The Greenpackers Haven
Red Rocks in Musanze, Rwanda. There are very few places that will make you feel right at home, inspire you to visit more and to do more for planet and for people. This is especially if you are sustainable travel junkie like I am or what I like to call a “greenpacker”. Red Rocks in Musanze is one of such places. It’s a place that made me view Rwanda differently, as more than a gorilla tracking destination. It’s also a place where the loyalty of my taste buds was tested.
Red Rocks Inter Cultural Exchange Center, is a unique budget accommodation facility and camping site in Musanze, Rwanda that also offers exciting responsible travel experiences that contribute to local community development and conservation, through their Red Rocks Initiative.In other words, its a “greenpackers” haven that does more than offer budget accommodation, but involves you in the life of the people, to appreciate their culture and contribute to their development in one of the most responsible and immersive travel experiences. It’s also a place to participate in conservation activities, learn art, appreciate camping, hike and meet new people while sharing stories at a bonfire.
WHY RED ROCKS STANDS OUT
The first time I “truly” experienced Rwanda was the Gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina.
My 26-hour tour across three countries, Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda, on road, part of which I shared a seat with a prisoner and a priest (Story for another day), was inspired by conservation. However, after my experience at Red Rocks, I left the country known as the land of a thousand hills or Africa’s greenest country or Africa’s most gender inclusive country, having fallen in love with more than her conservation efforts. I had fallen in love with art, culture and a people. Two months later, here I was I back in Rwanda. This time not as a solo “greenpacker” but I came with a larger group, as a field course to learn on sustainable community based tourism models. The responsible and immersive experience offered by Red Rocks coupled by the feeling that you are actually travelling for good makes Red Rocks addictive, making you crave for the next hit.
How to get there
Getting to Rwanda depends on where you are coming from, but once you are in Kigali, you can take a bus or taxi to Musanze from Nyabugogo Bus Terminal or a taxi to Musanze from Kigali Airport. It’s a two-hour drive from Kigali to Musanze.
Options are available for renting a car for the whole day if you want to do a tour a round Kigali before heading to Red Rocks. It will cost you about USD 100 for hiring a minivan with a chauffeur.
On a side note, since we traveled by bus from Nairobi, to Rwanda, through Uganda, I came to learn that transit tourists do not contribute much to the economy of a country. My only spending as a transit tourist in Uganda was probably the cup of coffee I bought at a convenient store and the money I paid at the petrol station to access the washroom. That was it. I am speaking for myself here, I do not know the spending of other transit tourists, or the difference in the spending habits of a bus station transit tourist and an airport transit tourist.
WHERE TO EAT AND SLEEP
Red Rocks has three types of accommodation; the camping tent, the safari tent and non tented rooms. The food can either be served as local delicacy or non local . One unique thing I noticed about restaurants in Rwanda is that they looove onions and mayonnaise. Almost every restaurant in Rwanda serves food with onions and mayonnaise in the mix. I still can’t get it. The traditional food..to be continued
WHAT TO DO
Rwanda Genocide Memorial Center
After arriving in Kigali and before heading to Red Rocks in Musanze, we engaged in ethical dark tourism. We visited the Rwanda Genocide Memorial Center to pay our respects to the over 800,000 people and children who lost their lives during the 100 days Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The memorial center serves as a reminder of the evils of hatred against another human being and how forgiveness, empathy and tolerance can build a strong nation. We felt it was not right to take pictures,although we paid for it.
After our visit of the Rwanda Genocide Memorial Center, we set out to Red Rocks in Musanze.
Traditional Basket Weaving and Banana Beer Making
Leave Nothing But Footprints, Take Nothing But Pictures and Learn how to make traditional baskets and banana beer . We got to do some basket making, okay the ladies got to do the basket weaving while we the men, just watched because we were not sure if it would be disrespectful to the local people. The fun part of the activity was that our hosts, local women, engaged us in stories about the basket weaving process and what the different patterns meant in their society.
Finally something that the men could participate in, banana beer making. We first made the banana juice from “special banana” which we squeezed by hand using”special grass”. I was expecting a banana smoothie to come out of the process. I was wrong. The juice looked liked water. Our hosts, the local women scooped the juice, poured it into a guard, inserted bamboo straws and gave us to taste. Of course we had to toast. See the expression of our friend in the picture??It was amazing. The juice would later be fermented for 3 days to turn it to beer using a traditional pot and the sorghum we ground using two slabs of Stone. I felt like a beer making Mr. White from Breaking Bad
We were lucky to visit Red Rocks during their food festival week, lucky because not much is written about Rwanda’s traditional cuisine and most hotels in the country do not offer local so we did not know what to expect. We were not disappointed. Visiting Red Rocks during the food festival gave us the opportunity to experience a kind of farm to fork tour. We got to see the Rwandan women and men in action as they prepared their traditional food like “isombe”, a popular dish made from cassava leaves. Ever tasted cow skin served with beans and traditional vegetables? There is a first time for everything, bucket lists should not just be for places you should visit, but should also be for unique food you should try out.
Later on we were taken were taken to see where the food is grown using conservation agriculture technology. An agritour to see the Red Rocks Initative conservation agriculture program.
Red Rocks practices organic farming where all farming is natural including the pesticides they use. Furthermore they also practice both soil and soil micro organisms conservation during farming with very little soil disturbance. Seedlings are planted in bags made of banana leaves since plastic bags are banned in Rwanda. We learn’t that nothing is considered weed, it either has a medicinal value, food value or has a pesticide value. Rwanda is rocky country by the way and the farms have rocks, a lot of rocks.
During the farm tour we also visited the traditional medicine man’s hut. He was not there. I take this opportunity to advertise an existing job vacancy.
Buhanga eco park and Historical Site
“Greenpackers” are curious people, we also want to know more about where we are. So we decided to go on an exploration nature walk with no guide. Just us. We rented a bike from Red Rocks for those of us who were feeling sporty. We left Red Rocks followed the main road, mingled with the locals and ended up on a trail leading to Buhanga Eco park and Historical Site. To enter the park you have to book in advance and pay via Rwanda Development Authority. We had not done this so out mini nature walk ended at the entrance.
Board Games and Bonfires
Red Rocks offers the guest board games to pass time while they are waiting for dinner or their pick up vehicle. We played a card game that I would not like talk about and some checkers
My Sustainable Product Rating of Red Rocks
Attraction and Activities
When they say there is something for everyone at Red Rocks, they mean it. The experience is authentic and immersive. This was one of the most engaging fun filled experience I have had in a very long time. The attraction and activities match the needs of the responsible traveler on a budget, the “greenpacker”. Rating 10/10
Nothing goes to waste at Red Rocks and if there is unavoidable waste, it is properly managed. Rating 10/10
Community and Conservation Support
Red Rocks is one of the few unique, authentic and sustainable community based tourism models I have interacted with.Every penny spent at Red Rocks is shared with the community who they have organized into cooperatives and every piece sold at the gift shop, the money goes directly to the local women who made the piece.The Red Rocks initiative empowers the community to value and conserve their environment. Rating 10/10
Overall Rating 10/10
By the time you are reading this you should have already made a booking at Red Rocks Inter Cultural Exchange Center. Definitely the place to go while in Rwanda. If you are not visiting as a traveler then definitely you will be visiting as a volunteer or philanthropist.
Reviewed by Job Odhiambo