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Trip Report Rwanda in March 2012 Trip Report

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This report is long overdue because we had some issues with the Kenya portion of our trip booked through R&N Xployer. I was hoping that we could resolve our issues before I posted a report but Nyagah Mbae has failed to answer any of my emails since we returned in March.

The Kenya part is posted here: http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/kenya-trip-report-feb-mar2012-with-rn-xployer.cfm

I would happily book a tour directly with Mercator Assistance next time and I would highly recommend Fidele, our guide.

We had an uneventful flight from Naiorbi to Burundi and then on to Kigali. They even served us lunch on the first leg. The airport was quick and easy and Fidele from Mercator Assistance, our ground operator was there waiting for us, sign in hand. He took us out to a beautiful 4x4 STRETCH land cruiser with pot top which was requested and agreed upon for the Kenya part of our tour but not for Rwanda (we were expecting a car and driver). He also showed us the case of water for our use on the tour and handed us a printed itinery of our trip. All was very great and we quickly shoved away all our bad experiences from the Kenya portion of this safari.

We checked into the Serena Kigali and they upgraded us an executive suite because it was our first time to Rwanda. We had a huge bedroom, living/diningroom, 2 bathrooms and the best shower in Africa. Food was wonderful on the outside balcony overlooking the pool.

The next day we were met and started out on tour of Kigili. (There was a small issue about our dinner bill but Fidele talked to the desk and everything was good.) The Never Again Memorial was a highlight and very well done. We both wished we had done a little more research before this trip though. We had a wonderful local lunch in town and then headed out for Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. The scenery was stunning through the countryside and the roads were excellent. Fidele filled us in on everything and we got along great.

The Mountain Gorilla View Lodge could/should be lovely but it was too damp and chilly for us. From California, what can I say? One of the guys followed us to our room with a shovel full of hot coals to build a fire which was nice but the rooms are so large it really didn’t help much. The local school kids came over to dance in the afternoon and we got great photos. Food was good, then early to bed in preparation for the big day. But first a little funny note. We went to bed early and I awoke to knocking on the door in what seemed like the middle of the night, then me fumbling with the keys trying to unlock the door in the dark, then the maid reaching in and turning on the lights, me standing at the door like an idiot, she marching to the bed (with my husband in it) and stuffing a hot water bottle between the sheets on both sides and then departing with me still standing at the door with my mouth open. I’m not really sure why I even opened the door in the middle of the night, to a total stranger, in a foreign country. The next night we were ready.

The gorilla treking is as wonderful as everyone says. I had been hiking our local hills for up to 3 hours a weekend day for about 2 months before departure in preparation. Could I make it, what about the altitude, and would it be worth the $500 fee? I was so nervous. That is probably the biggest advantage to doing 2 treks as it does take a little of the pressure away. I did enjoy the process so much more on the second day. But other than 1 group staying at our lodge that did 4 treks, almost everyone we talked to was only doing 1 trek. FYI, the group did 4 consective hike and it rained on them every day with extremely wet gorilla photos.

We got the Hirwa Group on the first day with the twins and the newborn baby. Maybe a 45 minute hike and they were fairly out in the open so a perfect experience. The hour seemed about right, not too fast but I could have stayed longer. After it was over I discovered that I was alive with those ants everyone talks about. It felt like I had gotten into the stinging nettles but all through my hair. I was wearing gaitors with socks tucked in but the ants were really waist up, under my clothes and mostly in my hair. I think I must have got them sitting on the ground… too excited to notice until it was time to go? Anyway, everyone helped me pick them off and they really don’t hurt much. It didn’t rain on us and we were back at the lodge for lunch.

The second day was to the Ugenda Group. We actually were assigned the Susa group but Fidele thought it was too much for us since we had hiked the previous day and were going on to Lake Kivu. (A few days before, Susa trekers didn’t get there until dark and they used flashlights. They were offered the chance to trek to the closest group the next morning at no charge.) As a side note, we were told that there were 10 tourist gorilla groups and 7 research groups availabe in early March 2012.

The Ugenda Group was an easy hike of maybe an hour mostly up through fields then over the wall. When we got to them you could still hear the villagers talking and working. This was a different experience than the day before with today gorillas all around us and up in the trees too. More misty and denser rain forest. They moved around more so we followed them over a creek and logs and then they would double back and we would stand back so they could pass within touching distance. These were a little harder to photograph because of the low light and again no rain.

On both days we hired porters and tipped everyone as suggested but most of the other tourists did not. The dancers at the meeting point are excellent and wonderful to photograph. The bathrooms are clean and they have coffee and snacks for all. On both days all of our fellow group mates were in there 60’s or older.

After our second trek we left for the Serena Lodge at Lake Kivu. We were upgraded to a lake view room and the grounds were lovely. For lunch the chef came out and explained some of the offerings and told us he could prepare anything we wished for dinner. The steak and prawns were the best ever and the carrot soup too.

We did a tour of the city that afternoon and visited the DRC border crossing point. We felt completely safe. The next day we drove back to Kigili for our flight home. It was really hard saying goodby to Fidele. We had bonded with him so quickly and it felt like we knew him so well. He and his sister live together and he is putting her through college. They want to open their own travel company and I hope to use them when we return. I really wished we had stayed longer in Rwanda to enjoy this beautiful, clean, friendly country.

For anyone interested in bringing home a walking stick, here was our experience. We bought a beautiful one for US$10 at the meeting point before the trek. We didn’t bargin as it was so cheap already. At the airport, I claimed that I needed it to walk (as in cane) but they wouldn’t have any of it. They insisted I check it through to Nairobi-Amsterdam-San Francisco. It was unwraped with just a luggage tag and I feared I would never see it again. Good reason to go back to Rwanda to get another stick and take bubble wrap. Nope it arrived in SFO in perfect condition!

Rwanda photos here:
http://s290506560.onlinehome.us/Africa2012/Rwanda/index.html#

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