I got into guiding in Rwandan jungles because it was my passion; I was born and raised at my parents’ home in a place near Akagera National Park, one of Rwanda’s national parks. I always saw guides and tourists passing by and it attracted my ambitions. After finishing high school, I trained for guiding in that national park and I was hired as a guide.
I started guiding in 2004 by working for other tour operators, then decided to go for a Bachelors degree in 2008 in the department of Travel and Tourism Management. After graduation, I set up the Rwanda Eco Company Travel and Safaris, of which I am the managing director.
How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?
When I got the chance of working in the national park, I met a lot of tourists from all over the world and through this, I was happy to be a guide and gained a lot of skills and knowledge so that I could meet the expectations of the tourists. I made the decision of continuing my studies in the University of Tourism to increase my skill set and knowledge of the industry. After my university studies, I chose to become a guide for my whole life.
What does a typical day look like for you?
When I have to work in the office, I wake up in the morning at 5:00 am, prepare myself and drive to the office, arriving at 8:00 am. I reply to emails and all client requests and follow up on ongoing tours. I leave the office at 10:00 am and go to the field to meet people, and to hotels. At noon I go for lunch.
When I am guiding in the jungle, leading trips, I am with my clients 24/7. I get up in the morning at 5:30, and I first do a briefing with clients about the tour and then we start. I close the day by getting feedback about how the day went and also a reminder of what they will be doing the following day.
When I meet clients, I first read through the itinerary they will be using during their stay, give an overview of places they will visit and answer questions. When the tour starts, some of them want to know a lot about the area, so I try to show them interesting places as much as possible, while others want to enjoy their peace and calm. In this sense, I am flexible with my guiding according to their needs. My first priority is that I offer guiding that meets their expectations.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is meeting a lot of people from all over the world and taking care of them during their trip in Rwanda. It is fantastic for me when I explain and provide information to tourists about the different attractions we visit.
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?
One day I was guiding clients in the Congo Nile Trail. While we were on the trek, it rained and there were no houses around for shelter, but there were motorcycle taxis, where a motorcyclist transports a passenger sitting at the back. We made the decision to take them, although for the six tourists, it was their first time to go by motorcycle taxi. I had to explain how to go on [them with] the rain increasing. Normally it is a risk to use a motorcycle while [it is] raining and there might have been an accident due to the bad condition of the road of the trail. Since it was the only option, we took the risk and fortunately it went well.
The most [interesting] interaction with gorillas is to see them playing like human beings. When you visit gorillas, you have to keep a small distance from them, like seven meters, but because they are friendly to people, a gorilla [can] come and touch you.
Once inside the forest, the following [rules] must be observed: no spitting in the park; no littering in the park; no coughing in the direction of the gorillas; only speak in whispers; do not point at the gorillas; movements around the gorillas must be unthreatening; no venturing behind thick shrubs as you may surprise a gorilla; if nettle stings you, do not cry out, scream, shout out loud or make any sudden movements; if a gorilla charges or vocalises, do not look directly at it. Stand perfectly still unless the guide asks you to crouch or move back.
It is important not to cough at the gorilla because gorillas are similar to human beings, even their DNA, so someone can transmit a disease directly to the gorilla. It is important not to point at a gorilla because it can think that you are going to throw a stone, [and] in that case it might defend itself.
Rwandan forests have up to 300 different bird species – which is your favourite and why? How noisy is the forest, at night and during the day?
My favourite bird is an egret, I like them as they are white and they always fly in a big group. When they are not flying, they are most of the time with buffaloes. In the forest, during the day, they are calm and the same at night. Only when there are tourists moving with their guides or trackers who are in the forest, will you possibly hear some voices [of the birds].
Ever had any odd requests from clients?
One group of clients who were packing for hiking a volcano called Bisoke requested that I deliver champagne and other drinks along with their picnic lunch. What took me by surprise was that when we arrived at the top of the volcano, [and were] seated around a crater lake there, they opened the champagne to celebrate that they had hiked a volcano in Rwanda. We shared a drink with everyone at the top.
All travellers in Rwanda for the first time have to do the Kigali city tour and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Rwanda lost many people during the genocide, where one million Tutsi died in 100 days. It is necessary for travellers to do the city tour so as to know the history and culture of Rwanda before going to other destinations including jungles.
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are? In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
It is better to hire a guide because it helps you to save time, learn more and it is much easier when you have a guide, as they take care of the accommodation, food and safety. Also the guide can deal with difficult situations on the tour. Guides have a lot of knowledge about interesting things that can be found during the tour that would be otherwise unknown to the tourists.
A good tour guide should be familiar with the area; this includes places to go, things to do and all guidelines regarding the tour. They should be organised, [have good] time management, be smart, and sensitive to the needs of travellers.
Tell us something about Rwanda that only a guide would know.
A guide would know which spots are the best to see mountain gorillas. They should know the places where tourists are more likely to see a lot of animals while they are on a game drive around the Akagera National Park and they should know the best place to eat in Kigali City.