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Lucy & Michael's African Adventure: Rwanda and Kenya July 28-August 15

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Well we just returned last night and I can't concentrate at work (yes that's right, I had to go to work today!)...I'd much rather relive my trip so on with the report! Hope it's not too long or boring.

BACKGROUND
My boyfriend is a science teacher and quite the traveller. Being a school teacher, he has the summers off so he departs each summer for a new location (leaving me to my desk job in D.C.). Well this year he decided to apply for a grant from the school he teaches at. They offer travel grants to teachers...what a deal! He wanted to visit the mountain gorillas. At first he was planning to go to Uganda, but the more he learned about Rwanda, the more he wanted to go there. He also decided that it would be wonderful to set up a sister school in Rwanda for his school in Maryland. After hours of research an a 20 page report (complete with photos and background about the genocide, country, gorillas, conservation, etc.) he learned he got the grant! I had always wanted to go to Rwanda and we had been planning an African adventure for whenever I left this job to head back to school and we had a summer off to travel together. But now his grant changed that...and I wanted to go! I told him that if I could get a frequent flyer ticket I could go. But alas, no seats at this late date--this was May and we were going to go in August (the only time I can take vacation as I work in politics). So then I convinced myself to go if I could find a decent priced ticket. But nope, again no decent priced tickets at that late stage. I endlessly searched...Emirates, Ethiopian Air, Kenya Air, British Air, SN Brussels, you name it! Finding no tickets below $2000, I decided...well if I'm going to go than we might as well do something else as well! How about Zanzibar! Then we learned that getting from Kigali to Zanzibar isn't the easiest of tasks...so if we go, how about we throw in a short safari...a couple of days in Tanzania near Dar Es Salaam or Kili? Hey if we're paying $2000 for a ticket, we might as well see more than Rwanda. How much can a safari be?! I learned pretty quickly! For weeks the talk was budget...a budget that quickly kept inflating. I guess I just desperately wanted to go.

THE DECISION
After our decision to extend our trip past Rwanda, we contacted a lot of tour operators in Tanzania. Quickly we learned that since we would be available for safari in mid-August, the Masai Mara would be a better bet than the Serengeti. We also realized that it would be MUCH cheaper as we wouldn't need additional flights through Nairobi (as we could just have a longer layover from our return from Kigali). But it was hard to say goodbye to Zanzibar and the Ngorongoro Crater. After numerous discussions and an exercise where we wrote down each option and then separately numbered them in order of preference...we decided on KENYA. This is when we realized that this wouldn't be the trip of a lifetime, it would be ONE of the trips of a lifetime. We had to return to East Africa...Tanzania deserved its own trip. So now..let the planning begin!

PLANNING
First up...air tickets. We settled on Kenya Air (longer lay over so less likely to make the connections...and my boyfriend wanted to go home to England first, and Kenya Air let him layover in London for a month at no additional charge). Our tickets weren't cheap, $2200 for a flight from Washington DC-London-Nairobi-Kigali and return. The first portion was on Virgin (which made me happy) and the next on Kenya Air and the last on Rwandair. This whole trip was an adventure from start to finish...starting with buying the tickets. I found the tickets through some number in NYC. I couldn't buy them online. My new buddy became Patsy Singh at Kenya Air. I learned that my options for payment were credit card (with a 3% fee) or bank check. Neither option left me very comforted. But we opted for the credit card fee, felt more secure than sending $4400 by check to a random office in NYC. Sure enough Patsy came through, and our paper tickets (haven't had one of those in years) arrived within the week. She also hooked us up with bulkhead seats on the London-Nairobi flight.

As my boyfriend would be in Rwanda for 3 weeks before me, he was taking care of the Rwanda details.

On to the safari planning...After talking to lots of folks, getting quotes and researching on this board, we settled on Gamewatchers Safaris as our Kenyan Tour Operator. Gamewatchers was recommended on this board, although I'm not sure if anyone used them for a driving safari. They also were one of the few operators who could offer us a landcruiser without a HUGE supplement. Actually they have no minibuses in their fleet. My boyfriend and I weren't too bothered about where we stayed---but we just couldn't get our heads around a minibus. The planning on where to stay was really last minute and was pretty much determined by our limited budget and the fact that we were planning SO late. Maurice and Jake at Gamewatchers were patient, diligent and clearly had good connections. They were able to get us into places at the end of May for August! They tried their best to ease my worries...but I'm naturally a second-guesser, something I very much learned during this trip and hope I left behind in Africa.

THE JOURNEY
Michael left a full month before me, so I was making the trip to Kigali by myself. My first leg was on Virgin from D.C. to London. I was lucky and got two seats to myself...enjoyed the movies and slept a little. Michael was nice enough to book me a day room at the Holiday Inn at Heathrow, I owe him big for that. My 13 hour layover in London turned out to be the best thing. It gave me time to sleep, fix my eyeglasses (which had the wrong prescription in them thanks to Walmart...my own fault for going there) and shower a couple of times. By the time I got on my flight to Nairobi I was much more excited. The Kenya Air flight was uneventful, except for the fact that the individual TV's weren't working so they used the overhead ones, but there was no sound. I had a bulkhead seat, which I wouldn't recommend due to the nonremoval armrests that make you feel like you're stuck. After 9 hours we landed in Nairobi. Here the journey really begins. I was too early for my connection, so the gate wasn't open. My bags were checked through from D.C. to Kigali so I had little to do but sit on the floor outside Gate 4. My first introduction to Africa was the friendliness of people and their willingness to share their food...whatever little they may have. The passengers waiting with me were heading to Mogadishu and I had some nice conversations with some young women from Dubai on their way to Somalia for holiday! Soon it was time to board my flight to Kigali...as Imelda wrote in her report...something easy to mess up. There are no loudspeakers and you basically have to hope you're getting on the right plane. Lucky for me my flight there was on Rwandair, so I was pretty sure I was going to Kigali.

After 34 hours of travelling, I arrived at 10am on July 30th (the day of the election in Congo). I made my way through customs to seem my beaming boyfriend in the crowd (I hadn't seen him in a month).

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    Welcome back Lucy. How wonderful that we are going to have 2 fresh reports on Rwanda at the same time.

    By the way, aren't you glad you didn't get accidentally rerouted to Mogadishu?

    I would rather be in Burundi than be there! By the way, tell your boyfriend he is amazing for applying for and GETTING his grant! ;)

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    RWANDA: July 30-August 8
    Michael had been staying in very cheap accommodation for the weeks before I arrived. In fact he hadn't had a hot shower in 3 days. So partly as a gift to himself and mostly to welcome me, he booked my first night at the Milles Collines. I had heard it was overpriced, and yes if you base it on the look of the rooms it is, but if you take the whole picture...it's wonderful. We arrived, I had a great sleep in the comfortable room that he had selected. Apparently my laid back, easy-going boyfriend had changed rooms 5 times! He really wanted to make the part of the trip he was planning special for me. We had a beautiful view over the pool...had a fabulous 3 course dinner at the Panorama Restaurant at the top of the hotel, played tennis in the evening (renting rackets and the court for $1) and enjoyed my first day in Kigali. But honestly, I wasn't in Africa yet. The Milles Collines became our little sanctuary during our trip. The place has such a history...some travellers mentioned that they didn't want to stay there because they heard it was haunted! I really couldn't get over that. It was one of the only places that was a sanctuary to so many and where lives weren't lost. The people who work there are lovely, the food is delicious, the breakfast (which is included) is divine and I would highly recommend a stay there. Plus the location just can't be beat. I also heard that they are redoing the rooms.

    WELCOME TO AFRICA: July 31st
    All packed up and ready for our trip to Ruhengeri for our first gorilla trek on August 1st. Walking out of the gates of the Milles Collines was a shock! All of sudden, I'm in a city with people and vehicles everywhere. I actually am now in Africa (opposed to a caribbean island which is how the milles collines felt and actually a lot of rwanda felt). We carried our bags to the bus depot...a little enclave about a 5 minute walk from the Milles Collines. Michael had scoped out a matatu company that actually only sold enough tickets as there are seats (most of the matatus are filled to the brim). So for $1 I got a seat by the window for the 2 hour drive to Ruhengeri. I have to admit I was a little nervous, it was hard not to be. But the Virunga bus looked new and I had told myself to leave the planning of Rwanda to Michael (and I'm so glad I did). Pretty quickly I knew I wasn't in Kansas in anymore. I had to pee. There were no bathrooms nearby, so Michael in his sketchy kiniywandra asked a lady where a bathroom was. For 50 francs (10 cents) there was a bathroom across the road. With my roll of toilet paper and a guy who spoke no English, I crossed the road to the toilet owned my some other guy. He opened the door, filled a bucket with water and poured it in the toilet and closed the door after me. I was terrifed I was going to be locked in so really had to calm myself down or I wouldn't be able to pee and would be stuck forever! Clearly I made it out alive :) Onto the bus. The road to Ruhengeri was beautiful and I got to see the many hills of Rwanda while sticking my head out the window to avoid the strong smell of body odor that filled the bus (I later learned that this bus smelled better than most other vehicles I travelled in in Rwanda). We got to Ruhengeri and took a taxi to the market while Michael tried to find me waterproof pants for the gorilla trek. No luck. Onto to the Hotel Murhabura in Ruhengeri. It's a decent place, comfortable beds (if you get twins (the first time they only had twin beds and we slept well, the second time we had our prefered double and it sank badly in the middle, so unfortunately a bad sleep) and hot water. The rooms are $30 and the restaurant is quite good. The hotel manager also arranged for transport to the PNV for us ($50 which is the set rate). Before bed that night, we visited the ORPTN and ended up meeting the ranger that would be assigning the groups the next day. We learned that the Susa group was quite close (we had planned on trekking them at the end of our visit when I was more acclimised, but since they were close we decided to go for it tomorrow). So off to bed, with full tummies for a 5am wakeup call. Next up: SUSA GROUP

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    Yes, the Mille Collines, is overpriced and not the amazing... until you have been to several other more sparse, rustic guesthouses. Then the Mille Collines becomes a palace :)

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    Lucy, keep writing. I'll be in Rwanda in less than 6 weeks and look forward to hearing more about it. I also wanted to confirm the bus company you used was Virunga bus to get to Ruhengeri...can you tell me where you got tickets and caught the bus? I have been concerned with an overfull bus, but nice to know that some are not filled to the brim. Reading about your trip is making me so excited about mine!

