15 Jul

The last time I updated this section, I was in Rwinkwavu Sector, Kayonza District. I had been there longer than I was supposed to. On my way out, I saw Rutete Eco Lodge's signpost and decided to check it out.

The hardest thing about my ongoing campaign is to skip head-turning places and events because I always have to keep moving. Quite often, I observe something interesting and resist the temptation to stop by. Otherwise, this long tour will never end. 

If you are new here, I am on a tour of all 30 districts of Rwanda. This mega expedition will lead to the creation of two sets of books and documentaries. One will highlight my experiences, observation and encounters as a tourist on the ground, while the second one will cover the tour's community outreach program. 

The said program is implemented through donating books to community libraries, courtesy of stakeholders. The books under distribution contain my travel chronicles in Rwanda and other African destinations. The rationale behind this project is to promote tourism while giving back to my host communities.

On my way out of Rwinkwavu, I saw the signpost of Rutete Eco Lodge and decided to check it out.

When I walked through the entrance of Rutete Eco Lodge, the pages reserved for Kayonza in the upcoming book were fully booked. However, after an encounter with the owner of the establishment, I tried to figure out how to squeeze in one more piece. 

The owner in question is Julienne Toch, a Rwandan woman of Belgian descent. Before coming to Rwanda in the 1930s, her father worked in the former Zaire as a mining engineer. When he was transferred to the Rwinkwavu cassiterite mine, he got along very well with members of the local community. The people nicknamed him Rutete, which means big basket. It was his generosity during famines that led to the coining of his nickname. To date, old people in the area speak fondly of him. 

After his retirement in 1977, Rutete settled in Rwinkwavu permanently. However, he spent his last days in Belgian for medical purposes. Although Julienne studied and worked in her father's country of origin for a long time, her birthplace has always occupied a special place in her heart. 

Two years ago, she decided to transform the ruins of Rutete's old home into a luxury eco lodge. With help from family and friends, she managed to mobilize resources needed to renovate the main building. Then she added several cottages in the backyard.

Julienne transformed the ruins of her father's old property into a luxury lodge

After guiding me around the property, we had a conversation over coffee. It was at this moment when I made a decision to create space for the story of her emotional attachment to the community and the legacy of her father.

Found at the entrance of the Akagera National Park, Rutete Eco Lodge is strategically located. Since most activities in the park require tourists to enter the protected area before sunrise, it is advisable to spend the previous night near the park.   

Rwinkwavu Stadium is in the vicinity. It is in this facility where the first-ever organized soccer team was formed in Rwanda. The stadium will go down in history as the venue of the first-ever official match in the country. One of the spectators of the earliest tournaments, hosted by the famed Rwinkwavu Stadium, was King Mutara Rudahigwa III.

While touring Rutete Eco Lodge, I was shown the farm from which fresh supplies are sourced. Rutete's upcountry atmosphere and the creativity of its designer, not to mention its culinary delights and the allure of the surrounding attractions, will make me return to Rwinkwavu sooner than initially planned.             

Julienne is a passionate farmer