Here is my trip report up until we get to Kenya for our safari. Gosh, i didnt know how much work this trip report would be. Just got in yesterday so hopefully ill work on finishing this weekend!
Rwanda and Kenya trip report. Yes, I was supposed to do Tanzania as well, but if you read further you will discover that budget camping was not as great as I thought it would be, so I changed my flight and had my friend come hang out with my sister in Tanzania while I came back to the comforts of the USA. I know that sounds crazy to many of you who would give anything to be able to spend as much time in Africa as possible, but I was just not as prepared as I thought I would be and needed to get home.
Camera used: Canon S3 IS
Setting notes: Try and keep the ISO at 200 or lower. During gorilla tracking I had it at 400 and you can see the noise it created. For the price, this camera is great though. If youre a novice like me, I would keep the setting on Program (P) instead of auto. Auto puts the ISO too high create noise and Program still keeps the settings pretty basic and automatic, but you can adjust the ISO.
Ill also be posting some videos on YouTube under the username Jenbertoni for those interested. I did a couple already but I guess they haven’t processed yet.
Company used: R&N Xplorer
Review: If you read the Rwanda section you will see we had issues with our permits and our guide. They outsource to a company called Mercator Assistance. I have emailed R&N and they were shocked to learn of this situation and are refunding us right away. I am pretty sure this is an isolated situation and I don’t think people should be afraid to use R&N because they have had other great reviews here. If anything, just book your gorilla permits directly through the ORTPN yourself to be safe, the rest was fine. I would still use them again.
Company used: Gametrackers
Review: Everything went according to plan and we got along great with Steve and Peter. We became a little family. I would use them again and would definitely recommend them.
Day 1/Travel Day
Today we were finally leaving for Africa and I could not believe it! I am 23 years old and never though I would be going to Africa, at least not this early in my life! We spent the day running around to banks trying to get new and crisp bills. Being right after Chinese New Year, this was proving to be very difficult. I wasn’t sure if I was expecting too much crispness from my bills, but these forums made it sound verrrrry strict, so I wasn’t taking any chances! Eventually I got bills that satisfied me and we headed for LAX for our British Airways flight. I am really scared of flying and was having a nervous breakdown before the flight. I am one of those people who always asks God for signs of whether or not I should go on certain trips. After checking in, we were in the security area where suddenly we heard yelling and everything stopped. Of course this scared me and I took it as a sign that I should not be going. Then, I was stopped by security and everything was searched thoroughly. This never happens to me, so of course this was another sign I shouldn’t go, right? After security, we made it to our gate and waited for a while. When they started boarding, my sister (jess) and I waited till the last second because we hate waiting in the line of people just to get on the plane. Suddenly I realized I didn’t have my passport! Sh*t! Did I leave it at security while I was being searched? I ran off to find out. They lazily told me to hold on and asked around if anyone had seen my passport. Then a woman said, are you sure this is the right security checkpoint? I looked around and said, hmm I don’t think this looks familiar now that you mention it. It was literally 2 minutes till my flight was to take off and I had to run off to a further security checkpoint. They too lazily told me to hold on. I was just hoping my sister had found it in my baggage somewhere that I missed in my panic. I told them I had to go since they couldn’t seem to find it and ran to my gate praying jess found it. Then I heard my name on the intercom saying I needed to come to my gate and my boarding info was there. Oh good, I figured this meant Jess found my passport! I was sprinting through the airport and ran into 3 BA staff members who told me to keep running. It was like I was in a movie or something. We were the last to board and the flight waited for me. This was definitely my 3rd sign that I shouldn’t be going to Africa though. That’s what my crazy mind though anyway. I was so tired from running that I didn’t care anymore.
