South African MBA participant, Frances Rousseau traded her beach vacation in Greece for an inspiring trek with gorillas in Rwanda.

Almost a month has passed since my classmates and I said à bientôt to each other for the July break. While some strong-willed candidates stayed in Lausanne for the consulting bootcamp, others pursued summer internships or were off to the beach.

As for me, shortly after the Digital Analytics week with Professor Amit Joshi, I set off on a 14-hour journey to meet my family in Rwanda. An unfortunately timed outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant in South Africa had squashed our dreams of sipping cocktails on a dreamy island in Greece together. However the chance to trek with gorillas and experience the vibrance of Kigali was a more-than-appealing alternative.

Silverback gorilla

The Kigali Genocide Memorial

I arrived in Kigali airport in the late evening to quiet, immaculate streets and was transported to a beautiful hotel. There I completed a 24-hour quarantine and awaited my PCR result. The next morning, I was delighted to receive news of my negative test. After a hearty breakfast of cassava-based gluten free pancakes (a staple of the Rwandan diet) I was off to explore. First on the list was the Kigali Genocide Memorial – a devastating but essential experience for any first-time visitor of Rwanda. It helped to remind me of why I chose the IMD MBA – to find inspiration and empowerment in difference. Without this, fear can turn us into the worst version of ourselves.

Plaque at the entrance to the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Volcanoes National Park

After Kigali, we made our way towards Volcanoes National Park in the northern part of the country. Navigating ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’ we observed villagers transporting impossibly large parcels of potatoes and bananas on old bicycles. The fact that the Rwandan national cycling team is an up-and-coming international sensation is not surprising! We also saw women’s cooperatives crafting some of the most exquisite fashion pieces I have seen of late.

The gorilla trek

Finally, the pièce de resistance – the gorilla trek – was upon us. We began our drive in the misty early hours of the morning. After an important briefing by the national park officials, we arrived at the foot of the Sabinyo “Old Man’s Teeth” Volcano, summiting at over 3,500 km. Following a two-hour vertical trek through the bamboo jungle we finally arrived, out of breath and slightly dizzy, at the nesting spot of the Susa gorilla family. I thought hiking in the Swiss Alps was tough – try the Virunga Mountains! Equipped with masks and fully sanitized (apes can contract covid-19 too) we savoured a magical hour with three silverbacks and a handful of juveniles.

The best way to describe this experience was one of true majesty. These animals, while frighteningly powerful, have an aura of peace and sensitivity that I find quite unnerving – perhaps even a humanity or ‘gorillaty’ of sorts. It’s an experience that complements an already spectacular year in Switzerland.


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