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The Great Gorilla, Elephant and Surprise Migration Tour


Jul 6th, 2010, 05:38 PM
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The Great Gorilla, Elephant and Surprise Migration Tour

Hi everyone,

I'm still in the process of looking at my photos but I want to get something down before it all falls right out of my head. I also want to convey my satisfaction with the various operators/outfitters, camps, guides, flights, hotels, waiters, drivers, rangers, friends--and wildlife!--that helped make my trip so gulp-I-can't-believe-this good.

Here goes.

For Tom/cary999:
Third safari, third trip to East Africa, first time on safari in Rwanda, first time on safari in Kenya (not first time in Kenya).

First solo trip.
First time traveling with Africa-board friends. (Patty and Mark are great!)

June 11
Arrived Nairobi. Two nights Macushla House.

I just reviewed this place on tripadvisor and posted some pics. Review is here:

June 13-June 17
Flew to Kigali on Kenya Airways.
Three nights Kinigi Guest House.
One night Paradis Malahide in Gisenyi on Lake Kivu.

June 17-June 22
Flew back to Nairobi on the 17th, met up with Patty and Mark.
O/n Nairobi Holiday Inn.
Drove to Tsavo East on June 18.
Three nights Ithumba Camp.
Drove to Tsavo West.
One night Finch Hattons.

June 22-25
Flew to the Mara on the morning of the 22nd.
Three nights Kicheche Bush Camp, where, because camp was only half full, I was assigned a private guide and vehicle. Let's hear it for off-season travel!

June 26
Last night at Macushla, followed by a.m. flight to AMS.
Two nights in Amsterdam at the Toren.

If you click the links, you might see that my accommodations really ran the gamut. They were all perfect for me and I'll answer questions and give more detail later. I'm okay with upmarket, downmarket, etc., as long as my expectations are met. As my expectations were pretty much in line with what I got--and what I paid--I was very happy everywhere. Of course, it's always nice to be comfortable.

Note: Ithumba Camp, run by the Sheldrick Wildife Trust, is a very special place. If you are an elephant person, you might consider this. Wonderful.
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Jul 6th, 2010, 06:09 PM
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Me. I booked Macushla directly and used their recommended taxi service for pick-up, drop-off and my day in Nairobi. No problems whatsoever. I think I paid 6000 shillings for a day out and about--was picked up at 10am and by the time Sandi and I finished dinner at the Norfolk it was 10:30pm (sorry, Wilson, for keeping you out so late).

I burned my remaining Flying Blue miles for the flights to/from Kigali. Kind of a waste given the fuel surcharge and the low cost of the flight but my miles were going to expire in August anyway. We were delayed at Bujumbura airport for an extra 45 minutes but unlike Imelda and her husband, I did not mistakenly deplane in Burundi. By the way, that airport is fantastic looking. They just don't design them like that anymore.

I sort of used Kennedy at Waymark to book Kicheche and the Safarilink flights from Tsavo to the Mara. I also sort of just did it myself--it was a dual effort. For something like that, it probably would have been just as easy to do it myself because there wasn't much to be done. And of course Patty knows all the flight schedules by heart.

Which brings me to Fodorite poster Patty, who got me my flights to and from NBO with miles, something I never would have been able to accomplish on my own. She also dealt with Sheldrick for Ithumba. I'll let her describe that.

I used R&N Xplorer for the Rwanda portion of my trip.
Because of that one bad review here a couple of years ago, I was a little anxious about R&N and so was one of those annoying clients who emails a lot to make sure everything's okay. My primary concern was my gorilla permits. And yes, it all went off without a hitch: I was picked when I was supposed to be, the vehicle was in good condition, I was taken everywhere on the itinerary in comfort, my hotel reservations were all fine, my permits were all fine (PTL), etc., etc.

I did drop some Fodorites' names beforehand to Nyagah as an insurance policy. Seema and Wayne, you and your spouses are remembered fondly. Jules, I didn't know your real name so couldn't drop it.


Eastern and Southern Safaris
Patty and Mark always book with Eastern and Southern so when I tagged along I did too, by extension. ESS was great: very professional, responsive, responsible. Julius, who had always been Patty and Mark's driver-guide, had been promoted to transport director, so we had a new driver-guide, Ben. I just loved him, what a character, lots of fun and a very nice person. A birder who was very patient with my complete lack of knowledge about birds. Spotted a leopard right as we drove in to Tsavo West. More to come on Ben.