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    travelling bug: It is the Virunga bus and it went from Kigali to Ruhengeri. The best idea is to ask someone when you get there where you buy tickets. But to give you a general idea it is near one of the roundabouts (the one where the ORPTN office is) and opposite the Tam Tam Bar. That's where all the private minibuses leave from. I'm not sure where the Virunga office is (someone on the street would know) and then they can direct to you the little enclave that the bus leaves from. The buses leave every hour until 6pm, I believe and it's $1 for one way. I'm going to start working on the rest of my report soon.

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    RWANDA-August 1st SUSA GROUP
    Well we woke up at 5am anxious to get to the PNV and with fingers crossed to be assigned the Susa group. We had an omelette, 6 pieces of toast and coffee (that's the Rwandan breakfast, usually without the omelette though). We had brought snickers bars and biscuits with us for the hike, glad we did and that we didn't bring a full packed lunch. Our driver, which the Murhabura had arranged, was out front in his toyota pickup truck. Now this driver was special. He gets the award for being the smelliest person we came in contact with. We gave a lift to another traveller trying to get to the PNV and he remarked that even with his head out of the window, going at 50 mph, he still could barely breath. Needless to say that joltingly bumpy ride was made even more enjoyable by our driver's serious lack of bathing. I was expecting the drive to the PNV be as bad as it was. I swear my organs were bumping around in my body! This drive is NOT for the faint of heart and I have to say, despite his smell, I was unbelievably impressed with our driver's ability to navigate what cannot be described as a road, but instead a conglomeration of bolders! I later found out that we took the worst road! We arrived at the PNV at 7am and were the first ones there. We saw our new friend, the Ranger, and asked for the Susa group. He hooked us up. We were surprised to see the other people who were assigned to the group though---I'm still not sure that they prepped them for the trek. The other thing to know when trekking the Susa group is that they are quite far from the PNV headquarters, another 1.5 hour drive joltingly bumpy roads at times. I originally thought the $50 payment for the transport to/fro the PNV was steep...but certainly not after this trip and the fact that he had to wait all day, or return just in time, to take us back to Ruhengeri after the trek. SO....the trek. The previous night we were told the gorillas were only 20 minutes from the wall...well they kept moving and uncharacteristically were about 2 hours from the wall when we reached it (that's quite close for them, but also unusual that they would move that far in only a couple of hours). It took us about 2-3 hours to reach the wall through windy, steep but not difficult, farmland. The hardest part for me was the altitude, having reached Kigali only the day before. Our guide gave me some eucalyptus leaves to smell which definitely cleared my lungs...I didn't even have to use my inhaler. We finally reached the wall around 11:30. We got a briefing on how to behave around the gorillas, although half the people weren't listening and our guide didn't seem to care. We also had 3 armed soldiers with us, on my next trek we only had 1. They tell you it's because of the Cape Buffalo, and it might be, but 3 soldiers in an area known to be frequented by interhamwe? I was suspicious. But felt safe, actually Rwanda felt safer than NYC. Anyway, I did not have waterproof pants and instead was wearing my convertible pants as they seemed more water resistent. I had hiking boots, thank god...don't try trekking gorillas in sneakers even if they are close! I'm also very pleased that I had gardening gloves. After the wall we trekked for 2 hours through stinging nettles and other forestry. Not as much bamboo in this part of the forest. FINALLY--several stings later, we reached the Susa group. I was so excited as I spotted my first gorilla in a distance hanging for a tree (clearly one of the black back guards). For those of you who don't know, the Susa family is the largest habituated group of gorillas, with 38 members--including baby twins who were recently named by President Kagame and the First lady. So anyway, our guide really started to usher us down to see the gorillas. Most people were standing around viewing the gorillas that were near us, but he kept wanting us to come down and move move move! As I walked down I saw a juvenile moving away in front of me. Our guide told me to follow him as the black back was about to charge! I immediately thought, why should I follow you then! You're walking into the line of fire! The black back is going to charge after the baby!!! And sure enough! After a slight scary beginning, we all are herded in (really that's how the whole experience felt, like herded cattle) to an area in front of a tree. We are not far from the gorillas, definitely not 7 meters. Under this tree are lots of mamas, juveniles, babies and a couple of black backs (including my friend the charger). I got to see poppy, the dominant female who knew Dian Fossey, with her new baby...but she quickly hussled off. Then, the frightening happened. Being that we had just waltzed into their territory, with what I feel was little respect on the part of our guide, the black back comes running out from the tree and swipes our guide! Needless to say I am freaking out, as I'm next to the guide, and I back up...into a bush of stinging nettles. OW!!! For 15 minutes my whole back side and legs are on fire. I'm also now terrified of these peaceable creatures and I have NO faith in my guide. I proceed to hide for most of the hour. At the end we finally got to just sit with them, something I had wanted to do all along, instead of being herded around like cattle to see different gorillas. I got to see one of the twins, and the silverback just relaxing. We also saw gorillas doing it...although I have to say that the male was pretty lazy!!! At the end, I again walked through a patch of stinging nettles and this time I could barely stand up. My boyfriend and our guide started pulling white goo out of these leaves that give relief and wiping them on my legs...thank god for that. Then boyfriend gave me his waterproof pants...and I felt much better as they protected me from the nettles. The way down was hard and we finally got back to Ruhengeri at 6:30pm. It was an exhausting day and my first experience with the gorillas was not what I was hoping/expecting it to be. I was proud that I'd seen the Susa family, but I didn't feel that it was $400 well spent. I was starting to question whether I wanted to go the 2nd time...whether it was worth the money. We got back to Ruhengeri and had missed our bus to Gisenyi. Now what! We could stay at the Murahabura for another night, but they only had $40 rooms and I just didn't want to be in Ruhengeri any longer. So we decided to just take a cab to Gisenyi. This was probably the dumbest move of the trip. WARNING: DO NOT DRIVE IN RWANDA AT NIGHT. While we made it to Gisenyi in one piece, I realized after we departed what a dumb move we made. So many things could have gone wrong...the most likely being a puncture to the tire of our taxi...which didn't have a spare. Also so many vehicles don't have lights. Glad we got to Gisenyi ok, but wouldn't do that again. Next up...Gisenyi and Goma.

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    Oh one thing I forgot. We're trekking in the middle of the Virunga mountain, we're past the wall at this point, and the French man in front of me's cell phone starts to ring! He gets reception in the Virunga mountains and I can't get reception in my office in DC! Well anyway, he answers his phone and proceeds to have a conversation as we hike along. I felt like I was in a very bad commercial.

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    Well Lucy, I am a little sad. Yours is the first report I have ever read that didn't seem totally enthralled with the gorillas and feel that the trek was worth every bit of the money. But it does sound a bit more like your guide's fault than anything else.

    <Body Odor quotes>

    Yeah, sometiems you just can't be politically correct about it. I definetly found issues with that throughout my trip.

    <what cannot be described as a road, but instead a conglomeration of bolders! >
    Good description.

    You had a REALLY long day if it took you 2 or 3 hours to reach the wall and THEN the gorillas were another 2 hours away from there.

    <on the eucalyptus>
    I could have really used that on my first trek!

    <actually Rwanda felt safer than NYC. > MUCH agreed. Certainly safer than Los Angeles.

    The guide probably learned a good lesson after this. You always watch the blackback. OUCH with those stinging nettles. I guess I really got lucky with two easy treks.

    I don't think I would EVER catch a cab in a developing nation at night. We drove into the Nyungwe Forest at night, in a good vehicle & seeing no other cars and it was still scary.

    Looking forward to your impression of Gisenyi.



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    Don't worry Wayne, my 2nd trek was an entirely different experience! Although I too was very bummed as I hadn't heard of anyone having a bad time seeing the gorillas.

    On the body odor piece, while there are definitely different standards...this man was a cut above! Our gorilla tracker, who joined us in our car actually remarked on it too! Another funny story with regard to body odor was my boyfriend's guide at Nyungwe. Apparently he was quite smelly too and at the end of the trek, my boyfriend gave him a tip to which the guide asked him, do you happen to have any soap too?

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    What a strange experience. Anyway, it's interesting stuff and some good tips for how NOT to travel in Rwanda. How did you get a taxi by the way? Seems incongruous somehow.

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    The hotel manager at the Murahabura called one for us...he was a very nice man who gave us a beautiful room the 2nd time we stayed there (that actually cost more than he charged us). I would definitely recommend the hotel as an alternative to Gorillas Nest, since it seems to be quite cold there and a little pricey for my liking. Although I did hear from another couple travelling with Volcanoes Safari that the Virunga Lodge was absolutely fabulous! If I return, I may splurge and stay there, if only for the view. I wouldn't worry about the hour drive to the PNV, it basically takes an hour to get there from anywhere else anyway...unless you stay at Kinigi Guest House or Gorillas Nest.

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    Patty, at the time I thought it was just that maybe I wasn't too taken with the gorillas...that it wasn't such a big deal to me as it was to my boyfriend. It wasn't until my second trek that a realized what a difference the guide makes...can't wait to tell you all about that.

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    Can't wait to hear about your second trip and about Gisenyi. I'm trying to decide if we should go so looking forward to getting some more insight from you. By the way, thanks so much for the info about the buses.

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    Lucia,
    I am so sorry your guide spoiled your first trek. He sounds quite the opposite of Francois, our guide to the Amahoros. I'm glad though that your second trek lived up to your original expectations and was memorable in a good way. I can't wait to read all about it.... which group was it?

    On the altitude, yes, both myself and Hubby found the altitude affected us a lot but thankfully I had my inhaler which I used as a preventative measure at 'the Wall' before our climb up. Also, on the armed soliders, we too were sceptical about the 'bufallo' explaination but like you, we felt completely safe.

    Can't wait to read more!

    Imelda

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    I'm really enjoying your report. Sorry the first gorilla experience wasn't the best but I'm glad to hear your second was better. Can't wait to hear about it!

    Sorry you had to return to work so quickly (I always have to also) but I'm glad you're taking the time to post this. It's great!

    Cindy

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    I think I'm feeling anxious and my BP is up reading this. I'm glad your second trek went better for you.

