Beautiful Insomnia: Nighttime in Nyungwe

By Matt Payne

It is too bad that it isn’t call “beauty awake.” If it was, I would be a sexy bitch. Right now, it is 3:15am. I have been awake for about 45 minutes, despite having taken some kind of sleep aid at 9:15 after a glass or two of South African red wine. At 4am the alarm on my phone is going to start carrying on at which point, I’ll make some coffee of the Rwandan sort and wait for the caffeine to emerge victorious over the fog of generic Ambien. In the meantime, I will sit here in a crisp room under a down comforter and enjoy one of the most pleasant bouts of insomnia I’ve ever had.

Because I am in a rain forest, the air is quite thick, though here, unlike other rain forests I’ve been in (annoying things travel writers say), because of the altitude, it is cold. The air hangs, damp and earthy but with a nip I associate with autumn despite the fact that I am pretty sure this equatorial nation doesn’t ever see the leaves change. The chill blends curiously with dense humidity making the low temperature feel somehow more penetrable.

Dancing at the gate of Nyungwe

Despite not having a screen and at the risk of a nocturnal monkey (those exist right?), bat, spider, snake or any other African monster entering my room, my french doors which lead directly into a rain forest are cracked. Having arrived  just after sunset to the Nyungwe Lodge, I haven’t the slightest idea what is in the chirping pool of darkness beyond the glass that makes up 1/4 of the wall space of my well-appointed room. What I know is that there are many living beings like myself, who are  awake and most them, like my friends and I on a weekend, spend nighttime hours buzzing, croaking and chirping the same things over and over while saying very little. On occasion, something rustles around in the foliage. I wish it would stop rustling or alternatively announce itself as a very small and adorable, non-threatening mammal that is NOT being hunted by something larger.

I can’t help but think, as I lay here listening to the Rwandan night now fifteen minutes before setting off on a chimpanzee trek about how I’ve always dreamed of coming to this continent. This nation has a rhythm to it. Despite the many horrors it has faced, it has a vitality and a feeling of timelessness, the smiles of the people and the cadence of the music are as electric as the the shrill nocturnal melodies of the mountain. And while a whole new  verdant world of hikes and primates, culture and cuisine waits at the end of this magically restless night, if I could lay here and listen to the buzz of the rain forest a little longer, I wouldn’t mind at all. Being awake, at least for one night Africa, is a beautiful thing.