Every time we make the 3-hour drive to/from Kibuye I’m struck by how beautiful this country is with its steep hills, patchwork farms in all shades of green flowing down the mountain sides dotted with banana and palm trees. While many people are walking the paths between these plots of land, we are driving by in a car, unable to meander through the fields or enjoy the vistas. I so often wish I could just get out and hike around the countryside. Last weekend my wish came true! One of our friends said he was organizing a hike in the Kibira National Forest for anyone who was interested, I jumped at the chance.
Burundi is a very small and very populated country, with nearly every piece of available land is farmed to feed it’s 10.5 million people, but it has reserved three areas as national park lands, protecting its unique natural treasures. So, twenty of us interested ex-pats took this opportunity and joined the hike. We set out early from Bujumbura in five cars to the Kibira National Park located in the northwest of the country, about a 90-minute drive. Kibira National Park is situated among the extensive Teza tea fields. For as far as our eyes could see there were the tea fields covering every hillside in undulating waves of bright green. It was truly amazingly beautiful!
One must have a guide to hike in the National forests, which our friend had already arranged. We met them at a designated place where two guides got into our cars along with the two guards who would watch our cars while we hiked. (This is not because our cars would be unsafe but another employment opportunity.) There were also the obligatory craft sellers with wood carvings of monkeys, crocodiles and walking sticks (in case you forgot yours) looking for an opportunity to sell their wares.
The guides directed us on a long, 30-minute, drive through the tea fields. Most of the driving was on one-lane, dirt roads but sometimes it became what seemed like footpaths they were so narrow. Eventually, we came around to what looked like the place we had started from. When our friend asked the guide in our car about this the man said it was the “touristic route through the tea fields”, as in “Didn’t you want to drive through the tea fields?” We were getting the whole experience for our park entrance fee. Finally, we parked our cars on the side of a hill to follow our guide into the rainforest, leaving the other guards to “watch” our cars.
Very quickly we were on a narrow trail covered with a canopy of thick foliage as we walked deeper into the rainforest. There were some huge, old trees that reached way up to the sky along with the carpet of ferns, vines and smaller shade plants that filled the spaces all around us.
We walked for about thirty minutes, slowly going downhill until we stopped at a large slanting rock face that had water pouring down it, creating a small waterfall before it tumbles into a winding creek. The guide said when there is more water the rock face becomes a slide. One of the more adventurous of the group waded in and sat at the base of the rock with the water flowing over him. I think he would have tried it as a slide if there was more water. The rocks at the bottom caused most of us to forego the experience.
We continued on, now climbing upward, until we eventually emerged at the top of one of the tea fields. Working our way through the tea bushes on the paths between the plots of growing plants we rounded a corner to find our cars where we had left them.
It wasn’t a long hike, only about two miles in all, nor was it too strenuous a hike, but I was thankful for the guides because it would have been easy to get lost in the thick foliage. Although we had heard there are some monkeys and different birds in this forest only one person said he saw a monkey. I’m sure our large group walking, talking and tromping kept them well hidden. All in all, it was a fun adventure into the countryside. All of us ended the hike feeling deeply privileged for having experienced this corner of Burundi. It was such a pleasure to be able to walk through the rain forest, the tea fields, to see this beautiful place and to appreciate the conservation of this natural treasure.