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Trip Report Rwanda gorillas, trip report

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We recently returned from a 2 week trip to Rwanda and Tanzania. I will write a separate report detailing our safari in Tanzania; this one is about the Rwanda portion of our trip. We booked our entire trip as a private trip through Deeper Africa out of Boulder CO.
On July 17 we flew from JFK to AMS and connected on KLM into Kigali, arriving about 8:00 in the evening. We did not get visas in advance so waited in line to get them at the airport. We then got our bags and met our driver. Deeper Africa contracted with Primate Safaris for this portion of the trip, and our driver guide was Theo. We stayed at the Kigali Serena, and there was heavy security, as many attendees of the African Union Summit, which ended that day, had stayed at the hotel.
We got checked in and our room was lovely with all the expected amenities. We went down and had dinner then went to bed. After breakfast the next morning, Theo met us at the designated time and drove us to Sabinyo Silverback Lodge. I found the drive extremely interesting, as there were always tons and tons of people walking and biking along the roadside to/from work, local markets, community wells etc.
You do have to walk uphill along a path/stairs from the parking area at the lodge to the reception area. Being east coasters who live at sea level, the altitude is definitely an adjustment, and we were out of breath! We were warmly greeted with chilled towels and lemonade and quickly shown to our room. It had all the amenities, including a hair dryer, outlets, a 4-plug USB charger, and small mini bar with sodas and water. We asked, and they stocked a few beers in it for my boyfriend. We went back down for lunch and then relaxed until dinnertime. The small bar is in a large room with a fireplace, and among all the familiar cocktails, a drink was listed called a "dawa" which means medicine in Swahili. If it's medicine it must be good for you, right? LOL It was vodka, crushed ice, fresh lime juice and local honey, with club soda optional. Very tasty, and I enjoyed 1 or 2 every evening. Dinner entree was a choice between several entrees and the meals were generally very good. At dinner they will come around and ask what time you'd like your wake-up call, and if you'd like coffee or tea. We returned to our room after dinner to find a fire had been started in the fireplace. There were also hot water bottles in the bed with soft, fuzzy cases around them. They were still slightly warm the next morning.
Our wake-up "call" came right as schedule, with a knock on the door from our butler, Henry, who delivered our coffee and cookies. When you go down for breakfast it is continental style, but they also do eggs and bacon on request which we enjoyed. The lodge will fit you with gaiters and gloves. Theo then drove us to the park headquarters to be assigned to our trekking group. For whatever reason, it takes about an hour for the park staff and drivers to discuss or negotiate or whatever they do, before you receive your assignment. While you wait they have coffee available and there are restrooms, and a local group entertains you with song/dance/drums. I found it quite entertaining and we gladly contributed to their tip basket. Eventually we got our group assignment, and our trekking guide gathered the group off to the side, got some info from us and gave us a short briefing. We had 6 in our group the first day, and were assigned to the Isabukuru group, which included a female with twin infants.
Each group begins from a different trailhead, so after the briefing Theo drove us to the starting point for our group where we all reconvened and hired porters. ($10 each but we gave them more)
The first hour of our trek was through farm land, and there were a lot of little kids in the fields while their mothers worked. They would very excitedly wave and call out "hello hello hello." It's a very different culture, and more than once we saw a child of not more than 4-6 years old minding a younger sibling.
This part of the trek was actually fairly steep, and we had to stop periodically to rest. The actual park is bordered by a stone wall to keep the forest buffalo and forest elephants inside so they don't damage the crops. We crossed into the park and continued hiking for another hour and a half up fairly steep terrain. Each hike is different, depending on where the particular gorilla group is, and while this was designated "medium" trek, it was definitely hard! The guides even told us later that it was harder than usual. Apparently since the trackers had first found our gorilla group that morning, the gorillas decided to go higher and higher, hence the longer, steeper hike than we had hoped for. It was nice having a porter to carry my backpack and take my hand on the steepest areas, and whenever we stopped for a break, as soon as I stepped toward my porter he would turn so I could access the pocket of my backpack that had my water bottle.
We finally got word that we were close to the gorillas, so as expected, we left all of our things except our cameras with the porters and continued with our guide and the trackers to the gorilla group. It was amazing! The gorillas are so well habituated to the presence of humans that the adults hardly seemed to notice us. The silverback sat with his back to us for about the first 20 minutes, while 1 or 2 adult females were sleeping and never even stirred. A few of the juveniles were very curious and got a bit closer. The gorilla who had infant twins was on the other side of some vegetation so our guide took us to her and we sat and watched. She was very patient, just sitting quietly while her 6 month old twins climbed on her and looked at us curiously. After a while we left her and went back and watched the others. Out of the blue the silverback came down toward one of the females who was right in front of us and next thing we knew he was mating with her! Sometime later the silverback decided it was time to move on, and he put on a great display of "authority," walking upright on 2 legs while tearing at branches overhead. The others followed and we began our trek back down the mountain.
