ahead of the opening, to train chefs in a few of the menu options and new recipes. We are also excited to welcome an Executive Chef from South Africa who will be staying with us and training our kitchen team for the first three months.
Bisate’s cuisine is a creative combination of local Rwandan flavours infused with contemporary cuisine. Our produce is foraged from our very own vegetable garden and from local farmers within a five kilometre radius of the lodge. There is a French term, ‘potager’, that refers to a home kitchen garden that grows a mixture of annual and perennial fruit, vegetables and culinary herbs and it exists to supply the household with food; this is the same farm-to-table concept that we will adopt at Bisate.
Jean-Marie during his chef training
Our chefs use only the freshest ingredients using old world techniques with modern inspiration and follow the ethos of promoting a sustainable and unique dining experience. The menu evolves with the season, according to what nature allows us to harvest, as we only take what we need from the land.
Being based at altitude just next to Volcanoes National Park, and with an average rainfall of 1,400 mm per annum, meals at Bisate call for slow-cooked hearty but healthy dishes, served in vibrantly colourful ceramics that showcase the natural ingredients and moody forest surrounds.
Local ingredients used in planning the menus include coffee, fresh honey and honeycomb, avocado, climbing beans, mango, kale, papaya, plantain, passion fruit, pineapple, macadamia nuts, tamarillos and chillies.
Exploring Rwanda: Our First Gorilla Trek!
During April we had our very first meeting with one of the most beautiful creatures on our planet, the mountain gorilla! On 29 April we made our way to Volcanoes National Park headquarters, a twenty-minute drive from Bisate.
Each trekking group received a briefing from their guides about the activity. We were allocated to the group that was going to visit the Hirwa group. The Hirwa group consists of 18 gorillas, including one silverback and, even more special, a set of twins born in 2011 . From the headquarters we drove for 30 minutes to reach the edge of the National Park, from where the trek started.
Our morning hike started with mist in the fields but as we got closer to the bamboo forest the mist started to clear up. ‘Hirwa’ means ‘The Lucky One’ and lucky we turned out to be! After only 25 minutes of trekking through the bamboo forest we found what we were looking for. In between the shoots a young female sat peacefully eating her bamboo. Whilst we quietly started to take our first pictures we could identify a few more gorillas behind her. The hour to follow went by so quickly, but at the same time felt like a lifetime.
The gorilla group was very active and we witnessed them playing, eating, quarrelling over fresh shoots of bamboo, resting and in some cases showing off. The twins climbed in to the bamboo and started with some gymnastics. One of them had a whole display of tricks that it showed off in front of our camera. Although we tried our best to keep the seven metre distance between us and the gorillas, the gorillas did not always agree with this. Whilst we were taking pictures the silverback came to have a very close look. All we could do was be submissive and sit still. That said, you wouldn’t think of doing anything else when a big guy of more than 200 kg comes to investigate what you are doing!
Another impressive moment was when the blackback, the male next in line to lead and become the silverback, joined the group. As he approached, our guide informed us that this particular fellow was a troublemaker. The silverback seemed to agree with the guides and started to beat his chest to show the blackback that he was still the boss.
A visit to the gorillas is a humbling experience and the memories will last you a lifetime. The only problem is that once you have finished it you want to do it again and again and again…
A lot! The next month is all about getting the Bisate team and the lodge ready to receive our first guests! We will have many deliveries from interiors to kitchen supplies, from bed linen to wines for the cellar. Training will also continue both in our computer centre as well as with practical training around the lodge.
Written by Ingrid and Rob Baas, General Managers, Bisate Lodge