I once thought I had zoophobia in the wild – Eraste Collins

Since I was a small little kid, very little indeed, I have always had a love for traveling, but never had an opportunity to travel to any place. Partly because, obviously, I was still a child and partly because I had a strict mum (African mums, you know how they can be, haha). But well, it is a long story, so let us come back to my love for traveling. I have never been a person to stay at home, it has always been uncomfortable for me being in one place without moving around.

I remember that when I used to hear my friends or other people talk about places they had been too, I would feel jealousy and anger filling my body (in a positive way, BTW😂). Because even though I was a child, I wanted to know how life works in other places. As I grew up, my love for travel grew with me. In the meantime, I graduated secondary school and joined university to study travel and tourism management, a different subject then the one I had studied in secondary school (in case you are wondering, yes, here in Rwanda you can study a different course in university from what you were studying in secondary school). And for the first time in my life, a twenty-year old me finally traveled to visit a national park in Rwanda. Cool right? I guess you all thought I went abroad or something! Hahah, gotchyaa

Anyways, it does seem quite ironic, that I, who as a young boy always feared small animals, including pets and especially rats (I know it is funny, haha) and loved traveling, had my first travel experience visiting a national park, a wild place full of wild animals (and maybe even rats, you never know😂). Yes, I also had never imagined that my first travelling experience would be in a national park in my home country, I had thought that it would be outside of the country, somewhere abroad 🙁 Well, you cannot blame a child’s dreams, hahaa). And even though it was in a national park, I learnt a lot and it was an amazing experience. Because I was in a new, foreign place, I was willing to try new things and push my own boundaries. It gave me more strength and courage to step out of my comfort zone. Plus, it was part of what I am studying at university.

Ooh, have I told you which national park it was? Take a guess! Yes, it was AKAGERA National park! Whouhh, exciting, right? Now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to direct your full attention to your mobile or laptop monitors. I will be sharing my journey with you and would like the next few minutes of your complete attention. Now fasten your seat belts and welcome on board 🙂

Let me start by telling you how and what Akagera national park is… Akagera national park is located in the East of Rwanda, hugging the border with Tanzania. It is characterized by woodland, swamps, low mountains and savannah. The diverse terrain shelters wildlife including zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions and hundreds of bird species, such as the rare shoebill stork. In the Southern part of the park, vast Lake Ihema is home to hippos and crocodiles.

Ooh, have I also told you that my friends were accompanying me on this trip (I keep forgetting things😁)? But yes, I was together with friends. I guess you all know the saying that states that “the best way to educate yourself is to travel – with friends” (Yeah you caught me, I came up with the “friends”-addition myself😂).

Okayyy, here we go… My 3 friends and I, as well as our tour guide, left Kigali at 4:40 am. We had to wake up very early in the morning and had no time to take breakfast 🙁 (trust me, it was not easy to wake up at such an early hour, especially as it was my first time of doing so) because it takes hours to arrive at the destination. But personally, I did not care too much, because I was so excited😊. It was a long way until we had a stopover in Kayonza at 6:30 am for refreshments and breakfast. We were advised to buy snacks and drinks by a tour guide, because the game drive in the park takes a long time. Then we left and arrived at Akagera national park at the reception for registration at around 9 am. At the reception, a female guide gave us a briefing and shared more information about the park with us, from its Southern part to its Northern part. At the reception, she also showed us an elephant skull, different dead reptiles like crocodile, snakes, and other animal skulls of monkeys, baboons, impalas, buffalos, amongst others.

We started our game drive at around 9:30 am, starting at the Southern part of the park, where we saw a few animals (impalas, zebras, baboons, monkeys, and different bird species like the African lapwing and others… (for some reason, this part does not have many animals). We also admired the view on several lakes like lake Ihema, which is the second biggest lake in Rwanda and the first biggest lake in Akagera national park of 10 lakes in total located in Akagera national park. The game drive in the Southern part lasted around 3 hours and included a stopover at the hippo beach on one of the lakes, where we saw crocodile on the shore (It was my first time seeing a crocodile and it was scary seeing how huge it was), and hippos in the lake and had a beautiful lunch whilst watching these beautiful animals 🙂 After lunch, we continued our game drive and came to a halt when we saw a group of buffalos. As we continued to the Kirara plain, we spotted different groups of animals e. g. zebras, different types of antelopes, warthogs, and giraffes, after which we continued our drive and suddenly got surprised by an elephant running towards our car (I screamed, because I thought we were all going to die, even though we were advised not to make a noise when we saw it😂). I started breathing again after seeing that it went in a different direction 😂. I might have exaggerated a bit, but imagine, if it were you, what would you have done?

Later, we saw another group of elephants in the valley, and afterwards continued to the exit of the park. The whole game drive took 5 hours in total. It was an exciting experience that taught me a lot and that I will always remember :). I have never stopped traveling ever since, because I am passionate about it and am happy to tell you that I have been to a few different places now, where I have made new friends, even though I have still yet to travel abroad. But I am looking forward to doing it in the future 🙂

Eraste Collins