We finally took off and me n Jess took our Ambien. Wow, no one here told me how amazing that stuff was! I had a small glass of wine with it, which was probably not the best idea, but it really knocked me out. It didn’t make me sleep right away, but it put me in this weird haze and I only remember bits and pieces. All I know is that me and jess woke up with food on us, our computer out (though we don’t really remember even taking it out) with only 2 hours left in the flight. Hell, we didn’t care what happened in the mean time, our 10 hour flight was almost done and we didn’t remember any of it! I did remember my sister trying to eat her chicken dinner before passing out though. She was like an animal and at the time I didn’t think it was weird at all. She just like picked up the plate and tried to bite the chicken without using a fork. It seemed so normal whilst in my Ambien induced coma, but looking back it was totally weird! Hopefully no one noticed.
We finally landed at LHR and waited for hours before our final flight to Nairobi. Boarding was about 20 minutes late, then they couldn’t start the engine for about 40 minutes (hmm another sign?!) but we finally left for Nairobi. We took ambient again, this time without the wine hoping we could be a little more appropriate this time. Jess was, but I wasn’t. We called it my wild woman look. My eyes get heavy and I do weird stuff basically. I guess I was trying to use my tv screen with my eyes closed. Pretty respectable! This flight went by in a flash too though. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I woke up with only a couple hours left yet again. I can fly around the world twice and not mind it with this stuff!
Once we landed in Nairobi we headed to the bathroom to but on our little secret money belts. Yeah, we were really gonna be pulling a fast one on those Kenyans that want to rob us! We went to the Visa line and some man whisked us away to a secret spot where there was no line! What a treat. It took less than 5 minutes. Ill be honest though, the original line was only a few people long, but I did like that special treatment. I was surprised at how small the airport was. I could watch the guys unloading the baggage, which was a bit weird to me. We were soooo excited to finally be in Africa. We were staying at the Hilton, so the shuttle was there to pick us up. I loved seeing my name on the little sign! Ive never had that before. Our driver was really nice, but there was this other guy who gave me his card and was talking about day tours etc. He tricked me into agreeing to a day tour of Nairobi. He suddenly says he will pick us up at 2:00pm and I realized what was going on. I told him nevermind and said I needed to sleep. He was so tricky, I didn’t know what he was saying until he said he was gonna pick us up!
Driving through Nairobi was strange. So many people walking everywhere. It was like 100 degrees and men were wearing suits. I was feeling uneasy because of everything on the news and was just waiting for scary men to come attack our car. I was nervous the whole car ride that one of these men in suits was gonna turn and carjack us. Sounds silly to most of you im sure, but I really had no idea what I was in for! We arrived at the Hilton and were upgraded because of low occupancy. I read really bad reviews on tripadvisor, but it was quite nice. It was clean and comfortable. We had arrived at around 9am and were so tired that we ended up napping for like 4 hours. When we woke up, I was feeling a bit nauseous. I figured it was just all the traveling and stuff that wore me out. I knew we needed to eat so we headed downstairs. I ate some soup but felt horrrrible and went up to my room. I immediately started throwing up. Hmm, that was weird. I was expecting to get diarrhea at some point, but throwing up? What a negative reaction to Kenya!
I spent that night missing home because I was so sick and in such a strange place. I had my cell phone (AT&T) but since I didn’t get a sim card, it was too spendy to call home to complain. We went to bed early because we had a flight to Rwanda the next day!!