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Jul 6th, 2010, 07:22 PM
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My flight was delayed in Bujumbura so long. When I got to Kigali no one was there to meet me. Stressed, crabby and eye-rolling at myself, I thought, "Oh great, this is exactly what I was worried about." One of the guides (I've forgotten which company) waiting to pick up clients asked me who was supposed to pick me up. "Mer-kay-tor." "Who?" "Mer-kay-tor." "Mer-kuh-tour?"

He called and my guide had been waiting outside. He was inside in two minutes. I exchanged money in the airport (not enough!), and off we went.

The Two Augustins
My R&N/Mercator driver-guide was Augustin. Tall, thin and laidback, Augustin speaks French, Swahili, Kinyarwanda and English. It was harder to communicate in Rwanda than I had anticipated or had experienced in Kenya and Tanzania. I think it's the added layer of French which is now, apparently, known as "the colonial language." Or at least that's what a few Rwandans told me when I tried to speak French.

The other Augustin. My first trek was Golden Monkeys. I and a family of four South Africans set off from park headquarters tot he trail head. They were staying at Sabinyo Silverback Lodge. Because their vehicle was full (of them), the ORTPN guide Augustin came with Augustin and me. This arrangement would continue the next two days. Two additional days would have been even better.

Francois on the Motorbike
One of the nice things about staying at Kinigi Guesthouse is the proximity to the park. Coming back one afternoon from a longer trek we spied the famous Francois going home for the day on the back of a moto-taxi.
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Jul 6th, 2010, 08:04 PM
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Kinigi with Mary, Maria, Winnie and the Gang
When I arrived at Kinigi Guest House it was a bit more basic than I expected. Or rather, it wasn't more basic but as a solo traveler for me it's more cheerful to be someplace less basic. I was so, so tired after getting up at four in the morning to get ready to go to JKIA to fly to Kigali to sit in the heat on the tarmac in Bujumbura to have Augustin I drive me around Kigali speaking in Bantu-inflected non-French-colonial English to arrive in Kinigi to get a really good, spacious room with a newly cut key that wouldn't work in the lock to be moved to the room next door that was more grim...

Luckily the ladies at Kinigi Guest House are a warm, interesing crew and the particularly nice thing about staying several nights is settling in and chatting (okay, sans nuance because of the language difficulties) with the people who work there.

You Look Nice Today. We Like That.
I wore a dress one afternoon after gorilla trekking. Winnie, Mary and Maria were happy to see me looking a bit more feminine. I got a pedicure before I left on this trip and Mary, the receptionist at the guest house, really thought it looked great.

There's nothing I can say about the gorilla trekking experience that hasn't been said before. It was for me almost unreal, the fulfillment of a lifelong or near-lifelong dream. That hour goes by in the blink of an eye, but it's full of rolling, playing, munching, crunching, nursing, swinging, bellowing, approaching gorillas.


I first saw the Agashya Group, formerly known as Group 13. Fantastic and an easy walk. How kind of them. The next day I saw the Amahoro Group. They decided it would be fun to relax on a steep incline. There were times this day that I was a little concerned I'd roll down a few meters and land in the lap of one of the two silverbacks. Luckily I managed to keep my balance and that didn't happen. Otherwise this report would be taking a decidedly different direction.


Atravelynn's Have Orthotics Will Track report was my best resource outside of the Rwanda Bradt Guide for gorilla trekking. I religiously followed her packing and tipping pointers and then promptly forgot everything upon arrival and really went haywire. I should have written it all down! But everything worked out fine in the end.

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Jul 6th, 2010, 09:44 PM
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Hi Leely,
I haven't even been on my first safari yet, but your trip is making me want to plan the next one to see the gorillas. I have an insignificant question (in light of all your wonderful descriptions), but did you happen to see the two-bedroom cottage on the grounds of Macushla?
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Jul 6th, 2010, 10:27 PM
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crosscheck, dang, I am sorry. I knew there was something I was supposed to scope out at Macushla but I forgot what it was. For what it's worth, I stayed in two different rooms, one at the start of my trip and the other at the end. At the start I stayed in room 6, which is not connected to the main house but is a short walk across the terrace. It was more spacious than room 3 (?) in the main house--although of course both were plenty big for me and my luggage. I would think that a separate cottage would be substantially bigger than a room in the main house so I wouldn't worry too much about it. It's a nice property, quite relaxing, and a very good value in Nairobi. Hakuna matata.
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Jul 6th, 2010, 11:21 PM
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No worries - Actually, I think you were supposed to check it out for someone else who wasn't sure if they would fit in a regular room with kids. We're thrilled to be in the cottage, especially because was no other availability anywhere in Karen on our dates. I will look for the thread of the other family and check it out for them next week.
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Jul 7th, 2010, 04:45 AM
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Ooh! Goody - welcome back Leely - can't wait to read your report in detail!

