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Trip Report - Rwanda, Kenya, Egypt 7/13-7/29

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My husband and I returned yesterday from our African honeymoon. Because I used Fodors extensively in the planning, I thought I'd do a short trip report. The pictures are taking ages to load onto Shutterfly so I'll post them later.

We used Gamewatchers for the Kenya portion and Albertine Rift Safaris for the Rwandan portion.

7/13 - flew KLM from IAD (Washington, DC) to NBO arriving the following evening in Nairobi.

7/14 - greeted at airport by Gamewatchers and taken to the Nairobi Hilton. We had booked the Hilton on our own and just used GW for transfers untill we returned from Rwanda for the Kenya part of our trip. We boooked the Hilton because it rated highly on Expedia.com and was foremost cheap...like $90.00. It was very run down and our bed actually had this pile of dirt on it...like someone had shaked a muddy shoe on it though the sheets and everything else were clean. Anyway, it was less than impressive but for the price understandable.

7/15 - GW transferred us to NBO for our flight to Rwanda on Kenya Airways. I was really nervous that KA would "lose" our reservation as some people had mentioned on this forum as a frequent occurence. We called and confirmed in the weeks prior to departure and at the time there was some confusion--KA told us we hadn't paid for the tickets when we definitely had. Their solution was just that we should take a copy of our credit card statement with us. We had checked in with KA after landing at NBO the evening before and everything was okay and we didn't have problem day of. The flight went smoothly though it was delayed about 40 minutes and even though it was a short flight, KA served these hot snack things which were really meals. Pretty tasty and made the flight go really fast.

Upon landing, we cleared customs in no time at all. Just to clarify for future people, Americans just not have to pay for a Visa but do not require one at all. Thus, when you go to customs, don't go to the Visa line at all. All the Americans etc on the flight went there first and then got kicked over to the other lines.

After customs, we went to find our person from Albertine Rift Safaris who was to pick us up and transfer out to Kinigi Guest House out by the park. No one from them was there. We then realize we didn't have their phone number--my husband printed off a series of emails from when I contacted Rwandan safari companies and actualy had the number for a different safari company. We wondered back over to where all the people with signs to take another look and seeing how confused we looked one of the signs owners approached and asked who we were looking for, then a group of guides from Volcanoes Safaris tried to help us. They even called other companies on their cell phones to try to get Albertine's phone number. Luckily the info next had this little magazine and it listed tour companies and Albertine was in there. As it was Sunday, we were scared no one would be in the office but someone picked up. He seemed to be confused that we were there in Kigali and told us he'd call us back. He called about 15 minutes later and said someone would be there to get us. About 20 minutes later, Ernest--the owner of Albertine Safaris--showed up. He told us he thought we were coming in the following day. I actually showed him the emails between us that had our itinerary. He took us to the company's office to wait for a driver and he checked his files--we were supposed to be there that day even though his big whiteboard where he writes when people come in, he had us coming in the following day. I think what happened was he went by the original itinerary he sent us that was a day shorter--before we added the Golden Monkeys--and put that down on his big whiteboard and never changed it. Luckily, he had our gorilla permits and obtaining the Golden Monkeys was easy since they don't sell out the gorilla ones. He was extremely apologetic about it and we were just happy that someone finally got us! After that, the driver took us out to Kinigi Guest House. It was super basic but clean. The bed was a bit small--the mosquito netting cutdown on the bed space which made the double quite small for two adults. The food was unremarkable. Everyone was friendly. It is run by genocide widows so it was nice to give our money to them rather than some corporation. The double was $50/night, breakfast was included.

7/16 - we tracked the Golden Monkeys. Interestingly, two different Volcanoes Safari guides at two different times who had both tried to help us at the airport both came up to us just to make sure everything had worked out. It was very nice of them. We had an older Belgian couple and two young kids from Mexico (I think 11-12yos)--their family hadn't realized you had to be 16 to do the gorillas so they did the Golden Monkeys. They lent some hunor to the track. 15 minutes into it they asked if we were there yet...and kept asking. Our guide Hop seemed to be befuddled as how to deal with them--he not knowing Spanish and they not knowing a lot of English. I think kids are pretty much the same all over the world. It took 30 minutes to the park edge and then about 30 to the monkeys. The monkeys were awesome! They were active and funny and beautiful and there were so many of them. A couple of them jumped right overhead at one point. Both us really enjoyed the monkeys--we actually think we liked them more than the gorillas. I definitely reccommend that if you had time to spend and day and go visit them. It was a nice warm up to the gorillas and it seems you usually don't have the 8 max people--we had six but that was only because of the last minute additions of the two kids.

