Rwanda/Uganda Safety & Travel Warnings ?

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Jan 19th, 2006, 02:43 PM
  #1
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Rwanda/Uganda Safety & Travel Warnings ?

My husband and I (Americans) are considering a trip to Rwanda/Uganda - specifically Nyungwe Forest, Volcanoes National park (PNV), and Kibale. We plan to fly into Kigale and out of Entebbe.

Then I came across the US Department of State travel warnings, which paint a pretty grim picture, and frankly, freaked me out.

Assuming we have a guide, don't wander off from the lodges, use common sense, etc. are these places really as dangerous as the Dept of State suggest? We've been to Kenya, Tanzania, and Egypt - perhaps someone can offer a comparitive danger rating

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Jan 19th, 2006, 04:24 PM
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hi, these warnings are all over the place there.i am heading over to kibale forest again in march.i did bwindi & queen elizabeth & kibale in june. no troubles at all.not to worry, have a great time.
i headed over to kenya a handful of days after 9/11.so many people at home said dont go. so glad i did. i never ever pay any attention to those warnings.
cheers, d
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Jan 19th, 2006, 05:41 PM
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Toshi,

I usually check the US travel websit before I travel internationally. However, when I went to Spain and France a couple of years ago when all the bombings were taking place, one would never have known it while I was there. If you go, lay low and listen to your guides...common sense. I would advise you to scan all passports, credit card info, etc. and email it to yourself. In case something happens, you can always access your email online internationally. Just check before you go.

Please let me know what you decide, I am also planning a trip to Uganda/Rwanda...wouldn't you know it, same area, too -July 2006. I'd love to chat as we are also finalizing itineraries to Kenya and Tanzania.

Cheers!
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Jan 19th, 2006, 06:46 PM
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Toshi,

If you've been to Kenya in the last 5 years or so, you've gone when there was a specific State Dept warning for Kenya.

There is currently a general East Africa warning as well as a world wide caution, but Uganda and Rwanda are not on the Travel Warning list. There is a public announcement regarding the northern part of Uganda and the danger from the Lord's Resistance Army. But that would be north of where you are going.

As for comparative danger, I experienced the same level of danger in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda/Rwanda. That was none. I traveled with a reputable outfitter for all trips, as you indicated you would.

Most recently I was in Uganda and Rwanda in 2004 during the time there was Congo border trouble. I experienced no problems whatsoever.

I will mention one comment from a state department employee that I happened to meet while tracking golden monkeys in Rwanda in July 2004. He said the state dept did not allow its employees to visit Nyungwe due to potential danger, but PNV was not problem.

The Nyungwe situation may have changed by now. I'd love to read your report if you go there.

Should you include Kibale in your itinerary and hear machine gun fire in the night, don't let it terrorize you as it did me. Many villages surround Kibale and the rangers scare the elephants away from the fields with machine guns. Kibale was excellent.

Many reputable, non-risky US nature and wildlife companies have numerous departures to Uganda and are entering Rwanda too. I take that as a sign of confidence in the area.

Have a great trip.
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Jan 20th, 2006, 08:40 AM
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Just came back from Rwanda in October. Did gorilla tracking in PNV & went to Nyungwe and tracked chimps & spent several days in Kigali, including walking around in the middle of the night. I've never felt safer in both areas. I live and work in the Los Angeles area and I am sure Rwanda is safer

Hiking through Nyungwe was hardest thing I have EVER done physically. We spent HOURS breaking our own trails and caught a tiny glimpse of the chimps. I will post two sections from my travel journal here so you can peruse.

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Jan 20th, 2006, 08:44 AM
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from Hazle Journal East Africa pages 31 & 32. www.wayneahzle.com/eastafrica/
[email protected] (email me if you want some great Rwanda pics)

-----------------

It was only adrenaline that allowed us to get up when the alarm rang at 4AM. Our bodies didn’t have much left. We got out of bed and dragged ourselves to the car. Richard drove us to the waiting area.

Even though we were already in the middle of the forest the trip down to the area from where we would begin our hike was an hour drive down a bumpy road. We drove through a village and the local kids were lining up to see us. OK, not us, Mary Ellen. It was very rare in this remote area to see a white person. They were constantly crying out “Mzunga!” meaning white woman (or something to that effect). In Chile, I was the star, now it was Mary Ellen’s turn.

