I am always amazed by people who enjoy hiking. Having grown up around hills that were as much companions as they were obstacles, the concept of willingly embarking on a hike was hard for me to understand.
There are many studies that suggest that hiking has potent health benefits – from helping you lose weight to enhancing your mood, but it is the thought of navigating tiny stones, gnarled tree roots, an array of prickly bushes and uneven terrains that holds me back.
The exhaustion, oh the exhaustion! There is something that ascending hills and mountains does to your body that makes every muscle begin to protest and ask for a reprieve. Why would I willingly put myself through that?
I hadn’t got an answer to that question when a friend from Mauritius that I had made during the Women Deliver Conference in Kigali, Rwanda extended an invitation to join her and her friends to hike Mount Kigali. A part of me wanted to release a hearty chuckle and pose the very question that had been echoing in my mind all these years. However, my outward response was a silent nod. After all, I had an entire free day.
I had spent the previous day exploring the city, mostly on foot as it is quite a small city. Kigali puzzled me with its orderliness, cleanliness, and its serene demeanour. I saw only a handful of buses and boda boda in their dozens. It was interesting to observe that each of the riders and their pillions wore helmets “casks” as they called them. In Kigali, helmets are obligatory by law.
Unlike here in Nairobi where they are accompanied by a cacophony of honking horns and aggressive manoeuvres, riders here seemed to adhere to a different rhythm. I marvelled at the silent choreography of the city’s traffic and the gentle cadence of conversations among individuals.
As I perambulated the corners of the city, this “uptight” state left me slightly disoriented. Until this moment, I didn’t know that even I, a rather order seeking person, could crave chaos. Along the streets, I felt like someone was watching my every move. You should have seen me stash a banana peel into my handbag when I didn’t see a trash can where I was standing.
Another thing that shocked me was the language barrier even at the heart of the city. I had read many things about Kigali and interacted with a few who had been there before, but none had told me about this. A handful of residents spoke English and French but many, especially those operating boda boda, spoke in Kinyarwanda. Thank God for google maps!
Also read: The height of cool
The mellowness of the city was my main driver in accepting the hiking invitation. I wanted to experience life outside the capital and maybe, unravel the enigma that was Kigali. Also, our tour guide had promised us breathtaking views of the city as we ascended the mountain. The guide was also quick to clarify that the mountain itself was a large hill surrounded by other rolling hills. For someone in sneakers, soft jeans and a tumultuous relationship with mountain climbing, this was a wave of delight.
We set off at 7am and navigated through dense housing in Nyamirambo for about 20 minutes before we started the climb. The villagers were very affable and gave us encouraging nods as we passed their homesteads while the children shouted excitedly at my friends “Wazungu, how are you?” This was followed by hearty laughter.
If you are a frequent hiker, the journey to the top will be an easy one. With a tour guide, the routes are straightforward and there are barely any hurdles along the way. The way down is, however, a bit steep in some areas. The entire hike was about eight kilometres.
Atop Mount Kigali, you get amazing views of the city’s buildings and its neighbourhoods. This was like nothing I had seen before.
We were amazed to find a local market, schools, and churches there. We saw some of the locals trek down the hill to fetch water.
At the summit, you find Fazenda Sengha, an outdoor recreational centre where you can see horses in Rwanda and ride them. We were told that this is the only place you can ride horses in Kigali. You could also opt for other activities such as zip lining, archery, and quad biking or visit the military base.
We however did none of these activities as we needed to head back and shop at the famous Kimironko market for souvenirs before we all parted ways to our different destinations.