Back from Rwanda and Kenya

Old Jan 12th, 2007, 04:17 AM
  #21  
 
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Bet you realised it was a good move booking the Intercontinental when you saw those 'sealed' bottles ....euugghh, I can still 'see' that icky lotion bottle in the Milles Collines!

Your report brings me back to Rwanda especially your description of everyone walking ... we were perplexed about where they were going to / from too.

Imelda
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Old Jan 12th, 2007, 05:49 AM
  #22  
 
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I'm really enjoying your report, Toshi. I leave for Rwanda & Kenya on Thursday and this is a great introduction. Thanks for posting! Beautiful photos, too.

Cindy
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Old Jan 12th, 2007, 06:59 AM
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Toshi it is nice to hear about the boot washers & clothes washers at Gorilla Nest. I had read somewhere there was no laundry facilities at all there and since our last trek is the day before we fly home I was contemplating what I was going to do with those filthy clothes. Thanks for a great report. We are getting so exicted! Also I think we may have the same driver - Vick- as you as we are with R&N also and that is the driver they have told us.
Happy travels J
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Old Jan 12th, 2007, 08:43 AM
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I think when I was at Gorilla's Nest they told me they had no dryer. I didn't find out until I had hand washed a bunch of clothes. I won't bother complaining again that the rooms were too cold for anything to dry

but of course I would do it all again.
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Old Jan 12th, 2007, 09:15 AM
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The trekker with the ipod is a little disgusting, but nowhere near as sickening as the gorilla missing a hand due to poachers.

Your visit with the gorillas was a great one. An interesting side trip to Congo.
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Old Jan 12th, 2007, 04:57 PM
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Day Five - Tuesday, December 26th
Same ritual as yesterday - up at 5:30, still cold, eggs for breakfast. On the drive to the park office we asked Vicky if he could ask the ranger if the Sabyinyo group was relatively close and if so could we be assigned to that group. We wanted to be back by 2 to avoid driving back to Kigali in the dark and we wanted to see the Sabyinyo group because it had a very large silverback. As usual, no problem. Vicky had a very good attitude, which was a definite plus.

We checked in at the ORPTN office, Vicky disappeared for a minute, and when he returned he took us over to the Sabyinyo group sign. Hooray! Francois introduced himself as our guide, and introduced our other guide Tio. I remembered reading about Francois on the internet so I knew we were in for a good day. We were joined by a couple from France, and three people from Los Angeles (although one lived in Kigali and worked for USAID). The drive was the same as the day before, but this time we stopped where the tarmac road ended so we didn't have to deal with the mud. We saw lots of road construction all over Rwanda, and it was explained that the Chinese provide grants and training to Rwanda to build roads, bridges, irrigation ditches, etc.

We hired a porter (we were the only ones today) and I took a walking stick that had a carved gorilla on it. The walking sticks were good for testing the depth of the mud Again through the farmland, more goats, more waving children. The weather was much better today and the wall climb was easier here because there was a passthrough. The forest here was different than the day before, much more dense, with different kinds of trees and visible damage from elephants.

Along the trek, Francois showed us how the gorillas extract water from the plants so they never need to go in search of water. He also showed us assorted plants and fruits that gorillas and elephants eat. Other members of our group tasted them, but I couldn't get "peel it, boil it, or forget it" out of my mind and envisioned having to explain to a travel clinic doctor "i don't know what it was - it was about this big, had seeds, and is part of a gorilla's diet" so I passed. Francois showed us wild impatients (which the previous day we thought were orchids) and how daisies are natural bug repellent (which they call insecticide).

After about an hour of hiking in muddy slop we heard some rustling in the bamboo. Then we saw the trackers so we knew that the gorillas were near. We put down our bags in a clearing and followed Francois and Tio as they hacked a path into the solid bamboo. As we were climbing there was a baby and a subadult playing in the canopy above us. When we reached the top, there he was - the biggest gorilla I had ever seen! I think the first 10 minutes were spent saying "look at the size of him" and "look at the size of his hands!" and "look at his teeth!" Francois asked us to hold off taking pictures to make sure that Guhonda (that's what they call this silverback) was ok with our presence. A minute later Francois said it was ok to take pictures so we all began snapping away.

He was about 15 feet away, and Francois kept saying "come over here to see better" but I was afraid that I'd slip and wind up in the silverback's lap. No thanks, I'm fine right here. Guhonda, who is 35 and weighs 450 pounds, sat there and ate bamboo while two babies played in front of him. They rolled and tumbled and bit each other. I filmed some video. Francois made some crazy sounds. At certain points, the babies were too close for Andy to photograph with the 70-200 lens. The gorillas really are...pungent. We took turns taking pictures of each other with the gorillas in the background. One of the trackers kept asking to take a picture of me with the gorillas - he spoke French but no English, and I only had the DSLR (Mr Toshi had the point and shoot, but he was about 5 feet away). I'm good at charades, but there's no way I could do "point it at me, hold the trigger half way down to focus, then keep holding it down, but reposition the camera so the gorillas are in the picture too". i just let him take a few pictures and said thanks Something spooked the silverback and he let out this crazy loud howl/bark and charged sideways at one of the females. We all assumed our submissive pose while Francois said "everything is ok, he is not angry" - I sure didn't want to see him angry! A minute later, the bamboo canopy collapsed under his tremendous girth and he and the other gorillas rolled down into the forest.