We parked the jeep in the village, leaving a local porter to watch it. Our trek began. First we hiked out of the village, then through farmland, until we reached the thick edge of the forest.

Anticipation pulsed through my veins, we were about to hike through a rainforest with wild chimpanzees in it! We walked along the trails. Thick brush was on both sides of us. We went further and further till we were enveloped in the mist and the thick growth. Mary Ellen and I huffed and puffed to keep up with our seasoned guides. Eventually, we hit the end of the trail. To reach the chimpanzees, we would need to break our own trail and go deep into the forest. One of the guides went ahead of us to find where the chimps were.

What followed for the next several hours was simply the most difficult physical thing I have ever done. We hacked our way through jungle. We forced our way through brush so incredibly thick, visibility was down to only a few inches in front of us. Mary Ellen and I were constantly sliding and falling. We walked on ridges which were on the edges of deep gullies. Several times we tumbled and nearly fell down into an abyss. Only a last second grab of a branch saved us. We couldn’t even see the ground, just thick overgrowth. At the same time we rationed our water. Each of us brought two bottles. There was no way to carry more. We had to take careful sips.

Finally, just when I thought my chest would explode, we heard several loud screeches. The guide told us the chimpanzees were over the next hill. I summoned every ounce of strength I could and forced myself to keep walking. I reached an area and the guide quietly pointed ahead and up to the top of some tall trees. In the distance, I could see them quickly going up and down the trees. It was just a brief blip. So brief, that by the time Mary Ellen caught up, they were gone.

We tried to catch them for another hour, but we were struggling to hack through vines while they were easily skipping among the treetops. We heard the screeching several times, but never got close enough to get a good view.

All through the hike, we worried about breaking a limb in this forest. There was no way to get a helicopter in to get us out. Not to mention that Rwanda doesn’t exactly have a bunch of helicopters just sitting there waiting to rescue tourists. So despite the fact that we were tired beyond imagination and bruised and battered to a pulp, we had to make our way all the way back out. Will power has a way of taking over. After another hour of hacking and climbing we made it back out of the forest, past the farmlands and back to the village and our cars.

It seems the entire village was there waiting for the Mzunga. I collapsed into the car as I downed my last sip of water. I was banged around so much that my video camera, my film camera and Elain’s camera were busted and out of commission! My body ached. I had chills and was coughing and sneezing. Uh oh…

We got our suitcases from the ORPTN Guesthouse and continued on our journey. Richard told us he was going to take us on the scenic route to Kibuye. It was also a shorter route, but the road was bad. Remember Bad in AfricaSpeak= Unearthly Horrible. So we banged and bounced along through the Rwandan countryside. There were more rolling, mist covered hills, rich red soil, and beautiful lakes. Women walked with sacks of bananas or potatoes on their heads. If I wasn’t coughing, sneezing, shivering and two inches away from throwing up, I would really have appreciated all of this!

Richard proudly pointed out the beauty of his country. Hey wait a minute… he’s doing the looking thing! The car seemed to struggle to make it up a hill. We stopped and he went out to check under the hood. He fiddled with some stuff (yes, I know I should be more manly and be able to tell you what he did) and soon we were back on the road soon.

At some point we decided we wanted to pick up some food so that we wouldn’t be at the mercy of the hotel at our next place. All I will say, is we must never forget how spoiled we are, when we can go into a supermarket and pick up any type of food we want. I think we ended up buying a pack of crackers and some sort of concentrated juice that you add water to. Whatever, just get me to the hotel.

We arrived in Kibuye and at the Bethanie Guest House before it got dark. We were actually able to see everything as we checked in. Of course, just as we checked in there was a power failure. The rooms were less sparse than ORPTN, but still not a Sopa or Serena. Actually, the tent from the Masai was looking amazing right now.

We really didn’t have any itinerary for tomorrow. The guest house was right on a lake and we could charter a boat to row out to a little island. But that was about it. That old blue feeling settled in on me again. I was lower than … well you just go ahead and make up your own!