    I'm curious, after reading Imelda also say she needed an inhaler - is that a nec. measure for everyone? I don't remember Wayne (of many good tips and details):) saying he needed one.
    Look forward to the rest of your trip!
    Sherry

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    RWANDA: GISENYI August 1st and 2nd
    We arrive in Gisenyi at 8pm in one piece. We had decided to stay at the Palm Beach Hotel as it seemed the nicest in our price range (at least from the Bradt guide's description). I should warn you that the prices in the Bradt guide are outdated and EVERYTHING is more expensive than written there (with the exception of the Bethanie Guest House in Kibuye). Anyway, we check into the Palm Beach and are assigned a room that makes my boyfriend's face lose color. I think it's fine for a night's sleep for $30, but the sound of the generator, lack of windows and general look of the room, puts him off. He says, how about we check out the Kivu Sun! So we walk next door to the new Kivu Sun, owned by the same people who own the Intercontinental in Kigali. It's BEAUTIFUL. Looks like the 4 seasons to me...and it's $124 per night including breakfast...a lot steeper than our $30 including breakfast. So we haul back over to the Palm Beach at ask Jonathan, our new friend at the front desk, if he has any other rooms available. He shows us the one that's described in the Bradt guide...large double, ensuite bath, HUGE balcony facing the lake! It's really nice, nothing compared to the Kivu Sun, but definitely a omfortable beachy room. But we just can't do it for $65. Michael asks if there any other rooms besides ours for $30, turns out Jonathan misheard and that thought we wanted a room with a KING bed, not simply a double. So off we go to our new room. Perfect! It has windows, hot water, a double bed and it's $30. It's a little tatty. But as everything in Rwanda is, it's exceedingly clean. The floor is stained and there is plastic garden furniture in the room, but the sheets are so clean and the floor has no dust or dirt on it anywhere. I have to say that Rwanda wins for cheap and CLEAN accommodations. And it doesn't smell like a Motel 6. Anyway, we stay there and huddle under our too small mosquito net that night. We had dinner at the restaurant too, which we are told is one of the nicest, poshest in Gisenyi. It was good. My tilapia curry was terrific. Word to the wise, stick with tilapia in Rwanda. They rarely have pork or beef (even though it's on their menu) and the chicken has very little meat and lots of bones. I ate tilapia every night for 10 nights and I was definitely satified (plus it comes from Lake Kivu). Anyway, the next day we got up and decided to explore Gisenyi.

    We walk down to the beach and it's hard to tell that this is a lake, you just can't see the other side! To my right in the distance is what looks like a nice hotel. I ask Michael if we can walk down the road and check it out. So off we go, sticking to the road that runs along the beach. We can't get over the houses! I've seen nothing like these anywhere in Rwanda...they are MANSIONS! And they all have barbed wire. We start getting curious, why barbed wire here? But we continue. We walk for sometime, but we still haven't hit that hotel that I saw in the distance. And then, we stop. We're looking at Congo. Opps! We look at eachother and decide whether we want to spend the $30 for a visa to go in. We heard Goma was fascinating and the UN presence is everywhere so now would be the time, but money is precious and is it really worth the risk? We'd heard too many stories. So instead we just chill with the immigration guard for a while and observe the activity going several feet from us in the DRC.

    We then head back and walk through Gisenyi town. We head to the market, a great place to buy fabrics if you're looking to have clothes or a tablecloth (as I was) made. Just keep your wits about you in the market. Good to know some Kiniyandra too, makes people more at ease with you. We check email, Michael buys a meal from a lady's restaurant/house. He disobeys ALL CDC recommendations about where to eat and using tap water for brushing teeth...he claims this makes his body immune from infection. I lost this battle a long time ago...and I have to admit he definitely gets a better sense of life and people by eating where most people eat. Anyway, we head back to the Palm for dinner and start talking with 2 Dutch couples who are visiting. Turns out that they lived in Gisenyi as children, their father was a minister, and they were evacuated in 1990 when there were rumors of the genocide. Their parents worked in the camps and this is their first trip back. We tell them about Mme. Carr, the 94 year old American woman who runs an orphanage now near Gisenyi. They can't believe she's still here and now runs an orphangage! As children they spent time with her. So we're glad we're able to make that connection.

    Meanwhile, we're trying to decide how we're going to get to Kibuye the next day. This decision becomes ALL CONSUMING for the next 12 hours! And I think everyone at the Palm got involved. But I'll have to write about that later as I now have to get on a plane to Boston for a wedding I am in tomorrow. I'm supposed to give a speech tonight and I still haven't written it so I must stop writing this trip report now.

    Next stop--Gisenyi to Kibuye

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    Sherry--I have asthma, so that's why the altitude was hard for me not having acclimitized. The eucalyptus made a big difference though. If you are worried, request a group that is at a lower altitude. Honestly, my second trek was much better for my lungs as I had acclimitized and they were closer. Don't worry too much about it, I saw many different people coming to do the trek. Including one lady who asked for the Susa group who we called Smokey Smokes A lot. She was wearing an irresdient track suit, slip on sneakers, long hair down, and she chained smoked for the hour while we were being assigned. She I was worried about! Oh and the woman in flip flops who did the Sabinyo group :) Just so you know there was a 70 year old woman, who was not in shape, who did the Susa group with us. It was hard for her, but boy we were proud and she proud of herself at the end.

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    Sherry,
    I didn't mean to alarm you about the inhaler - I'm asthmatic too and Deck is a heavy smoker so that's why the altitude got us a little. We weren't wheezing or anything though!!

    Imelda

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    I don't have asthma, but I was feeling pretty awful on my first day of trekking. I definitely think I am more susceptible to altitude issues than my wife. I think if you have high blood pressure you are more likely to have problems. No one told me about the eucalyptus. But I did hide how bad I was feeling.

    When I was in Cuzco, Peru, someone gave me some "Inca Mint" to sniff. That was wonderful ;)

    Yes rooms in Rwanda were always clean and smelled fine. I must give them that.

    Agree on the tilapia. It is wonderful. Though I did have chicken twice at the Bethanie Guest House. All of their French food was GREAT.

    Congo border: I wanted so badly to get a Congo stamp on my passport. I was going to literally just go through the station, get stamped, stand in Congo for 30 seconds and come back, but I had a sneaking feeling they wouldn't let me leave that easily ;) And YES there were some incredible houses on that border. I really forgot I was in Rwanda.


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    Thanks for answering about the inhaler. I really don't have a BP issue and am in (semi)decent shape so it's good to know that an inhaler is not nec.
    I guess my BP analogy wasn't such a good one. I just should have said that I was feeling Lucy's anx.

    The 3 of you (Lucy, Imelda and Wayne) are a mil. times better than a guide book. Consider yourselves a public service. =D>
    Sherry

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    GISENYI-KIBUYE-KIGALI August 3-6
    While in Gisenyi we learned that the road from Gisenyi to Kibuye was awful and that even in a 4x4 it could take 5-7 hours. Plus, we didn't have a 4x4 and were planning on taking a matatu. Now I matatu was out of the question for me---I didn't want to be crammed in a vehicle for 5-7 hours without a chance to pee or get out and stretch my legs! So after researching how much a 4x4 would cost, my boyfriend started researching into taking a boat from Gisenyi to Kibuye through the waters of Lake Kivu. We called numerous companies that were listed in the Bradt guide and many didn't operate anymore. We called the Bethanie Guest House (where we would be staying in Kibuye) and they gave us a quote of $350. No way! Our only option was the Stipp Hotels whose best prices was $180...still very steep and I wasn't too happy about it...but we'd get a boat ride and get there in 1 hour 45 minutes, opposed to 5-7 hours!

    The Boat Ride from Gisenyi to Kibuye is something I highly recommend. The price was worth it as the scenary was stunning (I've also heard that the scenary along the bumpy drive as breathtaking). We were the only ones on the lake and had an inflatable boat with a motor. As we watched Gisenyi get smaller, we realized how large the volcano behind us really was (the one that inflicted such damage to Goma). Finally we reached Kibuye. I cannot say enough good things about this little lakeside town. YOU MUST GO!!! We stayed at the Bethanie Guest House which was lovely. For $12 we had a first floor room (there are levels to this inn-like hotel) with direct, unobstructed view of the lake. We had a patio, double bed room with hot water and TV. This was like paradise. The food at the hotel was also quite reasonable and of good quality. They could EASILY charge much more as there aren't many other options on places to eat. During the day we walked from the hotel to town, up to the Church (a genocide memorial where 11,000 people were killed) and back down to the Bethanie Guest House. You can also swim in the waters of Lake Kivu. This is a wonderful place to relax for a few days and I'd score it much higher than Gisenyi (although not as easy to get to from the PNV...but VERY easy to get to from Kigali).

    We had two nights in Kibuye and then took a matatu back to Kigali (which only took 2 hours). Be be aware the road from Kibuye to Gitarama is VERY windy and locals are known to even throw up on this matatu. Half and ambien later and I didn't have a care in the world...but just be prepared.

    The scenary is magnificent though on the drive back! That night we stayed (once again) at the Milles Collines. I had a $10 massage there with Odette...probably the best massage I've had in my life. It's not the most relaxing setting...but for $10 your muscles will love you after your gorilla trek.

    In Kigali we decided to do some souvenir shopping. We went to Kimilongo Market...took a motorbike there for $1. At the back of this market are lots of fabrics (for clothes or tablecloths...I had a tablecloth and 12 napkins made), wooden sculptures, wooden wall panels, baskets...etc. for reasonable prices. We enjoyed our time there and met some lovely people. Then we returned to the city centre to take the Virunga Bus back up to Ruhengeri for another night at the Murhabura before our final gorilla trek.

    Next up: Hirwa Group and onward flight to Nairobi to begin safari.

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    Hey Lucy,

    Yes, Kibuye is a nice resort town... or at least the area aroudn the Bethanie Guest House area is.

    After staying one night in the bunker of the ORPTN guest house & getting beaten to a pulp in Nyungwe, the Bethanie Guest House was great... even though when we arrived there was a power outage and the number of geckos was overwhelming!

    But the food was just wonderful. I had two different chicken dishes and a seafood bisque.

    We didn't go out on the Lake at all, but the view was beautiful and the staff at the restaurant was great.

    You did skip out on an awful road, but there are also some incredible views.

