When they first come to Rwanda for gorilla trekking as tourists and wildlife photographers, the McDonalds had no idea whether one visit would not be satisfying enough.
They thought that like everywhere else they had been, their trip to Rwanda would be a one-off. However, their first visit triggered the second, and many more others as they had not only fallen in love with the gorillas, but also the beauty of entire country and its people.
The visits become a habit
Joe McDonald and his wife, Mary Anne McDonald, first came to Rwanda for gorilla trekking in 2003 and have since repeatedly visited the country and the Volcanoes National Park for sightseeing.
Thirteen years later, the couple last week celebrated their 100th trekking episode at the 3B Hotel in Musanze District.
According to McDonalds, coming to Rwanda to see gorillas very often was due to the fact that they are endangered species and the country’s beauty that appears to evolve every other month.
The McDonalds are professional wildlife photographers, and they have traversed the world for the last 30 years plying the trade. They sell their images to international magazines.
“We have seen the unbelievable progress month after another. It’s been fun for us for the 13 years to meet people who have become friends. Of all the places in Africa and in the world, Rwanda is the warmest place we’ve ever visited,” said McDonald.
He said that each time they visit, they bring along six or seven other tourists who have also picked interest in trekking gorillas and are contributing to the development of tourism sector.
All together, the couple has brought over 600 tourists, according to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) officials.
“We feel unbelievably honoured each time we bring tourists because we love Rwanda, we love the gorillas and we believe in conservation. We can’t thank you enough,” said McDonald.
The couple says that despite the many times they have trekked the mountain gorillas, their thirst is not yet quenched and they hope to come more often in future.
“We just hope we can keep on coming to Rwanda more and more often because we really do love it here. In fact, there is a book that we are giving to various people, it is dedicated to the people of Rwanda for the conservation efforts,” said McDonald.
He said they had spent about $1million on the visits.
For Mary Anne McDonald, visiting gorillas very often offered her a chance to be one of the people selected to name baby gorillas last year at the annual Kwita Izina ceremony.
She believes that the next time she come for trekking, she will have another chance to name other gorillas. She named last year’s baby gorilla ‘Ntamupaka’, which loosely translates as “beyond borders.”
“It’s been wonderful to see how eco-tourists are being used for such things in the improved world in this Musanze area. We have been able to watch children grow to become porters and trekkers, and it makes us proud,” says Anne.
“It is so wonderful to see Rwanda cerebrating and we’ve also learnt that Joe (her husband) is going to name gorillas during next year’s Kwita Izina. We are very honoured and proud of that also,” she adds.
Prosper Uwingeri, the Volcanoes National Park chief warden, said it was so amazing to see enthusiast tourists visiting the park 100 times, adding that the couple holds the record of visiting the area.
He said the couple has contributed to tourism development not only in terms of money, but also by bringing in other tourists, as well as letting the world know more about the mountain gorillas and the nation.