We went to dinner and we ran into Barbara and Peter, that Aussie couple from the Mille Collines. I moaned about the bad roads, the hike through Nyungwe, sparse rooms, blah blah. They were so cheerful, once again like angels sent to just set things right. No matter how much I whined they said, “Well that’s Africa for you.” They had been going through Africa together for months, seen much worse than we had and were still beaming. They were also a good twenty years older than us.

We ate a great meal, with seafood bisque and chicken. We went back to our rooms, got out of our soaking wet, mud covered clothing, showered and collapsed.
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Jan 20th, 2006, 08:46 AM
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This is my first gorilla trek. Saturday October 22nd
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The day had finally arrived. As much as I had looked forward to Kenya and Tanzania and all we saw there, seeing the mountain gorillas had a special allure all of its own. The few of these exotic creatures left in the world, are all concentrated in the mountains between Rwanda and Uganda.

Many of you have heard of Diane Fossey and her book Gorillas in the Mist. Sigourney Weaver starred in the movie version of Fossey’s life. Fossey went to Rwanda in 1967 to begin counting and studying the mountain gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda. She was the first known person to establish friendly contact with the gorillas. She spent thousands of hours gaining the trust of the various families within the park. Her research led to incredible knowledge about these magnificent creatures.

There is a marvelous question and answer on how the gorillas live at the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund page (www.goriillafund.org in particular http://www.gorillafund.org/005_gorilla_frmset.html ) In short they eat celery nettles, bamboo and thistles. A full grown gorilla can eat up to sixty pounds of vegetation a day! An adult male can reach up to four hundred pounds, while a female can be two hundred. The dominant male in charge is the silverback, named so because of the gleaming silver hair on his back

By the time you get this journal, KING KONG will have been one of the huge movie hits of this season. Most of us have seen the original version and will probably see this new one. In the movie, Kong is a monstrous rampaging beast several stories tall. He climbs the Empire State building and swats planes from the sky. In reality, the mountain gorillas are peaceful social, creatures that typically don’t attack humans. I certainly hoped so, because we were going to walk into their homes and be within ten feet of them.

So we left the Gorilla’s Nest Hotel and went to the meeting site. There were five different families that are available to be observed. Eight people can visit a family for one hour only. It would be too stressful for the gorillas to have people around them all day. It is an interesting conflict, even our being there for the hour changes the gorilla’s behavior; however the money that is paid by tourists takes care of the gorilla’s habitat. It also pays for trackers and protection from poachers. If the tourism doesn’t continue, the gorillas will be killed.

We were randomly selected to be with the Amaharo group. This was a small group of less than 15 gorillas, including babies. Each of the five families tended to stay in different sections of Volcanoes Park. However, within each section there was a wide range that they moved around in every night. Finding the gorillas, could take twenty minutes or two hours!

We drove 30 – 45 minutes to our launching point from where we would walk. (Don’t ask about the roads). I was nicely “drugged up” from the medications I was taking. My coughing and sneezing were at a minimum. But, I was cold and a little achy. I felt weak, so I really hoped the Amaharos decided to sleep close to our launching point. At the launching point we paid porters to carry our bags. We were each given a walking stick and we went into the forest. We soon reached a stone wall about four feet high. This was primarily built to keep in the buffalo that would come down and trample people’s farms. When we climbed over the fence, it was like crossing a point of no return, stepping into the land of the lost. There were heavy vines and thick trees everywhere, blocking out much of the sun. Bamboo trees, the gorilla’s favorite food, was the primary vegetation.

The guide reminded us the gorillas will not harm us, but that we should stay close to him and his assistants and do EVERYTHING they say. If a gorilla comes toward us, DO NOT RUN! There is no way on earth we could outrun one of them.

At this moment, my cold ravaged body was bursting with excitement. It reminded me of the moment in King Kong where the natives started chanting “KONG! KONG!”, because they knew the great beast was coming. The ground literally trembled beneath them.

We made our way over the muddy trail. Then we started going up hill. My legs were weak, I was dizzy, but I kept hearing the ringing in my ear “KONG! KONG!” and it drove me forward. I stopped several times to catch my breath.

“KONG! KONG!”

Then the lookout at the top of the hill, pointed. A black furry shape moved quickly through brush at the top of the hill. “KONG! KONG!” The guides told us to leave our walking sticks and our bags with the porters. They would wait at this spot, while we got closer. The gorillas get a little concerned when a bunch of humans show up with sticks. We were waved up the hill and they pointed us to the left. And there they were!