Day 2 (Rwanda)
Today I was still feeling really sick. I hadn’t had anything else to eat and was really weak. We got a taxi to the airport and waited to board our plane to Rwanda. While we were all piled into the waiting area, I noticed a distinct smell. Guess deodorant isn’t high on the “to buy” list here. I figured I was gonna start to smell pretty bad during our camping safari, so I didn’t complain, I just got used to it. Boarding the plane, the people were very pushy! No one wanted to wait their turn to put their bag up and get to their seat. I really hated that. I like order to my things, and this was not orderly! I hated that bumpy flight. The food smell also made me feel even sicker than I was. I forced myself to eat a piece of bread because I was going to need my strength for the gorilla trek the next day (how I was gonna do it if iwas still sick, I had no idea. But I was determined)! The flight was short and we had to take a stupid shuttle to the airport building. I could hardly stand and an old woman gave me her seat. How funny, the older woman giving the 23 year old her seat. I couldn’t stand in line for entry. I was so weak. I threw up more in the bathroom. Finally the line died down and we got through customs. I saw a man standing with a sign with my name on it again! Success! His name was Mobutu and he was from Mercator Assistance. I guess that’s who R&N outsources to. We tried to talk to Mobutu a bit, but his English was very poor. No problem, I wasn’t feeling well enough anyway. We got in the minibus and were on our way. Wow, I thought Kenya was a little behind the times…that was nothing compared to Rwanda! I was seriously in shock when I saw the little towns. The country was so beautiful, but the houses were all made out of mud and sticks. I know I sound so ignorant thinking this isn’t a good way to live, but I cant help it. They all seem so happy and content though. The kids would all wave as we drove by. I loved it. There were people everywhere! All walking with stuff on their heads or babies on their backs. I couldn’t help but think how many brilliant people there are living here, but we will never find out about it because their lifestyle may not allow it to come out. The drive to Kinigi Guesthouse seemed like days. I was so sick still and just couldn’t stand it. Luckily I brought lots of plastic bags in case I threw up again.
Once we arrived at our hotel (which was actually really cute even though it was the cheapest option), Mobutu informed us we didn’t get permits for the 8th like we planned. What? How could this be? I had paid in FULL everything way back in June and was told everything was set and ready to go. We tried to ask him about it but he just said “it’s a problem” and couldn’t understand what I was saying. This was when I was pissed that he couldn’t speak English well. I had so many questions but could not get answers. I wanted to cry. The gorillas were the only reason I had come to Rwanda and I got two permits in case something went wrong or if the gorillas were too far that we couldn’t get to them one day. It was like insurance. I was not prepared for not getting the permit at all though. He told us we would track on the 10th instead. Ummmm no, we have a flight to catch. We told him we would need our money back but he looked confused at this idea and we weren’t sure if this would happen. Oh well, at least we had one day to track. I still felt that everything had been a disaster though. I was sick AND I was only getting one day of tracking. What can you do though? At this point, I was seriously considering coming home early. I just couldn’t handle this situation. And we hadn’t even started the camping yet! How was I going to last 10 days in Kenya and two weeks in Tanzania? We checked into the hotel (who didn’t even know we were coming, even though they should have) and went to sleep.
We went to the restaurant for dinner and thought everything was really expensive. It wasn’t until the next day we realized it was Rwandan Francs, not Kenyan shillings. Duh! Our itinerary said dinner was paid for this night, but it wasn’t. Nor was it paid for any other time it was supposed to be. I just ate toast and had some water. I threw it all up again. What the hell was wrong with me? This was such a nightmare.
We got up early for breakfast, which was toast and water for me. I was still sick. Wow, maybe God was helping me out by not getting us our permits? I mean, I seriously would not be able to track at all that day. I wasn’t feeling any better and I was too weak since I couldn’t hold down food. Mobutu picked us up around 7 so we could do a tour of the lake Kivu area. I really didn’t want to, but what else was I gonna do? Sit in my room and pout? I should at least see the country a little. It took I think 3 hours to get to Kivu. It was cloudy and didn’t look beautiful at all. True I was in a really grumpy mood, but it wasn’t attractive in the least to me. Maybe on a clear day? I even got one of those little flies in my eye! What luck. Mobutu took us to about 5 different stops (literally) along the way. He would disappear and chat with friends for a while not telling us where he was off to. I hated it. I was not comfortable in this country yet and did not like being left alone. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I wanted so bad to eat something normal, but I just couldn’t. Toast it was! Mobutu left us to go meet friends. He said he would be back in a half hour, but he took an hour. I hated this too. I am a really nervous person, so maybe I expected too much, but I really didn’t like being left alone in this strange place. There was not a single other person there other than the workers. Kivu was fully empty. Is it normal for your guide to leave you and meet up with friends? After lunch I told him no more stops. I wanted to go back to the hotel. On the way back though I had to pee really bad. He stopped in one of the local neighborhoods and they let me use their toilets. It was a filthy hole, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe this was normal to them. Gosh, we are so spoiled here (USA).