7/17 - we were assigned to the Susa group. We were joined by five Australians and one South African. I was note prepared for the hike straight up the mountain. 45 minutes into it I thought I was going to have to stop--the elevation just hit me really hard. Luckily, at that point, we were only 15 minutes from the park edge so I kept going and then we had a break while our guide Olivier briefed us on the gorillas. Once in the park, I had no problems. The climbing is still up hill but not as steep. I think the break which was probably 40 minutes gave me time to catch my breath and adjust to the elevation. We finally found the family after about an hour actually hiking in the park. They were finishing up eating. A young baby saw us and decided to come say hello--as he crept closer and clsoer to us our guide made noises to scare him away and the had us move back. The baby finally turned back. The gorillas then decided to move. This is when we saw the new two week old baby on the back of its mother. They all left and for about 20 minutes we had to chase them through the forest--crawling over braches, crawling under them. It was crazy. We came across one mom who was nursing her baby. She did not like us and false charged us. We left them and finally found the silverback and several gorillas elsewhere. They had settled in for a siesta. We probably saw about 10-12 of the total of 36 gorillas in the family. We weren't lucky enough to see the twins though. After our time, we went back down. The hike down in total took maybe 30 minutes. Much easier.

Overall, I enjoyed the gorillas. They were amazing and it was a crazy experience off-roading in the dense forest. However, I think eight people is too many. The other six people on our track were all from the same group so they traded spots and often my husband and I were left trying to chance a glimpse of the gorillas. Also because of the layout of the jungle there often isn't a lot of room--so even though there is all this room--eight people trip over one another. Both my husband and I would definitely do gorillas again in a heartbeat though. It was an amazing experience.

Back to Kigali. Stopped at the Genocide Museum--it was very moving, educational, and well done. We overnighted at the Iris Hotel which was a bit less basic than Kinigi and clean. They had free internet so it was great to be able to email everyone at home that we had gotten in safely. The restuarant at the hotel was good. I had what amounted to a $5 steak with this garlic and butter potatoes and it was the best meal of the entire trip.

7/18 - back to Nairobi. GW transfer to the Holiday Inn. From where we had stayed, the Holiday Inn was palatial! We had an executive suite. The room was lovely and clean and very nice--this isn't like the Holiday Inns back in the US. We ate at their Golden Spur resturant. The food was substandard.

7/19-23 - private charter to the Mara. Picked up by Little Governor's for four nights. Little Governor's was nice. I was a bit disappointed that the tents were so close together. We were in in Tent 3 and Tent 1 and 2 contained an American family--who kept yelling across between their tents and the two teenage kids who were in the tent next to us argued loudly more than once (there was a bit of a scuffle over who got which bed...I meant to ask later if they ever did get the bed situation figured out...I too didn't see why the one who got the better bed in Nairobi should get the good one here as well!). The tent was nice and the food was standard. The staff was wonderful and we particularly liked a young server named Duncan. GW didn't give us our vouchers though...nor anything...so they had to call them and have them send our vouchers and our game park permits. Little Governor's just got a new manager who just started recently--taking over for someone. He was very pleasant and was out every evening talking to everyone and seeing how their day went. He was actually interested on how we were "sold" Shompole. I told him it was just supposed to be a beautiful place for a honeymoon even though the game wasn't that great. He said that the game there was actually really picking up and that a couple who had come in last week had raved about it. He gave us a bottle of wine when he realized it was our HM--GW hadn't told them and he said camps like to know that stuff, so he called Shompole and told them which was nice.

On to the game...for the first two days we shared the truck with a nice Indian couple from Kenya who are both based in England now (whew!). They were great car mates--being new to safari everything was new to them too. They had also had a delay in their flight down which left them a day in Cairo which we were doing later so they gave us tips on that. We then had an evening and morning drive to ourselves before being joined by three British women--a grandmom, mom, and daughter--for our last evening and morning drive. By then were "old hats" to the safari (haha), but enjoyed their compnay as well--they were new to safari so they were seeing things for the first time but both my husband and I appreciated taking time to just see elephants etc again. There wasn't that urge to snap pictures every second since we already had photos. We could just enjoy it.