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Jul 7th, 2010, 05:15 AM
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I'm enjoying your report. Looking forward to more. Thanks.
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Jul 7th, 2010, 05:59 AM
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Welcome back - looking forward to more.
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Jul 7th, 2010, 06:47 AM
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Leely, hi - enjoyed reading your comments and now I want to go on Chimp safari - oh where is the time and money!!

...What did you think of Toren in AMS? (We are going before our safari in Sept & Toren was on the list - just wondering)
and also Holiday Inn vs. Norfolk in Nairobi - our first night is at Macushla --but last night won't be - researching, etc. for that now. Any comments helpful;
and so glad you managed carry-on! I will be doing so for the FIRST time!

Tx again
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Jul 7th, 2010, 03:33 PM
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Hi Leely,

Your trip sounds great! That was me that was asking about the size of the rooms in Macushla. Actually, I thought I had missed you because I wrote and asked you about it just as you were about to leave. Macushla warned that the room might be a little tight with an extra twin bed in it. They offered the cottage but we turned it down fearing that it might mot be as nice as the main house. I'm not sure if it's still available or even necessary. We're only there one night. Anyway, no worries about not checking. Crosscheck said she would check it out when she was there. Sorry for the side track, back to Gorillas!
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Jul 7th, 2010, 03:36 PM
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Forgot to mention... we are also using Eastern & Southern so I'm glad to hear you were so pleased with them. Please let me know if you have any pointers or know of any requests we should make. Thanks.
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Jul 7th, 2010, 05:39 PM
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moneyburns, I liked the Toren. It is very designed, a tiny bit slick, but extremely comfortable and well-located. I stayed in a small single and it was indeed small but cozy. Price was great for the quality (my room was only 115E to give you a frame of reference). Staff was helpful and kind. Breakfast was good.

I only had dinner at the Norfolk with Sandi from this forum, so can't speak to the rooms. Looked like a standard/good Fairmont property, though, and Sandi said the hairdryer was first-rate. The Holiday Inn was quite nice and I'd stay again. There's a Tex-Mex resto in the lobby where Patty and Mark and I had dinner. Surreal but not bad.

Caveat: I'm not a picky person when it comes to hotels, so if you are you might want more discerning feedback.

And yes, you should definitely consider adding gorillas and/or chimps to your next safari.
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Jul 7th, 2010, 07:38 PM
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For those who may be interested, accommodation photos are here:


If I find I took more on the other camera I will add them later. The outdoor bathrooms at Ithumba, for example, are fantastic and I can't believe I didn't photograph them. Unless I got scared by the snakes...

Safari pictures forthcoming--they are a lot harder to choose than pics of rooms and tents.
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Jul 7th, 2010, 08:08 PM
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Rwanda, cont'd.


Three Treks, One Guide, Ten Thousand Photos.
80+, 24, 17 = The number of gorillas in the golden monkey troop I saw, the number of gorillas in Agashya (includes many babies), and the number of gorillas in Amahoro.

After receiving advice here, I decided to start Rwanda with a soft landing: golden monkey trekking. They are difficult to photograph (if you're me) but not difficult to see. Once we reached them after an eays hike lasting about an hour, we were in their world. They surrounded us. Even mated around us, though I have decided to be discreet and not include that photo. That photo by the way includes a golden monkey voyeur. So the Photographer wasn't the only jerk.


Early Hours
All this fun means arriving at park headquarters prior to 7am. My driver-guide Augustin told me, "Let's meet at 6:30," and Kinigi Guest House is approximately a four-minute drive from HQ. So if you're staying further away prepare yourself. Of course you'll probably be so excited you'll be up all night anyway, obsessively packing and re-packing your daypack.