What I saw when I rounded the corner was not some ferocious “beasts”. I saw a family, a family of about 13 gorillas. This included mothers, babies and of course the mighty silverback. It was an amazing hushed moment when we first saw them lying in the wet grass and leaves. They rolled around, ate bamboo and groomed each other constantly. They certainly saw us, we were about ten to fifteen feet away, but they didn’t pay us much attention. Every day for years, they have had people coming to see them and watch them do nothing special.

Once in a while, our guides made strange groaning and grunting noises. They said that hearing these noises relaxed the gorillas and let them know that we would do them no harm. Anything that told the gorillas that we were their friends, was OK with me.

The silverback in the Amaharo group was the oldest of all the silverbacks in all the groups. This guy hardly seemed like the mighty KONG at all. He was more like grandpa sleeping in a hammock. Once in a while he opened an eye and watched us, but not much else. The guide told us that if there was any gorilla to keep an eye on it was the blackback. This was the adolescent male, waiting one day to be in charge. Like adolescent human males, they were anxious to prove themselves and more likely to feel challenged. At one point the blackback came within four feet of me, I cautiously stepped to the side and he sauntered right past me.

I was thrilled and utterly miserable at the same time. I was seeing something so rare, few humans on earth would ever get to see. On the other hand I was still fighting off illness. At times I had to struggle to hold myself up. But I enjoyed sitting, my rear end soaking wet from the grass and just enjoying watching their antics.

Our hour went up quicker than I expected. We said goodbye to the Amaharo Group. As great a time as I just had, I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and pass out. While I coughed, sneezed, shivered and slept, Mary Ellen wandered the grounds. Eventually, I woke up and we wandered out to eat some lunch. Richard was sitting over in the lounge area. We sat with him and made a few minutes small talk. But we both knew the time had come: tell us about The War.

Richard let out a sigh, as he literally brought the bad memories back up to the surface. Once in a while on the trip he would briefly mention the ideology that was preached in the country by radical Hutu fanatics: that Tutsis were “snakes”, “insects” or “cockroaches” and that to kill one of them was nothing. You could turn on the radio and hear this being preached by Hutu extremists. (I give a fuller explanation of the whole history on page 39)
In April of 1994, Richard was visiting one of his brothers in Kigali. The tension in the country was incredibly high. Rumors abounded that the Hutus were planning to murder all the Tutsis. Yet many, including Richard’s brother felt that it was all just talk. Then on April 6th President Habyalimana’s plane was shot down. Richard remembers hearing the news report. He remembered thinking “Now What?” Almost instantly the killings began. Screaming and gunfire could be heard through the night. Richard’s brother went out to check on someone, and was never seen again.

After a few days of hiding, Richard went out into Kigali. The streets were eerily quiet. No one was moving. Richard found himself on a main road. Suddenly men in a truck spotted him. They yelled at him and began firing their guns at him. Richard fled with the men in hot pursuit. Richard crossed a bridge and made the decision to jump to the ground thirty meters below. He shattered his shin bone, causing bone to pierce through his flesh. He was able to crawl into hiding as the men went past.

Somehow, with the help of someone else in hiding, Richard was able to get to a hospital. But even the hospital was not safe. The militias were dragging people out and slaughtering them. Richard said every night when he went to sleep, he wasn’t sure if he would ever wake up and every morning when he woke up, he wasn’t sure if it would be his last day. Richard was one of the “lucky ones”. He stayed in the hospital until the genocide was ended. He went back home to learn that his family was decimated.

When Richard stopped talking, he let out another long sigh. I think the pain will always be fresh. Mary Ellen and I just sat quietly. I had to tell Richard, that as we drove around the country and saw men I wondered what they did during the genocide. Were they killers walking around unpunished? I actually felt angry.

Richard said that he decided to let go of the anger, that getting revenge will not accomplish anything. Richard lives with his sister and sometimes, she sees someone that she knows was a killer. Richard tells her she can’t be sure and that it is best to let it go. “I don’t want to think about the past. I think about the future. I just want to have a family, work hard and be happy. No more fighting.”