For the most part we did not go through a lot of heavy vegetation on this particular day, and the gorillas were in a fairly open area when we reached them. It was cool when we started, but with the intensity of the hike I quickly stripped down to just a t-shirt on top and stayed that way the rest of the trek.
Theo met us at the end of our trek and drove us back to the lodge for lunch. When we arrived, we were met with wet towels and lemonade, and they took our boots and cleaned them, and gave us rubber sandals to wear back to our room. At lunch, they showed us the dinner menu and took our entree orders. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, til drinks and dinner. Everyone we talked to that evening said their hike had been long and steep as well.
We had booked 2 days of trekking permits so hiked again the next day. We requested an easier trek the 2nd day if possible. Theo got us assigned to the Agashya group, and luckily that day did turn out to be easier. We again started in farmland, but it was less steep than the day before. When we entered the park the 2nd day, we were immediately met by one of the armed guards or trackers, as apparently a buffalo had been seen in the area and can be a real threat, so we had armed accompaniment the entire trek once in the park. We hiked for a while through a beautiful bamboo forest and it was a relatively easy walk. Eventually we ended up in an area of very heavy vegetation an the guides (2 guides today, with 8 trekkers) were using the machetes a lot to clear the path. Our trek today was only about 1.5 hours total, compared to 2.5 the day before. There were a few really steep parts but they were very short, with easier walking in between. I was very grateful to have my porter today to help me up those particular areas. My porter on this day also happened to be female, with is unusual; most of the porters are male.
Anyway, suddenly they announced that we were close, would have to go through a heavy area for the final few minutes. At one point I was literally on my hands and knees going up a slippery bank. The gorillas were in thick vegetation and moving around a lot, we were moving around lot too and because of how thick it was, the guides had to get us really close to be able to see them. We stopped first at an area where 3 juveniles were playing together, climbing bamboo trees and playing on vines like it was a jungle gym or set of monkey bars (no pun intended!). Later we sat or kneeled along the endge of a path watching some to our left, and suddenly one came bounding down the path from the right, immediately in front of us and brushing our pant legs as he went by, which was really cool.
After we left the gorillas we had to walk a bit to find out porters since the gorillas, and our group, had been moving around a lot. We took a break and had a snack. (Each morning our lodge and apparently the other lodges as well, send you off with a couple of bottles of water and a brown lunch bag with muffins, bananas, nuts etc.)
Some people choose to leave the lodge immediately after trekking, but we had booked and planned to stay the night after our 2nd day of trekking. We figured it would be easier and less stressful, since we didn't know what time we'd be back, and wanted to be able to return to our own room to shower and change. It also gave me a chance to arrange for an in-room massage that afternoon. That evening, the same music and dance group that entertains everyone at the park office before trekking arrived to perform at our lodge. Some of what they did was the same but some was different and they also got some guests involved at one point. We enjoyed our final dinner and went to bed.
The next morning we slept a bit later so the other guests had all left to go trekking by the time we had breakfast. We met Theo in the parking area at our pre-arranged time and drove back to Kigali. We visited the genocide museum and memorial and it was a sobering experience. You can listen to headsets and/or read the descriptions at each museum exhibit inside. They say it takes an hour, but I know we stayed longer trying to absorb it all. Afterward our agent had arranged for us to have lunch at the Hotel des Milles Collines, which is the hotel featured in the movie "Hotel Rwanda" and which played a real-life role sheltering Tutsis during the genocide.
We returned to the Kigali Serena for dinner and the night. We had a 6am flight to the Serengeti the next morning, so had to leave the hotel very early before the breakfast service started. That happens a lot, so upon request they will arrange to have a boxed breakfast and coffee service waiting for you in the lobby when you check out. Our meals were included in our stay, so we only had to settle up for the wine we'd ordered at dinner before leaving for the airport.
Our Coastal Aviation flight was on a Cessna caravan, from the Kigali airport to the Kogatende airstrip in the northern Serengeti, with a visa stop at the Mwanza airport before landing at Kogatende.
I'll stop here, and write a separate report for the remainder of our trip, which was a traditional safari trip in Tanzania.

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