I thought that this must signal the end of the trip, but oh no. Francois gestured for us to follow him and we walked down after the gorilla family and tracked them through the dense forest where it was so dark that the video camera thought that the lens cap was on

They emerged in the clearing where we had left our bags (although the porter/trackers had moved them at some point). The entire family was now out in the wide open - absolutely amazing. Little ones riding on momma's back, a baby nursing, a juvenile eating fruit - the silverback ran by at one point (not charging, just running) and the earth actually trembled. We watched them for a while and then Francois announced that it was time to go, but there were two gorillas blocking our path so he had to kind of shoe them away and we had to sneak by.

We'd booked two treks really as insurance - in case the first one yielded no gorillas, or bad weather, etc. But we'd had a really good first day so we'd joked that the second day was just "gravy". But the second day FAR exceeded our expectations - and even the guy from Kigali who had been to see the gorillas five times before said that it was a particularly phenominal day.

Vicky was waiting for us at the bottom, where we tipped Francois, Tio, and our porter (no returned bills today). We went back to the ORPTN office to pick up our certificates and I wanted to buy the noseprint sheets, but they were out of them (although I was able to find a scan of them online).

Back to the Gorillas Nest where we had our boots cleaned but were stuck with very muddy clothes because there wasn't time for laundry. We packed, settled our bill (which came to around $20 for drinks/laundry/ etc.) and had lunch. We were on the road by 2 and back in Kigali by 4. We tried to stop at the Kenya Airways office to reconfirm our flights, but it was closed (Boxing Day) so Vicky said he'd drop us at the hotel and go to the airport. He took us shopping at this artists place we'd seen on the 24th and I bought a 2 foot tall (but narrow) woodcarving of a woman carrying a pot. And thus began the "schlepping around things that I buy on vacation".

Back at the Intercontinental, which now seems like an uber-posh oasis, we dump the bags in the room (418 - across the hall from our previous room, now overlooking the pool), grab the Epson, and head for the business center. This is the first time I have EVER brought the USB cable for the Epson, so we were able to hook it up to the computer in the business center and view some of the gorilla pictures. The attendant was looking over our shoulders the whole time and he seemed to like the pictures so we decided to try to upload a few to flickr, and then link to them from our blog. The computer didn't have Photoshop (or even Notepad, for that matter), so I had to upload the full resolution images, which took about 10 minutes for each one. But in looking at the stats log from while we were gone, our friends enjoyed virtually tagging along so it was worth it.


Back in the room, I took a long bath and used every product available. We were running out of underwear so we did some sink laundry (nothing would have ever dried at the gorillas nest). (Mr Toshi) fashioned what looked like an underwear-mobile using our clothespins, a hangar, and the floor lamp over the air vent to ensure that everything would dry quickly.

We met Vicky in the lobby bar around 7:30 and gave him his tip and some medicine that we didn't need. We asked him if we could go to the Mille Collines for dinner and if he would join us. Of course, no problem. On the way over, he asked if we could stop for gas and while he was fueling the car a man approached an asked if we wanted to buy water or a panic alarm "la asante" (no thank you).

The entry to the Mille Collines looks as it does in the movie Hotel Rwanda. There was a Porsche Cayenne in the parking lot and it stuck out almost as much as we did at that hotel in the Congo. The interior hotel scenes in the movie, however, must have been filmed somewhere else. The lobby reminded me of a Days Inn - "not that there's anything wrong with that". We went downstairs to check out the poolside bar (which was very noisy) and then upstairs to the Panorama Restaurant. This was expensive for Rwanda ($60 for 3), but the food was very good, and it had a nice atmosphere with a piano player and a nice view of the twinkling lights. During dinner, Vicky talked a little about life in Rwanda, and how the people are really struggling, and a little bit about the genocide. I'd gotten about 3/4 through the book "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" on the flight over, and I don't think I could handle a first hand account of the situation so luckily he didn't go into too much detail (and we're not ones to pry). I tried to pay using Visa but was told there was a $100 minimum so we had to use cash.

Vicky dropped us off at the hotel around 10:30 and said he'd see us at 5:15am (for our 6:40am flight).

Next up: touching cheetahs in Nairobi and on to the Masai Mara...
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Old Jan 23rd, 2007, 04:30 PM
  #27  
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I got around to posting some pictures from our visit to the Amahoro Group.

http://tinyurl.com/2pnqfl

The rest of the trip report and more pics to follow eventually
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