In wistful moments, when I find myself daydreaming about the faraway places that have seldom felt so distant, I often linger on a border region of central Africa.
To the outside world, it’s a place that can be conjured by a single word: Virungas. That’s the Kinyarwandan name for the eight volcanoes — two active, six dormant — that stand sentinel over the tripartite border of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. In between them, deep freshwater lakes, carved by millennia of tectonic shifts on the western branch of the Great Rift Valley, dot verdant lowlands. And on the volcanic slopes, which grow thick with Afromontane forest, live the 1,000 or so remaining mountain gorillas, arguably the most coveted wildlife encounter on Earth.
In many respects, these remote and geopolitically volatile borderlands might seem like an unlikely place to seek solutions for the crisis of travel in the covid era. But here, too, people are grappling with existential questions: Will the coming months see travel, aided by vaccine rollout, rebound to something like 2019 levels? Or is the rest of 2021 better viewed as an opportunity to reform and reset, to build something better from the rubble?