We got back to our hotel and rested a bit. Maria, one of the workers and a great lady, asked us about paying for our room. We were confused about that since it should have been paid for. We told her what company we were with and she had never heard of them. It was awkward being asked for payment when you assume its all taken care of. We weren’t even gonna bother asking about dinner and lunches getting paid for anymore cuz we were too stressed about just getting our room paid. Dinner was the least of our worries. Plus it was really cheap anyway. I took my malaria meds and threw them up immediately (I took with what little food I could force in my stomach). I realized that it was my Malarone that had been making me sick. How did I not realize this from the beginning? I am so that person who always gets the negative side effects from medicine, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. I made the choice to stop taking them. I know that doesn’t sound smart, but I was so miserable that I would have rather gotten malaria and been able to enjoy the rest of my trip. I hadn’t really seen any mosquitoes yet anyway. I figured if I got it, I would show symptoms back in the states and would be able to get proper care. I actually started to feel better this night. I was relieved to discover it was my pills making me sick, so it felt like there was an end in sight for this sick crap.
Gorilla tracking today!!! I cant even describe how excited I was. I was nervous though because even though I was feeling better, I still hadn’t had a real meal in days and wasn’t sure how my energy would be. Today I had two pieces of toast, a small banana, and some pineapple. This was amazing! I could eat again and was going to see gorillas. Mobutu showed up and we told him our room needed to be paid for. He said ok but did nothing. They asked about it later this day as well and we told them Mobutu said he would handle it. We had to give them his phone number so they could call him. He didn’t answer though. Great, was he going to leave us with this bill??? Back to the good stuff though, gorilla tracking!
So Mobutu took us to the ORTPN office where the trekking begins. He noticed I hadn’t been feeling well before so he asked if I wanted a shorter trek. I said yes that would probably be a good idea. Eventually we were broken up into our groups. We had Sam and Fred from the United States, Eva from Austria, Wolfgang the german living in London, and a couple from London whos names I don’t remember. Our guide was Patience. I have not heard of him on these forums, but I should have. He was nothing short of amazing, and if you read further you will discover he was the only reason I was able to finish the trek. We were told we were going to meet the Hirwa group. I hadn’t heard of them before, but Patience said there were lots of babies and that’s all I cared about. After the little briefing we went with Mobutu to the drop off point. He asked which group we were seeing and we told him Hirwa and off he went. We drove for about 20 minutes when we stopped suddenly. He talked to some other guides (who I noticed were with people who were NOT in our trekking group) and told us we were going to need to go a back way. Weird, we thought maybe road construction? We drove back 20 minutes again to the ORTPN office. I asked what he was doing but he ignored me. He picked up a porter who had to give him proper directions. The drop off point was on a back road I suppose, but it was really close to the office so he had clearly just gone the wrong way. Our group had to wait the 40 minutes for us. I was almost in tears thinking they were going to trek without us.
Finally we got to the part where we get our porters, walking sticks, and off we went. It was about a 20 minute little walk to the base of the mountain. I was feeling fine until we stopped. Then it hit me that I was really weak. I was so scared I wasn’t going to be able to make it. Patience had told us though that it was only about 40-50 minutes to the gorillas once we got to the base, so I thought I might be ok. I was dumb and didn’t bring any food with me on the trek, so Patience asked some people if they could help me out with food or a drink. Eva and Sam gave me a sandwich and juice. I felt so silly, but was really grateful they offered me their stuff. I don’t think I could have done without it. I was feeling more energized after a rest and the food and off we went. The trail was pretty clear and easy at first. There weren’t any stinging nettles off the bat, so I felt pretty lucky. We trekked for about an hour when we could hear the trackers up ahead. Patience told us they were with the gorillas so we were getting close. They weren’t that close though. Maybe another 30 minutes away. The trail got rougher and the nettles appeared. I was so exhausted that I seriously didn’t even notice them. I had short sleeves and no gloves and was fine. The guy from the british couple hated them though. He would bat them down with a stick. I felt like I was dying on this trek, but honestly I thought he was being a bigger baby than me.