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    2nd GORILLA TREK: HIRWA GROUP August 7th
    Well after my first experience with the Susa group, I was anxious about seeing the gorillas a second time. It felt like so much money. But my boyfriend convinced me to do it and I didn't really want to just hang out in Ruhengeri waiting for him to get back. So we woke up again at 5am for our 6am bumpy ride to the PNV headquarters. Only this time it wasn't so bumpy! Turns out there's a better road that is currently under construction (though there still are quite bumpy bits, just not for as long as the other road).

    We got to the PNV headquarters and told the head ranger that we had to get back to Kigali tonight by bus (the last one leaves Ruhengeri at 6pm) so we'd really appreciate being assigned to a close group. Secretly we were hoping for the Amahoro Group, or Group 13 (since they have the most babies and I ADORE gorilla babies).

    Instead we were assigned to the Hirwa Group, a relatively new group that was formed when a silverback from Sabinyo broke off and took some females from several groups. The group has 1 silverback, 5 females (one is currently pregnant) and 2 babies. One baby is 1 month, the other is 2 months.

    We were a little disappointed that this group only had 8 members. What we didn't know then was how lucky we were to have Francois Bigirimana as our guide and how DIFFERENT this trek would be. The drive to the start was difficult as all the vehicles from Primate Safaris and Volcanoe Safaris kept getting stuck in the mud (our little toyota pickup had some great tires though!). Finally we just got out and walked the rest of the way.

    Francois, our guide, was FABULOUS. He was funny, comforting and incredibly knowledgable. He told us all about the farmland as we hiked up to the wall (which only took around 30-45 minutes). After we entered the park, we learned about the gorilla habitat and food...and had ample opportunity to try celery, other twigs and vegetation and use the squash as soap.

    When we finally spotted the gorillas, after climbing through bamboo, mud and over creeks...Francois eased us in. The gorillas seemed so comfortable with us and with him---like they knew we weren't a threat. We watched one female eat, about 2 feet from us, for 10 minutes. We then moved on and sat 3 feet from the silverback as he devoured endless amounts of thistle. We then went in search of the babies. In the meantime, an entire tree fell down as a gorilla's weight while climbing it brought it down.

    Finally we spotted the 1 month old with its mother. For the rest of the hour, we were transfixed on this pair...who sat and played and nursed only 3 feet from us! What a cutie with a huge head of hair. The mother patted her head, which Francois told us meant they were playing and the baby climbed all over its mama. We also watched one of the other females pick grass and dirt off the silverback.

    This hour was so different from my last and I didn't want to leave them...yet at the same time it felt right to give them their space. What incredible, peaceful creatures. When you look at them, it is like looking at a human.

    We got back to Ruhengeri by 1pm, so much better than the 6:30pm return from the Susa trek. We made the 4pm bus back to Kigali for our last stay at the Milles Collines before our a.m. flight to Nairobi the next day to start our Safari in Nakuru and the Masai Mara.

    For all of those considering going to or going to Rwanda...ask for Francois. He was such a great guide!

    Also, go to Kibuye and try to spend more time in Rwanda besides at the PNV. Too many people only see the gorillas and miss out on such a fascinating country. While the gorillas were terrific, my most salient memories from Rwanda will actually be riding a matatu and listening to the same song over and over, having dinner at the top of the Milles Collines, the boat ride from Gisenyi to Kibuye, having a tablecloth made in Kimilongo and discussing life with the women shopkeepers there, and watching the sunset with a Primus from my deck at the Bethanie Hotel in Kibuye. Rwanda was more than I was ever expecting and I hope to return...if only for the coffee :)

    Next: Kenya Safari with Gamewatchers

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    I'm glad your second trek was much better! I think your report is the first to have mentioned the importance of the guide and how that affected your enjoyment of the trek. It adds another consideration that I'd never thought of. Are the same guides usually assigned to the same groups or do they rotate between groups?

    Can't wait for the Kenya portion!

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    Patty--the guides always rotate. And I must say that after coming home and realizing what a celebrity Francois is, I wonder whether the warden would honor requests for him...but always worth a shot! After googling him...it seems he is always the one assigned to high-profile visits...Daryl Hannah, Bill Gates, etc. etc. Plus he helps with the MGVP (the Vet group) and the Karisoke Research Center AND Dian Fossey.

    One other observation which I don't remember is I mentioned earlier. I was set on visiting the Susa group. I felt like it was a waste to go all the way there for such a short hike. I WANTED the long hike and to see more of the scenery. HOWEVER...now I think the shorter hike is better as you are less exhausted when you finally see the gorillas. Just a random thought...

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    Lucia,

    What a wonderful take on Rwanda! I am glad your second trek went better. I would have been bummed for you if it didn't.

    Good for that Hirwa silverback for breaking away. The lead Silverback in Sabinyo is called Guhundra. he is the biggest silverback in PNV and seems to have no intention of giving up his position any time soon.

    waynehazle DOT com/eastafrica/rwanda/

    I guess it is not the quantity of gorillas, but the quality and yes the guide will make or break the trek.

    For anyone who is going, if you get this guy, whose name I think was Richard, you are in good hands:
    waynehazle DOT com/eastafrica/rwanda/digital_volcanoes/100_2257.html
    waynehazle DOT com/eastafrica/rwanda/digital_volcanoes/100_2357.html

    I don't remember this guy's name. I don't remember him beign particularily good or bad. I was thrilled with the Sabinyo's and they were in an open clearing, so he didn't need to do much
    waynehazle DOT com/eastafrica/rwanda/digital_volcanoes/100_2400.html

    I am glad you got to see more of Rwanda than just the gorillas. There is so much more to the country. On the Asia board, when people are headed to see Angkor Wat, I try to encourage them to get around the rest of Cambodia too.

    I too will always remember my time at the Bethanie Guest house having seafood bisque and staring out at the water.

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    Hey Lucia,

    Since you mentioned it in another thread I will post it here. Please tell me about your boyfriend's experience in Nyungwe.

    Sounds like he like ORPTN better than I did, but also found Nyungwe strenous.

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    Hmmm...I'll have to have him write a report on that. But when I asked him what were his highlights from Rwanda...he listed Nyungwe right after our 2nd gorilla trek.

    He originally went there to see the chimps...but found that there weren't any to see! Seems like that is regularly the case and that they move so face and it's really strenuous. He's quite athletic and wanted to do it, but the guide said that they wouldn't see anything that day.

    So he went to the tea plantation, did the waterfall walk and the orchid walk. He saw the colobus monkeys, but actually saw more monkeys (vervet) around the guest house.

    He liked the ORPTN guest house and LOVED the people. In fact, he left $200 in a drawer by mistake and didn't realize it until he was hours away. Their phone wasn't working so he was unable to call. He took a taxi back for $50 (thinking he had probably lost $250 now!) and the woman who works at the guest house started to jump up and down and was so pleased he was back. Apparently she had found the money and had called the matatu company, but he had gotten off at a different spot and they had no way to reach him. She was so pleased he came back and she wouldn't accept any money as a thank you.

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    Lucia, that's a great trip report. I visited Rwanda in 2003 and only did one trek at PNV, and it was great (similar to your second trek) -- in fact, a gorilla reached out and touched my leg as she passed on a path. I did a second trek at Bwindi in Uganda.

    Michael

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    KENYA: August 8-August 14

    As I mentioned earlier, what was really important to us was a private safari with our vehicle...and we wanted a landcruiser/rover. We didn't want to be in a minibus. I'M SOOOO GLAD about that decision now. The extra expense was absolutely worth it.

    The following was our itinerary.
    August 8: 10:45am flight Kenya Air Kigali to Nairobi. Pick-up at airport by Gamewatchers Safari and drive to Kigio Conservancy. O/n Malewa River Lodge with night game drive.
    August 9: Drive to Lake Nakuru. Morning and Afternoon game drives. O/n Sarova Lion Hill Lodge.
    August 10: Drive to Masai Mara. Arrive Ilkeliani for lunch. Afternoon game drives. O/n Ilkeliani
    August 11: Masai Mara full day game drive. O/n Ilkeliani
    August 12: Masai Mara. Transfer to Basecamp. O/n Basecamp Dorobo Bush Camp
    August 13: Masai Mara. O/n Basecamp Main Camp.
    August 14: 4pm flight Mara to Nairobi. Dinner and transfer to NBO for return flight at midnight.

    DAY 1:
    Gamewatchers picks us up in PERFECT vehicle. Sooo comfortable, a multitude of tires...and after Rwanda, I can tell if it's a good tire :) It doesn't have a pop-up roof, but instead removable roof panels (good...for sitting on the vehicle, bad...for sun protection). We drive to the Gamewatchers office and drop off a bag with them (so now our combined weight is around 30 lbs, excellent). We then begin the drive to the Kigio Conservancy (on the way to Nakuru). The Kigio Conservancy is a great spot. They have the rare rothschild gifaffe and a lovely spot. It's also a great place to go on walks. Unfortunately we arrive as it's getting dark and have to leave first thing in the morning. I highly recommend at longer stay at this lovely place.

    The Malewa River Lodge was everything I dreamed a safari lodge would look like and feel like. There are no electric fences, so animals wander. We heard a hippo and warthog during the night. The cottages are freestanding and quite separate from one another. They also offer camping on the property.

    Our cottage was BEAUTIFUL. It felt like somewhere to stay on a honeymoon. It was round with a thatched roof, HUGE bed, surrounded by a mosquito net...having a fire drill so TO BE CONTINUED.

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    "we wanted a landcruiser/rover. We didn't want to be in a minibus. ... The extra expense was absolutely worth it."

    Better safari words have never been said. I know that tour companies save $$$ by using minibuses, but if they give you the option for more $$$ get the Land Rover.

    That would have changed our experience completely the first few days.

    Looking forward to more from you.

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    Lucy,
    Nice to hear a report of Malewa. We strongly considered staying there last year.

    Wayne,
    To be fair, I think most of your initial vehicle problems should be attributed to maintenance, or lack thereof, rather than type of vehicle. I don't think I've ever read a report with so many accounts of breakdowns :(

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    Sorry about that, we were forced to evacuate.

    Anyway...about the Malewa River Lodge. We were staying in one of their rondavels...it had a thatch roof and was open-air (no windows or doors, though it did have bamboo shades to pull down). The front part had a little sitting area and a HUGE bed with a mosquito net all around it...not a hanging mossie net, but a box one that encircled the bed. We were told that there were no mosquitos at this altitude, but that the net was for other "flying" things. That should have tipped us off. Anyway, there were dressers for clothes, and also built in bunk beds! Behind the bedroom area (in the same rondavel) was the bedroom. It was very nice...flush toilets, great hot shower and a tub. Truly beautifully done, the whole thing.

