I’ve told everyone since I got home — if Rwanda (or Africa in general) isn’t on your travel bucket list, you need to add it. I’m not sure I can even accurately describe how amazing my time in Rwanda was. I’ll do my best.
I was on in Rwanda with a small group of writers and bloggers to check out the facility where kate spade new york makes the products for their on purpose collection. I’ll get into a little bit of that here but will be doing another post about it later in more detail. First I wanted to share a photo diary overview of my time in Rwanda with some of the photos I personally took.
The lovely folks at Canon let me borrow a Canon EOS Rebel T6i DSLR body and a few lenses for the trip. I have the Canon EOS Rebel T3i that isn’t in production anymore and I was thrilled to have the chance to use a newer version of the camera I’ve had for years. It was a great way to test it out to see if the advances in technology are worth me personally upgrading my own camera.
While I don’t consider myself a “professional” photographer (I mean, part of my job is to take photos for a living), I think these photos turned out pretty amazing.
We spent a few days in Masoro, the village where the facility is located. We learned the process, from start to finish, how they make several of the products in the collection, and got to watch the ladies in action. Sewing, beading, debossing — we saw each and every part that goes into the creation of the products.
The bright canvas tote above is a part of the spring collection that will come out in 2016.
We even had the chance to attempt to properly deboss a piece of leather with gold foil, and we all failed at doing it correctly. It’s not as easy as you’d think to make it perfect!
I love how the products made in Masoro all say “MADE IN RWANDA” — now I actually know the woman that debossed that very piece of leather!
The small town of Masoro has one restaurant called Isangano Bar. We feasted Rwandan style on goat brochettes, beans, roasted cabbage, rice, chips (fried potatoes) and fresh avocados.
And if you’re wondering, no, I did not try the goat brochettes. Everyone except me and the vegetarian in the group ate them and loved them. You know me and my picky ways…
In August (prior to my trip to Zurich) I bought a Canon 28mm 1.8 lens, and learned how to take a photo that focuses on something and has some of that awesome background blur. The T6i DSLR makes it even easier with a macro setting.
We also had the opportunity to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial where there are mass graves for victims of the genocide and a museum. I don’t know that I can even come close conveying how heavy I felt there. It was heart-breaking, and makes me tear up as I write this.
If you’re not familiar with the Rwandan genocide (did you see Hotel Rwanda?) here are the CliffsNotes (but you might want to read up on it…) — in 1994, it is estimated that 1 million Tutsi Rwandans were killed by their Hutu neighbors, friends, and other Rwandans, within 100 days.
It made no difference if you were a woman or a baby or a man — if you were Tutsi, the Hutu were out for you. Many people were slaughtered with machetes in front of their families. Women were raped in front of their husbands and children. People were forced to kill their families before being killed themselves. This happened just 21 years ago.
As sad and disturbing as the museum was, I was so glad to have had the opportunity to visit and experience it. 250,000+ of the 1 million+ victims are buried in mass graves at the memorial in Kigali, and there are more memorials all over the country.
If you go to Rwanda, I highly recommend visiting the memorial & museum. Don’t let the genocide scare you from visiting Rwanda. As much as it’s still very fresh for the Rwandans, it’s not something a visitor needs to fear for any reason.
After our time at the genocide memorial, we had lunch at Skokola on top of the Kigali Public Library where there is also a co-working space with a gorgeous view. I think I could handle working there. Note to self…shiny white floors!
On our final day in Rwanda, we went on a gorilla trek. Seriously. We got up at 4 am because it was about a two-hour drive to where we had to meet our guides for the trek. On our early morning drive through the mountains of Rwanda we got to see this insane view (above).
Probably one of the most amazing visual moments of my life — the fog in the valleys of the Rwandan hills at sunrise. It was incredible.
The fog in San Francisco doesn’t hold a candle to the beauty of this fog. My jaw was on the floor as I attempted to capture the fog in photos and video. Even the locals were marveling at it. Seems like something that even if you see it every day, it’s still worth your time to watch because it’s still just as amazing as it was the first time you saw it.
I was holding the camera out the window while we were driving (not crazy at all) snapping photos on the sports setting. We finally pulled over for a few minutes, and I was able to capture some amazing shots.
Back to the gorilla trek.
We hiked for about 90 minutes in several inches of mud. Not just any mud, but really wet, boots-completely-submerged type of mud. We finally made it to the family of 20 gorillas we were hiking to, and boy was it worth every muddy step. I would have hiked days for this experience. I was literally a few feet from gorillas of all sizes.
You’re supposed to stay about 20 feet away from them, but we had no option because of the topography, so we were all just a few feet away from them, and at times just one foot. They weren’t bothered by us one bit.
Before I got there I kept thinking, how is this going to go? How close are we going to get? The answer is — WAY closer than you think. It’s surreal. We were just standing there observing how they live their daily lives in the mountains. They mostly eat bamboo, lounge around, play together, swing from trees, pull down bamboo stalks, and cuddle with the babies.
If you are debating whether or not to bring your nice DSLR camera on a trek like this, I say ABSOLUTELY. I would have been so devastated if I didn’t. The photos and video I took with the T6i DSLR are so so so much better than the ones from my phone.
Honestly, I take my camera with me everywhere. I never want to see a gorgeous sunset, or be traveling and see something amazing that I want to share and wish I had brought my camera. Photos from my phone just aren’t the same.
I also recommend for this particular experience putting the camera in sports mode so you can take photos really quickly without getting any blur. The gorillas were moving around and I wanted clear photos and needed to take them quickly so it was easy to just turn the dial to the sports mode and snap away.
I’ll be doing another post about my experience on the gorilla trek and will be sharing more videos and photos from my experience with the gorillas, so stay tuned!
Two things I loved about the Canon EOS Rebel T6i DSLR camera that I don’t have on my own T3i that cannot go unmentioned:
First is that the screen is a touch screen. I know. It’s amazing. You can literally focus on something, take a photo, go through photos, and use the menu on the camera all by touch screen. This makes using it so easy, even for someone who’s never used a Canon!
My other favorite thing about it is that the camera has Wi-Fi. Yep. You connect the camera to the device of your choice. In my case I connected it to my phone, and then through the Canon CameraConnect app you can literally download the photos you want off your camera via wifi.
Being able to get photos from the camera onto my phone so I can post them in the moment is HUGE. Definitely a game-changer for me when I go on press trips.
I think I need to upgrade my camera now…
Photos by Meg Biram. Please do not use without written permission.