After another hour of trekking, we were still not at the trackers. I was feeling like giving up soon. I was so so weak, and even Fred was falling behind. Patience was great and kept me motivated. He kept telling me to find my courage and wouldn’t let me give up. I couldn’t believe I almost didn’t get a porter. My bag was heavy and he was a lifesaver! The trail finally turned into the bamboo forest, but it was pretty thick still and they needed to use the machete to clear the way. After about another 30 minutes we got to the point where our porters stop and we carry on to the gorillas! The tiring journey was going to be worth it. Sure it was 2.5 hours, not 40 minutes like we were told, but they are wild animals so what can you do! Patience told us the area we had to get to was very difficult so we could keep our walking sticks. We had to slide down steep hills of dirt and grab onto roots and trees so we didn’t all fall. It was hard. I used to play soccer for like 15 years, and ive never been so tired, even in all my soccer years. We came to a point where I almost gave up again. I was spent. I had nothing in me. Even if I could make it to the gorillas, I couldn’t stay for an hour and then travel back down the mountain. Even though we were supposed to be close, and we could hear them, the gorillas were nowhere in site. We stopped for a few minutes and then Patience told us the bad news. The gorillas had moved to a place where it would be impossible for us to get to. WHAT? That was like unheard of in Rwanda. Hell, its why I chose Rwanda because I heard the chances of not seeing gorillas is like 0. I am such bad luck. At this point of my exhaustion, I was relieved. I couldn’t believe I was feeling this, but I didn’t care if I saw those damn gorillas, I was too tired to care. We paused for 10 minutes before Patience told us we were going to have to climb back up the steep area we slid down. Again, I wanted to cry. I had no strength. We were all really grumpy by now. I didn’t have a chance to come back the next day and the previous day had been a bust with our permits, so I had to come to terms with the fact that I was not going to see any gorillas.
Then…patience’s phone rang. After he got off, he told us we were gonna try and do it. We were gonna go up and back down across the valley and then back up again to find them. He said an hour at the most. I told him I couldn’t do it. Fred couldn’t either so I wanted to go back with him. Patience wouldn’t let me. He basically said he would carry me if he had to. He put me right up front with him and held my hand through it all, literally. After ohhh 45 more minutes of trekking and me almost giving up a million more times we saw them from across the valley!!! They were beautiful and there were so many, but they were not close. Patience said, “are you still tired?” and he was so happy I hadn’t given up. I was tired but was happy to see them. Then he said the unthinkable, “we are going over there, lets go!” No way, I was fine to see them from really far away. We would have to go down the wall of trees and nettles, across the valley thing, and straight up the wall again. No trails. All plants, trees, nettles, etc. Ok, so the way down and across the valley wasn’t SO bad, but up that wall? The group said I could go first so I could rest once I got up. We used the roots of the trees and 3 porters to traverse this wall. I did it. I was one step closer to actually being near gorillas! We had to go through tunnels of leaves and trees and I got really scared and claustrophobic. There was nowhere to go. We finally got to a clearing (and because Patience had to help me so much, I was right in front) and there he was!!! A beautiful silverback just munching away. I cant even describe the feeling. He was so close and I had worked so hard mentally and physically to get here. Patience was so proud of me. I could tell by his smile. He grabbed my camera from me and took a picture of me with the gorilla. Then, he said, don’t be scared, but there is one coming from behind. Yes, we were all scared. Out of nowhere comes a female with her baby, right over sam and Eva’s heads. It was amazing. They came from everywhere. Babies, Females, the silverback. One came riiiight behind me and nearly touched me. Patience said not to take pics at that moment, but I secretly filmed it with my digi. Its not a great view, but you can see how close she was. I couldn’t believe how close we were to all of them. I also couldn’t believe how difficult the viewing spot was! We were all cramped in one little area. Sam even fell between some tree roots with his legs dangling. Yikes! After about 10 minutes the gorillas moved on. It was ok though, it was the most amazing thing I had ever felt. My sister hadn’t really cared about the gorillas when I initially booked the trip. I had to talk her into getting two permits. She had a change of heart though. She couldn’t believe how she felt being with them, and I was so happy we decided to come here. When I was planning, we almost went to south Africa because I really wanted to see great white sharks along with animals. Then I discovered the gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda and that was it for me. I knew east Africa was my only choice.