    I was terribly bummed that we were only staying one night :( My disappointment was furthered when we walked to the main lodge for a drink before dinner. With only 10-12 other guests sitting in front of the fire, chatting and playing games, it was a lovely way to unwind. Fresh popcorn and great drinks topped it off.

    I'd heard the food there was excellent...I didn't find it so. It wasn't bad, just wasn't particularly good. I was also a little put off by the fact that there wasn't enough! It was a buffet, so the last couple of folks got no green beans or spinach. The cook really didn't cook enough.

    Now for the fun part...sleeping. Ha ha! I lay down on this gogeous bed and Michael makes the mistake of shining the flashlight to the top of the thatched roof. Hello friends. There are 3 bats. Ewww... But they are nocturnal, so they will probably leave AND they have great sonar so they won't be flying up our mossie net and into our faces.

    Now, before we left for Africa...I had prepared myself for all kinds of wilderness experiences...hippos, lions, hyenas, etc. This...I wasn't expecting!

    I'm laying on the bed and all of a sudden I head SPLAT and then feel SPRAY ON MY FACE! The bed has just pooped ON MY FACE! My boyfriend, not believing me, takes my place on the bed. Sure enoough, PLOT and SPRAY. NASTY!! There is bat guano falling on our faces.

    We then shine the flashlight and see that the WHOLE top of the sheet...what is between us and the bats, is COVERED in bat guano. In the morning, we discover a HUGE wet patch above our heads....seems these bats have been at this for a while.

    So our little romantic cottage becomes anything but, as we sleep with our feet at the head of the bed and try to sleep with the sheets over our heads.

    We let the owner know, but it seemed she was already aware of the problem and didn't know what to do about it. Michael and I suggested taking down the sheet and replacing it with something more heavy duty!!! I mean, she can't control the bats...but the bat guano falling on people's faces...that's something she can TRY to control.

    So while I'd give the Malewa River 2 thumbs up and I'd stay there again and recommend anyone else to stay there...I would ask about the bats first :)

    Ok...time for coffee. Next up...Nakuru.

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    Hi there,

    I've been reading your report with great interest and was so pleased to see that you'll also be writing about Basecamp and Dorobo. It's on my list for next summer but our outfitter seems to have difficulties getting in conatact with basecamp...

    siro

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    Oh, I would not want bat poop falling on me while I was sleeping, but you now have a wonderfully entertaining story to tell your friends! What doesn't kill you-well, you know!:)

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    Sorry, forgot to write that Patty. It was raining when we arrived at the Kigio Conservancy and since they only had open-air vehicles they wouldn't do the night game drive. We were disappointed but also really tired. Our driver was going to do one for us when we were in the Mara (staying outside), but we opted out. We were out ALL day every day and it seemed unlikely we'd see anything good. I'll do a night drive on another trip.

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    LAKE NAKURU: August 9th
    We left the Malewa River Lodge at around 9am on the 9th and headed to Lake Nakuru. It took us around 1 hour or so, but then we had to go to another gate due to a mix-up. We had a morning game drive down to the lake to see the flamingos and around the park and up to a viewing point. We had decided to go to lunch at the Lodge instead of having a picnic lunch, so we drove around the lake to the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge. We had lunch and checked into our room.

    I really wasn't expecting much. I figured it was probably just a generic hotel. But our room was lovely...and after 2 nights of poor sleeps (bat guano, sinky beds at the Murhabura in Rwanda) the Lion Hill was MUCH needed.

    We had a HUGE bed with lovely mosquito need (I think these are so romantic...even though their purpose isn't very romantic). The bathroom was nice, the place was clean and they even brought us a complimentary bottle of wine and a fruit basket!

    Actually...I secretly think that many people thought we were on our honeymoon.

    After lunch a little nap...we headed out for an afternoon game drives. We had already seens LOADS of animals...tons of white rhinos, baboons, impala, gazelle, buffalo. As we were pulling out of the lodge, Kamel started to book it...dust flying everywhere. He has a smile on his face but won't tell us where we're going. We pass the Lake Nakuru Lodge and see a couple of minibuses in the distance. As we pull up it's a sleeping pack of lions. Kamel gets prime spot and we wait. And suddenly they all start jumping into the trees. Apparently lions don't regularly climb trees in Kenya and our drive had never seen these lions in Nakuru do that...so that was a real treat. We watched them for an hour or so...as the minibus drivers got back as they wanted our spot and kept trying to get everyone to MOVE ALONG. This was the first of many times I felt like some safaris were like an amusement park...take the picture and leave...we were there to observe. So glad again that we had our driver and vehicle.

    As we returned to the lodge, I kept looking for a black rhino...I really wanted to see one in order to see the difference. Kamel turned to us, in what would be come in a constant question and later running joke, and said "What do you want to see?" I said a black rhino.

    Then the boys went back to talking and all of a sudden, a black rhino appeared! This was the first of my "spots."

    We returned to the Lodge, happy as clams. Had dinner, which was very tasty...watched a Masai performance...and headed to bed. We were leaving at 7am for the Mara the next day.

    After a glorious sleep, it was time to depart for the bumpy trip to the Mara.

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    What a glorious day Lucia! I am still shivering from guano, but a day like this makes up for it, tree climbing lions and a black rhino. I thought every black rhino in Kenya had its own private guards. This one was on its own?

    How did you find the buffet atr Sarovas Lion Hill?

    And yes, mosquito nets in Africa, not for romance, but for function ;)

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    Yes Wayne it was a glorious day...and the black rhino we spotted alone...no vehicles nearby. But we definitely learned how shy it was as it darted away quite quickly.

    We found the food at the Lion Hill quite good...nothing spectacular, but yummy. I particularly liked the Indian options. I was totally confused throughout my trip about eating salad and fruit. They had a nice salad spread and I ate a little...and it was good.

    Breakfast was very yummy. But what I'll never understand is why the coffee I had throughout Kenya was so bad!!! I mean it was TERRIBLE...watery...nothing compared to Rwanda. Someone please explain!

    Also, what's with the Nescafe? It seems that's what EVERYONE served. Please tell me a camp that serves honest to good coffee...I'm going there!

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    I don't recall having watery coffee in Kenya (and we drink very strong French roast at home). Except at one camp where I asked, I don't know what beans were used because it was always brought to us in a thermos or pot. The one time I did ask, they said the coffee was Dorman's which is a local brand. I didn't see Nescafe but I never went into the kitchens either.

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    Lucia,
    I THOUGHT I posted here last night but it either dissappeared or, the most likely, I never hit the post button (I'm blaming the flu drugs!).

    Anyways,
    I'll give it another go:

    I'm SOOO glad your second Gorilla trek was MUCH better than the first and that you left the Gorillas on a positive note and not the negative of the previous trek.
    And double EEwwww to that bat guano!!!! I seriously considered staying at Malewa instead of Sarova Lion Hill but now I'm very glad I didn't. Hubby would have freaked out with no windows or doors and that bat poop would have been the last straw - I think we would have ended up sleeping in the van!!!

    I'm glad you liked the Lion Hill and it certainly was heaven after all those bad accomodations (in our case as well as yours). We absolutely loved our nice clean room and I completely agree with those mossie nets looking romantic. We were VERY happy with the food in Sarova - did they have those awesome pineapple fritters while you were there?

    Your sightings were fantastic too - Black Rhino AND tree climbing lions!!! Your guide sounds like a great guy. And yes, we found Nakuru to be a little like a theme park with regards to find the amimal, take the photo and move on. When we were at our leopard sighting there was certainlt a LOT of pressure to move - I would have LOVED to have stayed for more than the 15 mins we had.

    It's a great sense of achievement when you 'spot' something first yourself isn't it!

    Can't wait to hear more.

    Imelda

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    The bat guano tale is a first! Unbelievable! Tree climbing lions are a fantastic find. Nakuru is not known for them I don't believe. What a treat. Your experience is quite an endorsement for Sarova Lion Hill Lodge.

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    Lucy:

    This is so much fun to read - I think I'm happy I didn't experience some of the things you did! I thought it was unique to have a bat crawl up my bat - I'll take that over poo-ing on my face anytime! :[
    "This was the first of many times I felt like some safaris were like an amusement park" I wonder if it depends on when you go to L.Nakuru - we saw other vehicles from a distance when we were there in February (more than anywhere but the Ngorongoro crater), but we never shared an animal sighting with another vehicle in Nakuru.

    Can't wait for more!

    Cyn

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    Wait, does Nescafe = instant coffee? If so, we definitely weren't served instant at any camp. Even when fly camping, we were served brewed coffee. Please tell me where you saw instant =-O

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    Cyn-
    I should clarify. I didn't feel like I was in an amusement park...I felt like some of the minibus operators acted like it was an amusement park. These were not companies that I've seen mentioned positively on this bulletin. These were companies with FULL minibuses of clients who were always talking WAY too loud. Anyway, they'd bring their clients in...they wouldn't turn off their engine...they'd snap a photo and be gone. We were sitting and watching these lions, from our prime viewing spot, for a couple of hours. The minibus drivers who were acting like it was an amusement park kept wanting us to leave, so they could move on by quicker. When we first saw the lions, there were 3 others vehicles. That number grew to 40! Then we were the only ones left.

    Patty-COFFEE. Well, I don't know what to say. Everywhere we stayed in the Mara I saw nescafe. In fact, I had to add nescafe to one camp's coffee--it was that watery! And nescafe is instant coffee...but that was the brand they had.

    Wayne-
    You may be right. Rwandan coffee is like a thick syrup. Ahhh... I wish I knew the secret.

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    MASAI MARA: August 10-14

    We woke up early on the 10th for our drive to the Mara. Kamel, our incredible driver, told us we were not going to take the road back to Naivasha as it was too bad...instead we would go over the hills and then head to Narok before proceeding to the Mara.

    Kamel had already proved his weight in salt as a driver/navigator...so we all set off. Our drive through the hills was fabulous...what scenary. I almost felt like I was back in Rwanda...except for the lack of people walking in the roads (everyone we saw was on a bike) and the lack of women carrying things on their heads or with babies tied to their back.

