The day after leaving Kigali, we drove to Red Rocks campsite in Musanze. This is one of the most inspiring places I have ever visited. Harriet (Rwandan-born, raised in the US) founded the campsite with Red Rocks Ecotourism Company with a dream of helping as many members of the local community as she can. She told us that she was inspired by her mother to work with the local women and by her brother who has done a lot of work for the community.
After we had set up the tents, Harriet showed us around. The toilet blocks and showers had clean running water, the bar was well stocked (and had great wifi) and the reception area was very welcoming. There was also a shop run by local cooperatives. We walked past lodges which are being built to welcome a wider audience. Harriet pointed us towards the back of the site which where there was a bar “for dancing all night long”!
I then saw the most heart-warming sight at the camp. The men from our tour had joined a game of football with local children. The pitch was on dusty ground, the goals were small wooden boxes and the ball was old and tatty, but it was the most wonderful game I’ve ever seen; everyone was smiling and laughing. Harriet told us that some of these children are very sick, some were born HIV positive and many are orphans. Sometimes they turn up at Red Rocks to play and she tells them off and sends them to school! Her profits from Red Rocks are put towards 100 children’s school fees, ages ranging from 2-19, and they are among the poorest people in the community. The campsite provides them with a sanctuary for fun, friendship, safety and family.
After this, Harriet showed us the shop which sells paintings, finger puppets and woven bowls and plates through different cooperatives. They are run by local women who teach the children how to paint and weave and they sell what is made at Red Rocks to aid the community. Harriet offers both housing and financial support to 75 women who were left widows or childless by the genocide. Now, many of them have informally adopted some of the orphaned children.
Nikki, Vicky, Sarah and I tried our hands at the weaving with the Hands of Hope cooperative. The ladies dressed us up and set us off with a plate to weave. I am thrilled to say that it came quite naturally to me (if I do say so myself!) and, as I became completely engrossed, I selfishly was not happy when it was suggested I shared my weaving with one of the others. Much to her irritation, Nikki could not get the hang of it and even managed to sew herself to the plate! We all bought some souvenirs including woven bowls, paintings and jewellery. I also bought a giraffe finger puppet to show my new class in September with the intention of showing them how to make something similar.
That evening we were cooked a wonderful meal by the people who work on the campsite. We then sat around the campfire chatting, drinking and enjoying the alluring starry night sky. One of the travellers had an app which identified what we could see and it showed that we had a great view of Mars and Saturn. I was however becoming quite desperate to get on to the gorilla part of our “Gorilla Stop” tour, so Vicky suggested we distracted ourselves by following the African music that was coming from the bar area.
There we found Harriet and her friends dancing African style on the dance floor. Head torches at the ready, we shrugged our shoulders and joined in! We attempted to copy their moves, but this quickly changed. They told us to show them some English dances so I pulled out a few moves from Zumba (not English, I know!) which were greatly received. Before long, we were surrounded by loads of the people from Red Rocks. We even led a conga around the bar! We were joined by Sarah, Nikki and the others from our Absolute Africa and we had the time of our lives. As we left, they even played a bit of Taylor Swift!
The next morning we packed up and left. As we drove away in our big yellow truck, it was clear that this already very established place had plenty of room and enthusiastic ideas for development, especially as Harriet couldn’t possibly be any older than her mid-twenties.
For anyone heading to Rwanda, this place is well worth a visit, and it’s a pretty good location for viewing the gorillas from the Rwandan side of the mountain.