We finally were on our way back down the mountain. Just when we thought we had seen it all, we came upon the silverback and his women and kids AGAIN! This time they were just resting and relaxing. Three toddlers were swinging in the trees, a couple women had their tiny babies nursing, and the male was taking a load off. Best feeling ever. I cant even believe I was there to witness it. We only spent about 10 more minutes with them before we had to head down again. We had been hiking for like 5 hours, so it was time. Shockingly there was no rain, which it had been raining like clockwork the last couple days around noon. We were lucky. The walk down was super easy. I couldn’t believe how fast we were down to where we started. Patience gave us a little talk about having to tell people about his country and its beauty. We all agreed we would. On the way back to the cars, we found a chameleon. I love those little guys and was really stoked to see one in the wild. I didn’t know they had them in Rwanda.
Once we got back to Mobutu, he gave us a smile and a handshake like we were buddies. I think he wanted to be like the other guides who were all friends with their clients. We weren’t really friends with Mobutu though, he annoyed us. Sorry to say, but he did. I tipped my porter and thanked him for his hard work and then we went to the office for our little certificates. How cute, I didn’t know we got those! Then we went to our hotel and had a little snack. We told Maria all about our day. She was seriously such a nice and quiet lady. At around 4 or 5 we went back to our room and both fell asleep until like 5am the next morning! Yeah, we were tired.
Day 5/Back to Kenya
Mobutu showed up a half hour early today. He did, however, pay for our room finally! We went to double check with Maria though. He had! He was wearing his normal day clothes which we found a little strange. We suspected he had been out with a girl the night before or something. This was confirmed when he had to stop by his hotel to pick up his suit case. Hmmm, shouldn’t he have brought it with him if he came from his hotel? Sadly, he couldn’t get in his room for some reason. We came to the conclusion that Mobutu is just bad luck and kind of an airhead, so we couldn’t hate on him anymore. Before the airport we stopped by the genocide memorial. I had been reading books about what happened, so it didn’t really shock me. The mass grave was huge, though. Its still hard to imagine all those people. I wanted so bad to ask mobutu about his experience during this time, but his English couldn’t handle it. We finally made it to the airport. The power went out and they had to check people in manually. No security check really. The flight was extra bumpy this time, but I was excited to get back to Kenya and start our safari. Getting off the plane was funny. People were pushy again. Im used to people letting you get off the plane in the order of the seats. So the people in front of me go, then I go, then the people behind me. Not so here. The girl next to us pushed my sister so she would get moving, but there was no room. I cant just push people to get my way. Finally a guy let us through, but he was not a Kenyan…he was from Europe where they have my standards of exiting the plane! We stayed at the Country Lodge for the night. It was great to have nice beds, a nice shower, and the internet! We called my parents on Skype and I changed my flight to come home early. I had decided in Rwanda that I for sure wanted to get home early. Even though I was feeling better, I just had a hard time being in a 3rd world country. I was constantly uneasy, wondering if something bad would happen. I figured I would enjoy the less is more concept. They told me to change my flight would be $200, but turns out it was free. Nice! Tomorrow would be the start of our budget camping safari with Gametrackers. Something I was really excited for months ago, but now that it was here, I wasn’t so sure. Im not a camper, what was I thinking?!?!
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