Men like Richard are the heart and soul of Rwanda today, perhaps of Africa itself. His goal of forgiveness and thinking of the future, is a lofty one. But we told him that only in a world under Jehovah God’s rule will all men live in peace as brothers. Only under that kingdom will we see his siblings and my sister Elain again.

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Jan 20th, 2006, 08:48 AM
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this is from Sunday when we saw the Sabinyo group:
----------------

When I woke up this morning, I knew I had beaten my illness. It wasn’t totally gone, but I was ready for a serious hike. We were fortunate yesterday that the trek to see the Amaharo family took less than ˝ hour. People in one of the other groups, told us it took them two very difficult hours of trekking to find their group. Today, if it came to that, I was ready.

Soon enough we were driving into the forest to our launch site, to trek out and find the Sabinyo group. This was a group of around fifteen. It actually had two silverbacks. The dominant silverback was one of the largest on record.

We began our trek, and hadn’t even made it to the stone fence when we saw them. The Sabinyos, had climbed the fence themselves and were sitting on the edge of the farmland of local villagers. Several young children. were watching. Ordinarily, they don’t even get to see the gorillas, so this was a treat for them.

Immediately, we saw the chief silverback. He was huge! This was as close to Kong as we were going to get. He was much more active than grandpa silverback from yesterday. The group was busy breaking bamboo trees and eating the soft center. While the Amaharos were concentrated in a small leafy area, the Sabinyos were spread out across a large hilly low growth area.

At some point the silverback stood up on a high mound and just stared out. A guide told us he was looking for every one in the group. You could almost literally see him counting. He didn’t move until he made visual contact with the whole family. What a protective Dad!
We followed them (but not too closely) as they moved around the hill. At one point the chief silverback came within 15 feet of us and broke several bamboo trees with an easy flick of his mighty arm. Then he walked away. The guides told us he was marking his territory, letting us know he was in charge. We weren’t going to question that for a minute!

I didn’t mention the strong, musky smell that the gorillas give off. It was even more pronounced today, especially since the silverback had this tendency to bend over in front of us. Even at twenty feet away it was quite powerful.

For an hour we got our fill of the Sabinyos. Mothers and their children played and ate. Even the big males got involved. I imagined the joy that Diane Fossey got from seeing these amazing creatures. How sad that they are constantly under threat by poachers! Some of these very poachers took Diane Fossey’s life. Her grave is far up in the mountains, right next to the grave of her favorite gorilla Digit, that was murdered by poachers. I wish we had had the time to go up there.

I credit the Rwandan people for their diligent work in keeping the mountain gorillas alive. Ultimately, we need to look forward to the day when Jehovah sets matters right on the earth, and then finally all creatures on earth will live in peace.

Mary Ellen and I went back the office and got our certificates for both treks. We went to a close by shop. I knew I needed one momento of this visit. I saw what I wanted right away. A gorilla carved from hardwood. I immediately saw the mother and child I wanted. She would be called Hope, (Tumaini in Swahil.) Her male child would be Ilkeliani, (You won’t find out why till the end of the Journal. J) They would fit nicely in my office at home.

When we went outside the shop, there was a crowd of young boys trailing Mary Ellen around. “Muzunga Mzunga!”

We said goodbye to the Gorilla’s Nest and goodbye to the Volacanoes mountains. Within a few hours, we were heading into Kigali. Yes, we did have another looking thing experience. We nearly lost all power going up a long hill. But somehow Richard kept the car going and we made it back to the Mille Collines. A week earlier this hotel had seemed like a nice average place, perhaps like an American, Best Western. After a few days in guest houses, it was like Versailles. We reveled in the “luxury”. There were no geckos in the room, it wasn’t freezing, there was TV, the power stayed on, and there would be a buffet breakfast. I better not let this get to my head.

We called Danny and Karen and made plans to see them and Bethel tomorrow.
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Jan 29th, 2006, 10:53 PM
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Although there are large numbers of refugees in Kisoro and at Ishasha (town NOT in the park at Isasha River Camp) there is a large military presence all along the border and you will be well away from there. No problems at all and none expected in Uganda by those living there. The elections are coming up on 23rd Feb and we are unsure about what will happen in the period around then so I would suggest that you plan your trip to avoid that period a week either side.
Try and visit Bujagali Falls where we live if you get a chance.
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