    A couple of observations about Rwanda that I realized while in Kenya. Pretty much every woman I saw walking in Rwanda had a baby. Rwanda has been having a major population boom since the genocide...it's a HUGE problem. Apparently, for tax reasons, the the magic number of kids to have is 17.

    The other observation is how few elderly people I saw in Rwanda. The oldest person we saw was in his sixties. This is eerie as it's clear why there are so few old people.

    Anyway, back to the drive. We drove through the hills and our 4x4 4WD was ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL. But honestly, I think it was Kamel who got us through those roads...they were all mud. Other vehicles were completey stuck and Kamel was able to get them out. This man was superhuman...he knew just which way to turn the wheel.

    I'm glad I had my airplane neck pillow though...definitely helped with the bumpiness. But just so you know, this bumpiness was NOTHING in comparison to the road to the PNV to see the gorillas.

    Anyway, we arrive in Narok and decide to stop as we really need to do two things: Michael needs to burn a CD (as we need more memory) and I need eyedrops (just basic artificial tears) as my contacts are sticking to my eyes (and I have daily contacts, so no solution).

    Now Narok is not a big town, but has a number of shops. I'm thinking...what are the chances Michael is going to find a place to has blank CDs to sell and a CD burner AND it all works! Much more likely that I will find eyedrops at one of the 6 chemists in town.

    WRONG! Michael's able to burn a CD, and I can't find eye drops!

    So off we go to the Mara. I have to say, I brought a full med kit and the two things I needed I didn't have...zinc to prevent a cold/flu and eyedrops. The only things I really used in my medkit were the ambien (I don't know if this has happened to anyone else taking Malarone...I know it's common with Lariam...but I woke up every night with a panic and then felt like I had to GET OUT OF MY ROOM! So the 1/2 ambien before bed became very useful), bandaids...I walked into a hammock at Basecamp, gas x and a thermometer.

    Ok...sorry, back to the Mara. So after 5 hours (we were lucky...it took others 10) we got to Ilkeliani. Took a while to find it...our driver didn't know where it was. We arrived, were welcomed by Timothy, the manager. Had a nice drink, checked into our tent and headed to lunch.

    I was already a little disappointed with Ilkeliani. I now realize that I wanted to be inside the reserve. I didn't like driving through Talek and feeling like I was away from the action. However, I have to say that Kamel thought out location was the best...due to where the animals were. However, we stopped one day at the Mara Serena and I was exceedingly jealous of the view, set-up and pool! Ahhhh...a pool would have been nice during those hot afternoons.

    Anyway, I wasn't too impressed with the layout of Ilkeliani. Our tent was definitely nice...just like the pictures I had seen...but in general I just didn't feel pleased with the place.

    So we headed to lunch. The dining tent was pretty. Our lunch was pretty terrible...pasta with sauce and peas and bean mush. Not too appetizing.

    That afternoon we went on a game drive. We saw 3 cheetah brothers...all with full bellies. The talek area was very full and there were tons of vehicles at every siting. We just drove around for the next ocuple of hours...not seeing too much. I have to say I was starting to get disappointed and the vast expanse of the Mara didn't have the same intrigue as Nakuru. My boyfriend kept reminding me that Nakuru is a fenced park and the Mara is real natural wilderness...but it was just so flat! These are just my first impressions.

    We head back to camp that night and head to the campfire where there are chips and we try to order a drink. Most of the people working at Ilkeliani right now are part-time so they don't speak English. This made communication quite hard...even for the most basic things.

    We sat around the fire and marvelled at the stars. We then had a performance by Masai men. After getting a talk about masai culture and hearing about the life of masai women, I opted out of a village visit.

    Then it was time for dinner. The waiter came over to our table and asked what my special dietary requirement was...I had told our safari company that I didn't eat red meat or pork and everywhere we stayed this hadn't been a problem or a conversation piece. Anyway, I told the waiter that that I didn't eat red meat or pork...but ate chicken and fish. He asked me to come and talk to the chef. So out of the tent I went to the kitchen. Suddenly I was surrounded by Masai (all with spears, I might add) and the Chef faced me. The waiter said...tell the Chef what you told me! This is all getting very strange and I feel like I'm in a movie. So I tell the Chef that I don't eat red meat or pork and that I eat chicken and fish. He throws his hands in the air and proclaims..."Well we're having chicken!" to which all the Masai applaud. Feeling like I've just entered an alternate universe, I walk back to my table.

    We are served onion soup to start (which is just brother, nothing in it), coq au vin for the main (which is chicken with soy sauce) and chocolate mousse for dessert (which looked like brownies made with WAY too many eggs that had been burned on the top...we tried it but it wasn't edible).

    We then ordered a picnic lunch for tomorrow and the Chef came over to our table and said we'd be praising his picnic lunch tomorrow night! He was very proud of his culinary skills.

    We headed to our tent where our bed had been carryingly turned-down...with hot water bottles and chocolates on the pillow. The beds were very comfortable and I slept well.

    The next morning at breakfast, Kamel came over to me and said that the chef had approached him this morning and asked what we had talked about last night...the Chef forgot our conversation. Kamel had been within earshot during the discussion about what I ate, so he was able to tell the Chef. Turns out our chef was drunk...and stayed drunk for the duration of our stay. Apparently he has a reputation for this...and that when he isn't drinking he is a fabulous cook!

    I also later found out that Ilkeliani is having management problems...thus why there were difficulties communicating to staff and why there was spotty service all around.

    Anyway, we head out for our all-day game drive. We want to see the herds and try to catch a river crossing. We keep looking for the herds...by the Serena and other places...but they just aren't there. Looks like the ones that had come over had dispersed. We're started to get a little disheartened as we are driving and seeing nothing!

    We cross the Mara bridge, see the hippos and crocs. Then we spot LINES of wildebeest...and they are moving towards the river. We decide to wait and eat our lunch. Ugh...the picnic lunch is worse than any other meal. He packs us each a sandwich (which is basically bread and LOTS of butter), potato chips, carrot salad, apple and CHUNK OF FISH. Now since we didn't know we had fish, we didn't put our lunches in the coolbox...they've been sitting out ALL day and this fish, which probably wasn't appetizing to begin with...was definitely not now.

    We hang around the wildebeest or a while...but they're not going to do anything, so we start to head back to camp. Not the best day...and we're exhausted from sitting in the sun for so long. As we head back to camp, we see a number of vehicles...in the bushes are 3 lion cubs! We watch them for a while and then spot the two lionness mothers...they look like they've lost their cubs as they aren't hunting.

    We head back to camp for a short nap before heading out again. That afternoon we head over to Keekorok to look for a leopard. We search for several hours...but no luck.

    A little sad, we head back to Ilkeliani...this night for a decent BBQ dinner. Turns out the Chef is cooking a bush dinner for a large group staying at the camp (by the way, the next morning all those who ate at bush camp have stomach aches). Anyway, we have a nice dinner and then head back to our tent at 9:30pm. It hasn't been turned down yet or sprayed...so we wait for housekeeping. Then we try to take a shower, but the hot water isn't working (it was better in the morning).

    Off to bed...hoping for a river crossing.

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    OK, well this is a bummer for me in many ways. First I am sooooo sorry that your stay at Ilkeliani was not only not wonderful, it doesn't even sound good.

    I found the service great and the food amazing! Location wise, I have come to learn that other tested camps have better locations where you are more likely to see tons of animals sitting in front of your tent.

    It must be the management issues... :-< no drunk chefs when I was there.

    As for the lack of animals, from the entrance by Ilkeliani, we started seeing animals right away. We were there in October and didn't see teeming masses of many many thousands of wildebeest, but we still saw quite a lot. In fact that first morning in the Mara was one of the very best drives of the trip. 3 of the big 5. (no rhino or buffalo)

    Can't believe you found somewhere to burn a CD! I didn't weven think of tryign to wear contact lenses out there. I am parandoid ab out germs here. I would be afraid to wash my hands with the water there and then pop something in my eye.

    Yeah, no old people in Rwanda :(



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    Hey Lucia, did you see this guy serving food at Ilkeliani:
    waynehazle DOT com/eastafrica/Masai_Mara/kodak/100_1153.html
    (The picture is grainy, not sure if you can see him well enough) I forget his name, but he was so great and polished. We loved him. He started calling my Dad "Chief", in deference to his age. This stuck with us through the trip.

    The next three pictures after that are the food we got served. Please tell me they at least still had nice plates! ;)

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    It does sound like you had some less-than-ideal moments.... but just for your information and for the next time:

    Did you know that Ambien has a known side effect of sleepwalking, sleep DRIVING, eating, etc, so it may have been your Ambien causing the problems and not the malarone! Just a thought! :-)

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    Wayne: Don't remember seeing that man...and your food looks soooo good. Ours did not look like that. I can't remember whether the dishes were the same. But we definitely didn't have the choice to eat outside at all.

    Cooncat: I didn't start the ambien until I'd had 3 nights of panicky sleeps. I'd wake up with a start and feel completely claustrophobic and like I needed to get out. This started in Gisenyi and continued. I thought maybe it was just something else, but it continued while I was at home (when I stopped the ambien) until I finished my malarone. Go figure.

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    MASAI MARA cont.

    So we stayed two nights at Ilkeliani. We had already had an afternoon and a full day game drive in the Mara...but we were a little disappointed. We saw some lions and cheetahs (while surrounded by other vehicles), but we hadn't found "the herds" and the ones that were started to line up were far from the river. Our hopes of seeing a crossing and really seeing the migration were drifting away. We also spent HOURS searching for a leopard, with no luck. We'd had such great viewing in Nakuru, that the Mara was seeming like a let-down.

    Well...that all changed.

    We got up early on August 12th and headed out in hopes of finding wildebeest close to the river. We figured we'd head back to Basecamp for lunch (we were transferring there that night and staying at their Dorobo bushcamp for 1 night and their main camp for 1 night). Anyway, since we didn't plan to be out all day, we didn't take a picnic lunch.

    So we drive quite a ways...to the opposite side of the Serena. We see LOADS of zebra and wildebeest near the river. Kamel, our driver, thinks they are going to cross as the zebras are up front and looking towards the river. But he thinks we have time. It's now 10am, and the crossings usually occur around 1pm (according to one of the other guides near us), so we decide to drive around the area.

