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Uganda and Rwanda Trip Report

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Sep 3rd, 2003, 02:00 PM
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Uganda and Rwanda Trip Report

Day 1 (Saturday August 23) ? I left New York on Thursday, August 21, flying KLM via Amsterdam to Nairobi (using 140,000 miles for a free ticket), and arrived in Nairobi on Friday evening. I overnighted at the Stanley Hotel (not as good as the Norfolk, where I stayed on my first trip to Nairobi, but certainly adequate for the few hours that I was going to sleep), the home of The Thorn Tree café, the namesake of the Lonely Planet?s on-line forum. On Saturday morning I caught the 7:00am flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, and after an hour-long flight, most of it over Lake Victoria, I arrived in Entebbe where I met Fredrick, my guide for my trip through Uganda and Rwanda. After a short stop at Volcanoes Safaris? office in Kampala, we began our six-hour drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park, and arrived in the park, after making a few stops, including the obligatory stop at the Equator, at 4:00pm. On our drive to Mweya Safari Lodge, we passed a large male lion, several buffalo and a bushbuck.

Day 2 (Sunday August 24) ? I arose early and set off to a gorge within Queen Elizabeth NP known to contain chimpanzees, but our two-hour hike failed to locate the chimps. However, we did approach and startle a large pod of hippos, and also saw some black-and-white colobus monkeys and red-tailed monkeys, albeit too far to photograph. We spent the remainder of the morning on a game drive in the Kisenyi circuit and saw waterbuck, warthogs, large herds of Ugandan Kob and buffalo; in fact, this was the same group of animals that we were to continue to see. We returned to the lodge for lunch, and at 3:00 we went for a boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel, which while not as interesting as the boat rides on the Chobe River, did allow us to see large groups of hippos, a few crocodiles and buffalo, and a wide assortment of birds, including kingfishers, herons, egrets, pelicans and storks. I spent the remainder of the day at the pool.

Day 3 (Monday August 25) ? We took a morning game drive and saw the same types of animals as on Sunday?s drive, but we also saw one female lion. At around 10:00am we began the five-hour drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The roads, for the most part, were terrible, but we did pass through many small villages and the roads were lined with smiling, waving children. We arrived in Bwindi around 3:30pm.

Day 4 (Tuesday August 26) ? After an early morning bucket shower, we arrived at 7:30am for our gorilla trek. After dividing the visitors into small groups of 6 or 8 trekkers, our small group was driven about 40 minutes away to begin our trek. Our trek was short, only about 20 minutes, whereupon we encountered a group of 14 or so gorillas ranging from a few feet to several meters away. We had been advised that the gorillas generally are found in the forest and that 800ASA film was necessary, but we were quite lucky and encountered the gorillas in a sun-soaked field and were able to use 100 or 200ASA film. Our allotted hour passed too quickly, and we returned to camp.

Day 5 (Wednesday August 27) ? Spent most of the day driving from Bwindi through southwestern Uganda to Rwanda, stopping for lunch near the border at a hotel that formerly housed Diane Fossey when she was conducting gorilla research. We arrived in Ruhengeri, Rwanda at around 3:00pm and stayed at Mountains Gorilla Nest, the new top accommodation.

Day 6 (Thursday August 28) ? Another early start found us at Volcanoes National Park for another day of gorilla trekking. We set off around 8:30am for a one-hour hike through farmland which found us at the base of a volcano that we were to ascend. After a 45-minute ascent, we encountered the gorillas, again in a sun-filled clearing. The large male silverback was very placid and easily photographable ? in fact, we knelt about 10 feet in front of him and were able to take photos with him in the background. We spent an hour with this group of 9 members, many of whom approached us closely, including a medium-size female who reached out and touched my leg as she passed (incredible!). After our trek, we drove to Kigali, Rwanda?s manageable capital and I spent the day wandering around (not much to see, but nice to be able to walk around a safe city).