Second trek I left my wallet in my room. I discovered that when I was looking for money to buy a cap at the HQ shop before my trek. This is the downside of solo travel, especially if you are slightly disorganized: there is no one to remind you of what you're probably forgetting. Luckily because I was staying so close and we had arrived so early, we had time to rush back to the room where I found my wallet on the floor by my bed next to my toothbrush and cell phone (?!?)

I am quite fit for an old broad and run hills several times a week--for fun or vanity, not sure which. However, I did feel the altitude on my treks in PNV. It was not remotely disabling; I just mention this because I was a bit surprised. I was out of breath quite easily just walking up slight inclines at a moderate pace. The day I trekked with a bunch of young European overlanders I was definitely at the back of the pack. The other days I was bushwhacking up front. Won't mention the makeup of my fellow-trekkers on those days.

If you are very out of shape, it's probably worth getting a bit more fit prior to leaving for your primate adventures. Just some good walking, etc. Or maybe hire a couple of porters. There are always at least several that no one hires and they need the work.

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Jul 7th, 2010, 09:13 PM
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Leely, I've been waiting for your report eagerly and hesitate to say "hurry up"!
Those Golden Monkeys are stunning.
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Jul 8th, 2010, 03:01 AM
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Yep I love accommodation photos as I hardly trust the web sites. Toren looked very - stylish? Thanks for all the pics; Kicheche tent looked VERY nice,but if I cannot pronounce it, I can't stay there! (Was that a bottle of wine in the bathroom area; if so I am traveling with you next time.)
I do like nice accommodations; I guess it is the princess in me.

I saw Sandi's glowing review of the hair dryer. After weeks in a tent, you'd think you could get a decent hair blower; on my frizz it won't matter.
Only two decisions left and then to see if my stuff fits in the carry-on. DH just balls everything up and throws it in a backpack but what does he care about style (or photos) on a trip.

REALLY love the golden chimps. Next go round for sure I am finding chimps.
Thank you for taking the time to indulge my pitiful questions about rooms.(I wish I did not care!)

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Jul 8th, 2010, 07:06 AM
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Great details and looking forward to more!
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Jul 8th, 2010, 10:45 AM
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Rwanda, cont.
Good Roads and a Sad History
It's pretty easy to get from point A to point B in the northern/northwestern part of the country. The roads are some of the best I've seen in Africa. As others have noted, Rwanda is a small, densely populated country and there are people everywhere, walking, walking, walking, riding bicycles, always carrying and toting something--water, sticks for firewood, grass for goats--always working at something.

When I arrived in Kigali a large truck was askew on the side of one of the roads out of town. There was a woman on the ground. She may have been dead. I hope not.

Augustin, my R&N/Mercator driver-guide didn't speak much about the history and culture of the country until my third day. He began to talk to me about gacaca, reconciliation, atonement. He talked to me about the genocide. He talked to me about the possibility that older people are telling younger people bad things about Hutus/Tutsis in the privacy of their homes today. He spoke nothing of himself, his family, his friends and what they experienced. And yet this otherwise very relaxed, laidback Rwandan's voice began to shake and his eyes got wet each time he discussed the sad chapters in recent Rwandan history.

Good morning teacher! Please sit down.
Some of the very young children would say this as a greeting to me as we drove by. Mostly, though, it's Bon jour, Hello and Mzungu!

The day we were leaving the trailhead for the Amahoro Group I saw some kids running with new pens. No! Someone had given them pens from a car. Oy. I hadn't seen much of that in Rwanda. It's becoming a problem.

Gisenyi and Lake Kivu
Are worth a stop if you have time. My final gorilla trek to the Amahoro Group that morning took a while, so I didn't get to Gisenyi until almost dinner time. It's very pretty, especially the little stretch of beach at Paradis Malahide, which is a more traditional option than, say, the Serena up in the busy town.

For what it's worth, the Swiss couple I met at the Kinigi Guest House told me they liked Kibuye much better, said it didn't feel as built-up and "walled up." They were self-driving but had rented their vehicle from--guess which company? Mercator by way of R&N.

Note to atravelynn:
If you see this, another woman I met at the Guest House is working in Goma in DRC. She says Goma is a "hidden gem," and that there are many great hikes, day trips, etc. Of course if they can stabilize, gorilla trekking should/would/could be (is?) quite excellent in DRC too. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
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