    We're driving off-road (we're by Governor's Camp, so you can do that). There are no vehicles nearby. The day before we'd searched for our entire afternoon game drive for a leopard near Keekorok. So, we literally drive 5 minutes and Kamel says "this is leopard country" and I say, "there's a leopard!" A BEAUTIFUL leopard is sitting on top of a rock sunning itself. We watch it for several minutes until it disappears. My boyfriend is now INTENT on finding it again, but no luck. I'm soooo happy. We've now seen the Big Five, the boyfriend is so pleased and things are looking up. Plus...I'm turning into the spotter of elusive animals! I like that title. Also, it was so cool to spot it with no vehicles nearby.

    We drive a little ways before seeing a small pride of lions (no big daddy) hanging out under a tree. We watch them for a little while before deciding to head back to the river.

    So we wait. Some more vehicles join us. We then see a dead wildebeest floating down the river, the other LIVE wildebeests see it too...and they start to back up. Then they really start to line up and head down to the river. My heart is pounding! It looks like they are going to cross...and a juvenile wildebeest actually jumps in, gets pulled down the river and survives by jumping out on the same side it jumps in.

    Again, the wildebeest back up. For 2 hours they fake us out! Now we're wondering why they won't cross...it's a good spot, not too deep, not too high of a climb on the other side AND they are all out of grass where they are. Come on you stupid animals...CROSS!

    Well that's when we notice the truck. We show Kamel and he confirms what our fear is. The truck is BLOCKING the wildebeest crossing point. This stupid self-drive truck is parked right where the wildebeest want to cross too and it's in their way. So now Kamel is trying to communicate to one of the Serena vehicles on the other side of the river to ask the self-drive truck to move. After several minutes and hysterical hand-waving, the truck moves.

    So we wait. The wildebeest start moving for the river again, and then back up. Then half of them start going the other way. What the hell is going on?

    Suddenly a couple of vehicles start churning up dust and driving away and one driver turns to Kamel and tells them that they're crossing somewhere else close-by.

    So we drive like the dickens...suddenly we're driving through LINES of wildebeest. As far as the eye can see...we've found the herds and they are now crossing the Mara to the Serena side. We pull in next to about 5 vehicles and don't have a clear shot with the camera. Kamel immediately sees that it's not a good position and pulls us away. We're worried we're going to miss it, but Kamel is the master so we go with him. Again we're driving through herds of galloping gnus! We pull into a spot and have a DIRECT view of the river with no other vehicles. I don't know how that man does it...maybe it's his 25 years of experience and the fact that he is the guy who drove Michael Palin when he filmed his documentary...so he has a keen eye.

    We sit there and watch them for an hour or so. We see two separate crossings of the area. We don't see any croc attacks as the crocs have probably all eaten in early crossings. But we do see a croc with a wildebeest in its mouth.

    It's now 2:30pm and we're quite far from Talek and we're STARVING. We left camp at 7am and haven't had anything to eat. We want to go to Governors for lunch, but we're supposed to be staying at Basecamp bushcamp that night...and we don't know what time we're supposed to be there, so we head back to Basecamp.

    We arrive there at 4pm only to find that their headquarters have messed up our reservation...instead of staying at Bushcamp tonight, they've put us there tomorrow night. We think they did this so that they could take a reservation for their maincamp as it was full. What they didn't know when they did that was that we specifically picked Basecamp because we could fly camp on our 2nd to last (not our last) night. I didn't want to have a bucket shower before our 30 hour return journey. We didn't have a day room in Nairobi set-up.

    Anyway, I was exhausted and starving. Basecamp brought us some small sandwiches and biscuits (as it was 4pm their kitchen was closed). So
    after an hour of back and forth, the management at Bush camp was able to keep our original reservation. Phew. I have to say that I was DEFINITELY impressed with the staff at Bushcamp--they really tried to make it all work for us.

    So at around 5pm we headed off for Bushcamp and decided to do a safari walk in the morning instead of that afternoon (as we were soooo tired). So we drove up to their Dorobo Bushcamp...which is in a completely beautiful and private setting. They had 6 tents, but only 2 were full (there were only 5 guests), a dining tent, a toilet tent with a long-drop toilet (but a real toilet seat) and a bucket-shower tent. There are chairs around the campfire. The place is stunning! I highly recommend it!

    So we have a G&T and sit in front of the campfire and watch the sun go down. The stars are incredible, so Michael takes some long-exposure pics of the stars. We then move to the dining tent for dinner. The food was soooo good. I was completely impressed at what the chef prepared by himself with his limited kitchen...it was 10x better than Ilkeliani. Plus it was sooo fast!

    We then headed back to the campfire before curling up in our tent. The tents have 2 cots with warm, cozy blankets. We just pushed our cots together. Two Masai stay awake and guard the tents and take you to the bathroom during the night. One of the other women staying there went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and they saw a lion! I heard hyenas and zebra. The night before the zebra was chased by the lion into camp!!!

    Anyway, I felt completely safe and slept better there than I did anywhere else. Patty, I think that might just be the case about fly camp...as I know you said you slept wonderfully there too!

    The next morning Michael went with 2 Masai on a safari walk and I decided to sleep in. It was wonderful to just relax until 9am. I took a shower and then we had breakfast under an acacia tree. This was how I dreamed a safari would be!

    The three other women staying there had stayed at Bushcamp the whole time, 4 nights. I wish I'd stayed there more.

    Kamel picked us up at 9:30am and we decided to head back to Basecamp to relax and then go on an afternoon game drive.

    Our tent at Basecamp Maincamp was #4 and was sooo lovely. It had a double bed and a twin bed...a huge veranda with hammock and chairs facing the river. It also has an outdoor shower that faces the river! We saw warthogs and baboons while showering.

    I really liked the eco-qualities of Basecamp. They make such an effort at leaving a minimal footprint and contributing to the community and environment. And it adds to the quality of the camp! The toilets aren't flush...but they don't smell because of the care they have taken to separate out the liquid from solid waste and to clean them regularly. The showers are hot and not bucket showers.

    The food at main camp was delicious and the dining area is a wonderful viewing spot. We saw giraffes across the river. The layout of the camp is really nice and the staff were friendly, knowledgable and a lot of fun. We really enjoyed our stay there and next time I'd stay there the whole time, if we stayed in that part of the Mara. I must say though that drinks at Basecamp were pricey! Much more than anywhere else we stayed...and sundowners were not included.

    Their giftshop is also lovely.

    That afternoon we headed out on a gamedrive. Kamel asked what we wanted to see and I said a kill. We drove to another corner of the Mara when we pass a vehicle that has just seen a mama cheetah with 2 cubs. We find them under a tree and the cubs are 1 week old! So cute. What mohawks!!!

    Anyway, the mama cheetah walks out from the tree and we notice that she looks hungry. So we decide to stake her out. For several hours we watch as she tries to find a proper hiding spot for her cubs. We're the only vehicle, until Cheetah One (a conservation vehicle) turns up. Then a couple of others join us...there are only about 4 vehicles though. We watch and watch as the mama creeps down into the valley to try and kill a thompson's gazelle. Then she goes out of view.

    We can't offroad where we are, so we're quite far from her. Kamel tells us that she needs to be about 20 feet from the gazelle before she goes for it. It looks like she's farther. It's been an hour or so since she left the cubs, which is quite long for a cheetah we learn. Now it's getting late...it's about 5:20 and we have at least an hour drive to the Talek gate. Kamel says we have to leave shortly. Michael is videoing and says into the video camera "come on Cheetah, we only have 10 minutes," to which Kamel says, "actually we only have 2!" At that exact moment, the Cheetah gets up and charges towards the gazelle. The speed was incredible!!! Unfortuntely though we don't see her catch the gazelle as it occurs behind a bush that is blocking our view...but a couple of other vehicles see the kill (they miss the chase though). Cheetah One lets all of us go off-road to see the kill up close. So down we go and see the Cheetah with the gazelle in its mouth.

    She's so tired, but now it's time to get the cubs. She starts calling out for them...and then gets more frantic as they aren't appearing. Suddenly, from the tall grasses they start trotting down towards mama.

    They join her, but they can't eat as she hasn't ripped it open yet and their teeth aren't strong enough.

    We don't get to see them eating as we HAVE to get out of the reserve. So off we go. We are happy as clams and Kamel just can't believe what we've seen: a black rhino, tree climbing lions, a leopard, a river crossing, a kill with cheetah cubs! He's beside himself and starts saying how everything we ask for we get! He wants to know what I want to see now! I say a lion with a kill and then hyenas trying to steal the kill. Ha! Good luck with that. But tomorrrow brings a lion with a fresh wildebeest kill...so we're able to see it eat and boy what a sight that was! We also saw 3 1 week old lion cubs playing.

    While our first day and a half in the Mara was disappointing...it completely turned around! I also started to appreciate the Mara for what it is...a wilderness....it makes spotting things all the more special.

    Our last day we only had a morning game drive as Kamel had to drive back to Nairobi. So that afternoon we lounged around at camp until 2:30 when they (the whole management staff!) drove us to the airstrip. We are told that our flight is at 4pm on safarilink. But we don't have tickets. Gamewatchers told us we'd be on the pilot's manifest. We arrive at around 3:30 at the airstrip and see a safari link plane TAKE OFF. I'm a little nervous as I'm wondering if it's our plane, but the Basecamp Manager assures me that they NEVER leave early.

    Ok. So we sit there and sit there and sit there. Around 4:30 another safari link plane lands. I'm surprised because Kamel told us we'd be on a twin prop 25 seater plane and this is a single prop 12 seater. We approach the pilot who says he's only dropping off but that another planes is on its way. I ask whether he can just check the manifest to make sure we're on the next plane. Nope! Our names aren't there. So he calls HQ who says that they don't have us down and that the next plane isn't stopping in the Mara. Luckily this pilot's plane has room so they put us on---he first asked me who our safari company was and when I told him Gamewatchers he said to get on---that indicated to me that they had good dealings with that company. So we get on the plane...smallest I've ever been on and head to Nairobi.

    We land at Wilson and Ben from Gamewatchers is there to pick us up. Turns out we got on the WRONG plane. We're supposed to be on Air Kenya NOT Safari link. Well the Gamewatchers office had told us Safari link, but there is no name on the itinerary...something I think they'll change in the future.

    Now we don't really know at this point about the terrorist plot. All we know is that there was some plot to blow up planes mid-air with liquids and it has something to do with Heathrow.

    We decide to wait until we get to the airport to ask what we can and can't bring.