As for the game itself, the migration had not reached the Mara and wasn't epxected to the start of August! Nonetheless, there was still a ton of game as the herds that migrate within the Mara were up near LG. We saw a ton of lions--different spottings here and there. One time we found 14 of the Paradise pride all sleeping under a tree, another we came across a mating pair, and another we saw a mom and her three 3 mo old cubs and then just random lions here and there. We saw a male cheetah as well as a cheetah with her four nearly grown cubs. They contemplated crossing the Mara for a long time but decided not too. There were plenty of elephants, giraffes, ilands, wildebeest, water buffalos, gazelles, crocs, hippos, birds (I am so in love with the Lilac-breasted roller), baboons, and so on. It was wonderful! Every group had babies which was great to see. The tiny baby elephants were particularly fun to see.

We also did the Masai village visit. I would not do this again. For $30, we got to walk into the village and hear a song and then walk in and out of a little house before being led to a huge circle of knick knacks that were for sale. It felt very commercialized and a bit sad. We didn't mind the money since obviously it's a good cause (we did buy a couple little statues) but we didn't like the feel of it. One tourist actually grabbed different women as they sang and turned and posed them for pictures and it just felt disturbing. We later drove through a village at Shompole on our way to somewhere and that seemed more real and vibrant. We also did a school there and that felt much more real as well. Anyway, that is just OUR opinion and OUR impressions.

7/23-7/27 - we took a private charter from the Mara to Shompole. We stayed three nights at Little Shompole. The room/tent/whatever you call the walless and palatial living space was spectactular. Very very lovely. The food was plentiful and good--not great but solid. The game was fairly good. A lot of lions, a ton of wildebeast (more than we saw in the Mara acutally), giraffes, zebras, and so on. We did a nigh game drive and saw just afew night creatures like the African Wild Cat (looks just like a house cat). Also visited Lake Natron and saw the flamingos. We enjoyed Shompole a lot just for the peace. LG had bid quite loud so Shompole was a nice contrast. Ava gave us a couple African paro-y cloths as well as a jar of african honey to make Dawas (did I get that right?). Very yummy--honey, vodka, and lime. We were happy it made it through in our carry-on at Nairobi, Cairo, and Amsterdam and finally US customs.

7/27-7/29 - private charter to Nairobi with room at Holiday Inn. Egyptian Airline flight to Cairo. Cairo was very hot, very dirty (I never thought I'd see a dead horse splayed out along a ditch), and was not very impressive after the Mara. We took in the Pyramids--which were okay...kind of like a visit to Stone Henge (which I've somehow managed to visit twice)--you've seen it in a thousand pictures and because it's a static thing when you see it in person you are kind of underwhelmed--and made an attempt at the Egyptian museum. We stayed at the Ramses Hilton--which was outdated though fairly clean. They taxed everything at 22%. The front desk would was often less than helpful and we didn't like how we negotiated taxi prices with them rather than the taxi drivers--we overpaid on many taxis. I wore loose long pants and loose long sleeved shirts with high collars plus a baggy jacket and still got hissed at and kissed at. I was surprised the most frequent men who did this were police officers--particularly those around the museum. Everyone tried to sell us things as expected--our cab driver from the airport to our hotel actually tried to sell us on another hotel mid-drive which was actually pretty funny. Cairo was not for us but as it was only a day and half and just a last minute addition, we didn't mind. we saw the Pyramids and experienced a bit of Egypt--a place far different from the US and seeing different places and different people and different cultures is always a good thing to do.

-----

Other things:

Gameswatchers - would recommend although not highly. They were late meeting us sometimes, didn't give us our vouchers or game park permits, and we had a few other small problems with them. If we do Kenya again, we would try someone new out.

Albertine Rift Safaris - would recommend even with the airport mix-up. Everything worked out in the end and everything was provided that they said would be provided.

Shompole is much hotter than the Mara. We didn't realize just how much... Shompole is also open living so be prepared for a lot of ants and spiders and a ton of lizards. We also had a pair of bats fly in one evening and roost for the night--I wasn't prepared for that. I'd never seen bats mentioned in regards to Shompole. I have an illogical fear of bats so this really spooked me. Would highly recommend for honeymoons. Game is good, but not like the Mara (is anywhere though? :)

Little Governor's is nice but maybe not right for a honeymoon. There are 17 tents there so it is quite large. Would highly recommend though.

We both agree we'd love to go back and try different camps and different parks. However, we won't be heading back to Kenya anytime soon. We are planning on going to China in 2008 (panda bears!) and Botswanna/South Africa in 2009. My husband is intent on getting his mom to go to Rwanda to do the gorillas. Both of us are both keen on returning to Rwanda again to do the gorillas again and to visit other areas of it--both us are big fans of Rwanda!

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