    We head to the Carnivore for dinner...big mistake. We thought it was $15 a plate and it's $30. That's fine for Michael who eats red meat, but stupid for me since I don't. This turns out to be a $70 meal! Which seems ridiculous for what we got. Too bad...we could've bought more souvenirs at the African Heritage Shop next door (I did some serious damage there and wish I had bought much more). That's my big regret of the trip...I didn't buy enough for myself or others. When I got home, I kept most of the things that I was going to give to my mom!

    Anyway, we arrive at NBO for our midnight flight to London. No one really knows what you can carry on, so we check EVERYTHING except my eyeglasses and prescriptions and a book. We go through security with Kenya Air. They are supposed to be patting everyone down and going through everyone's bags. Well they are patting everyone down, but the guy who is supposed to be going through bags is so intently reading the prohibited items list (which is 5 days out of the date) that he isn't going through bags. We get through and wonder how all these people are carrying on backpacks. Well, whatever, hopefully our delicate souvenirs and memory cards and CDs will make it. Fingers crossed.

    We get through to the waiting area and this is where Kenya Air really fails. It's soooo hot. The AC is broken and we have 3 hours to wait. Plus...what are they showing on TV with the volume WAY UP...a movie about terrorists blowing up aircraft. Way to go Kenya Air. The children on my flight look so scared.

    We arrive in London a little haggard and this is where we learn what the plot really is...blow up planes from Heathrow to the US. Great we're flying to Dulles. Well there's nothing to do but wait for several hours. Security is unbelieveable and the lines are soooo long. But it's still nothing like it was 2 days prior (this is now August 15th). We go through the 100% security. Actually we went through security 3 times and we were only connecting flights.

    So we get on the plane (Virgin) and we sit there for 2 hours until we're cleared by TSA. Of course this makes me nervous as I know that the reason for the hold-up is that TSA is checking the roster of people on our plane. Nice.

    Finally we're cleared and away we go. We arrive in DC 2 hours late. The luggage comes out fast, but we're missing a bag...and this one has ALL our souvenirs and 1 CD of pictures. Plus it has our house keys (that was smart of us :)) and my cell phone.

    We finally make it back to our apartment at 7pm, exhausted, but glad to be home safe. Two days later our bag arrives!

    Up Next: Summary and Recommendations

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    WHEW! We can't have someone leaving the Masai Mara and not being thrilled.

    You summed it well, the Mara is wilderness, not an enclosed park like Nakuru, so when you find a leopard in the Mara that is really saying something!

    Looking forward to seeing those pics of the crossing. Good decision to forgo going back for lunch and staying out there. A little hunger builds character ;)

    Carnivore Restaurant not a good place for a vegetarian :)

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    Sorry your stay at Ilkeliani was lousy. I hope they get their management problems sorted out.

    Glad you enjoyed Basecamp and their fly camp. I see you got a river front tent too. Yep, I slept like a baby every night while camping.

    Glad your luck turned around in the Mara too. I was starting to worry that you'd leave disappointed.

    The wrong plane thing is hilarious. At least you got on A plane!

    Looking forward to your summary. I might have missed it somewhere, but will you be posting photos?

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    I'm sad to finally finish this ridiculously long trip report, because it means that my trip has finally come to an end...boo hoo. But I will be forever changed by this trip...it wasn't just a vacation for me, but an opportunity to reassess what is really important. For the first time in a long time, I feel "unstuck" and ready to move forward with things. You never know what travelling will do to you! On that note...here's my summary and recommmendations.

    RWANDA (Kigali, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Kibuye) and KENYA (Nakuru and Masai Mara)

    All I could think about while on this trip, especially while on safari, was that my parents had never done this! I can't imagine going through life without seeing what we saw. (Wayne, good for you for convincing your parents to go with you!) If you're on the fence about going...GO!!! All the money in the world is worth it...and this is coming from the girl who made the mistake of counting up the total cost (clothes, meds, shots, etc) before she went. I'd still pay thousands more for this experience.

    Kenya was a wildlife trip. Rwanda was a trip into the heart of the country. While I LOVED my time in Kenya and learned so much about animals and had a great time...Rwanda is what changed me. I was stretched to try new things and be out of my comfort zone and boy did it pay off. If you can travel in buses and stay at more local places...do it, you'll be rewarded with the depth of experience.

    RECOMMENDATIONS (things I struggled with before the trip)

    PRIVATE SAFARI WITH DRIVER
    We decided to have our own vehicle and driver for the trip. This has pluses and minuses. The plus for us was that we had complete control over our days...and ended up spending almost all day in the Mara. We'd leave around 7am and head back to camp around 7pm. However, the benefit to using the camp vehicles is that the guide knows very well where the animals are at that moment. While our guide was fabulous and definitely asked other guides where certain animals ie. the herds were, I can imagine that that isn't always the case. Also now that we've seen all that we have, I think on our next trip we'll want to be a little more relaxed and may end up doing a fly-in safari and using the camp vehicles for game drives. But it sure would frustrate me to have to leave a siting because others were getting restless.

    VEHICLE.
    For me this is a no-brainer. I can't imagine spending the amount of time we did in a minibus. I also can't imagine a minibus getting over some of the roads that we travelled. I know others have gone on a driving safaris in a minibus and enjoyed it. I just felt that the landcruiser was worth EVERY penny. Also the vehicle does make a HUGE difference...if you're in it all day every day. We were never delayed due to our vehicle...we never had a flat tire or a puncture. That says a lot about the company and the care they give to their vehicles...and also to our driver who was caring for it/cleaning it when we were at camp.

    LOCATION OF CAMP.
    If I did it again, I'd stay inside the Mara. Something Eben wrote a while ago struck me throughout my stay...when he summed up the different experiences people are looking for. I LOVED Basecamp and I would definitely stay there again...but there's something about being in the reserve that is just special...and if you want to see animals walking around your camp...which I did, than you should pick a place where that happens (we had baboons, vervet monkeys and warthogs at basecamp, but no elephants...like those at little governors).

    RANDOM PIECES OF ADVICE

    ITINERARY
    I didn't pay attention to the details of our itinerary...all I cared about was where we stayed and our game drives. I should have paid more attention to picnic lunches or activities available at the places we stayed (like Malewa) to make the most use of our time, experience.

    MONEY FOR RWANDA
    For Rwanda, you need to carry cash...there's really no other way. The big hotels take credit cards, so we paid our bill at the Milles Collines with a credit card. I had been told not to bring $100s as they are the most counterfeited bill so they are not accepted. This isn't true. In fact you get a better exchange rate off a $100 or a $50. I'd leave ALL my $1s at home next time. We brought them all back with us.

    MONEY FOR KENYA
    I'd bring NO US $ for Kenya. I'd take out all the money at the ATM in Nairobi in Ksh...you get a better rate and people like it better anyway.

    TIPS and GIFTS
    You'll tip your driver more than you think you will.

    I only brought two gifts: a Red Sox cap for our driver and for our safari coordinator. Those went over well and I didn't feel like I needed more gifts...tips are more appreciated anyway when appropriate.

    PACKING..what I didn't need...
    Bandana
    Bug spray (used the DEET wipes and only 1 container)
    2 packets of handiwipes (1 will do)
    travel toilet paper
    Just safari colors...you're in a vehicle. I think it's more of a waste of money (especially travel clothing...my regular clothing dried really fast in the heat of the day)

    PACKING...what I'd so glad I had...
    braided clothesline
    baggie of Tide powder detergent
    Native Eye poloraized sunglasses
    Hooded zip-up sweatshirt AND fleece
    Sneakers AND sandals
    Ambien!!!
    Thermometer

    PACKING...what I wish I had...
    Cold-preventative medicine...like zinc
    Eye drops

    REGRETS
    I wish we'd taken more pictures of the two of us, the general landscape, people, culture, etc. I love our pictures of animals...but it would be nice to show people a complete picture of our experience.

    I wish I'd bought more souvenirs. I ended up keeping a lot of things that I bought for my mom, because I just didn't buy much for myself.

    THANKS
    Thank you everyone for all your help while we were planning this trip...especially Patty who emailed back and forth with me about camps.

    It's also so nice to have this forum to relive the trip! It makes it still so real.

    I'm going to try to post some pictures...right now we have over 1000, so it may take me a little while.






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    Lucy,

    I am happy but also sad. I am sad your MARVELOUS report has come to an end. But I feel the satisfaction I feel after a great meal.

    #1 advice for everyone - of course be financially reasonable as you make plans and arrangements, but once you do, DON'T ad up all your costs ;) Even if you do, the experiences are so worth it.

    Yes Lucy convincing my parents to go and sharing this trip with them will always be a great moment that cannot be taken away. Someday I know I will lose him, and my mom, but he got to see a cheetah walk in front of him, lions hunt, and elephants and giraffes saunter by us.

    As you said, anyone who is on the fence about going... JUST DO IT.

    And like you said, the animals are what you go for, but Rwanda was the heart and sould of East Africa.

    And of course a good, well maintained vehicle changes everything ;)

    Please keep us up to date on your boyfriend's school project.

    And don't worry Lucy, you will relive the trip every day and we will live it with you again when those photos go up. Hint ....

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    Lucy,
    For a while it looked like the Mara would be a disappointment! I’m glad it changed, though of course I never thought anything else possible. You have some very good advice about travelling in Rwanda that could be applied to Kenya as well.
    Thanks for a wonderful report. I too am looking forward to the photos.

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    So you spotted the leopard in the Mara. That always makes the sighting more rewarding when you've earned it yourself.

    Your experience with the wildebeest crossing and your vehicle becoming one with the galloping herds was really exciting. You certainly had the right guide to accomplish it.

    Glad the mother cheetah was so cooperative with the timing of her hunt.

    Your recommendations will come in handy for others.

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    Thanks everyone. I've now spent the day trying to pick photos and title them. Hopefully I'll have something up tomorrow.

    Nyamera--you're absolutely right. That's a regret about Kenya...because of the way we travelled we didn't get to experience the country. At the same time, since it was high-season, it would've been hard to travel as we did in Rwanda (only booking hotels a couple of days in advance..if at all).

    Lynn--yup, I spotted the Leopard and the Black Rhino. So I've taken the title of elusive animal spotter. I was definitely pleased with myself! Soooo rewarding. Especially since my boyfriend really wanted to see a leopard---I was able to deliver!

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