Day 7 (Friday August 29) ? Caught the early morning flight from Kigali to Nairobi, and after arrival began 5-hour drive to Samburu NP, in Kenya?s north. We arrived around 4:00pm and went on a 2-1/2 hour game drive (highlights included the Samburu Big Five: Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Grevy?s Zebra, Somali Ostrich and Gerenuk, as well as a female cheetah with three juveniles and a group of three lionesses). Arrived at Samburu Serena at 6:30 in time for crocodile feeding.

Day 8 (Saturday August 30) ? Went on two game drives in Samburu and again saw many members of Samburu Big Five, as well as elephants, buffalo, lion and leopard (in fact, we spent an hour with the leopard).

Day 9 (Sunday August 31) ? Drove back to Nairobi stopping at Mt. Kenya Safari Club for lunch, and arrived in Nairobi around 3:30pm. Dinner at Carnivore before return via Amsterdam to New York.
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Sep 4th, 2003, 01:47 AM
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Thanks for sharing, Michael, it sounds like a really great trip...
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Sep 4th, 2003, 09:41 AM
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Thanks Kavey. Great off-the-beaten path trip so post probably won't attract much foot traffic, but glad you read it. I tried to give better sense of game viewing, which is paramount to me, than quality of lodges which I care much less about.
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Sep 4th, 2003, 12:11 PM
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Your contact with the gorillas is amazing! Sounds like they were as curious about you as you were of them!

Question - did you find that the overnight in Nairobi was essential to avoiding jet lag? We're debating whether that night of sleep in Nairobi is vital before starting the safari, or if we can get by with the redeye flight (which would allow a 12-hour layover in London for sightseeing). Normally I hate redeyes and am worthless the next day, but I've only taken them in the U.S., which usually involves 3-4 hours of sleep instead of 6-7 in this case!
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Sep 4th, 2003, 01:21 PM
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I was required to overnight in Nairobi at the beginning of the trip because I arrived in Nairobi around 8:00pm on Friday night and the next flight to Entebbe, Uganda didn't depart until Saturday morning. If you can sleep on the plane and you haven't before been to London, I think a 12-hour layover which would allow you to get from Heathrow into the city would be worthwhile. You'll have jetlag on your first day in Africa regardless of whether you take the redeye or manage a few hours sleep in a Nairobi hotel, so you may as well see London.

I'd advise waiting a few days after arrival for your gorilla hike so you can adjust to the time -- that's why I first spent time in Queen Elizabeth NP (I wanted to relax and get over jetlag before gorilla treks; the longer of the two was pretty tiring).
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Sep 4th, 2003, 02:10 PM
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Michael

Great trip report! I need to stop reading these reports because then I want to go wherever I'm reading about.

From reading your posts before you left I know you have been many places and had many experiences in Africa and that this trip was to be "something different". I think you accomplished that! It sounds to me like the gorilla experience was incredible. And how lucky you were to see them in good light both days!

You saw game I want to see but haven't - the reticulated giraffe, grevy's zebra and the gerenuk and the cheetah and on and on. (Not to mention the GORILLAS!) I have to look up the beisa oryx and the somali ostrich. I don't know what those are.

Q&A time - if you were to take this trip again, would you choose something different for day 2 and day 3?

It sounds like Samburu was a good place to go - game wise. Was 3 game drives enough there or would another day have been nice (for someone like me who hasn't been as much as you)?

Thanks for sharing your trip!

Cindy
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Sep 5th, 2003, 07:30 AM
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To Cindy:

While the game viewing wasn't spectacular in Queen Elizabeth NP, I wouldn't have changed because I've been on safari several times and I'm now looking for different animals and experiences, and Queen Elizabeth NP allowed me to see new animals like Giant Forest Hogs, Ugandan Kob, Black and White Colobus Monkeys, Red Tailed Monkeys, plus some good Bushbuck sightings. I also really liked the lodge, which was a nice place to relax before hiking with gorillas, and the boat trip.

Samburu -- I actually did four drives (the one after we entered the park on the way to the lodge (about 2-1/2 hours), two drives on my full day, and a three-hour drive while we left the park. I thought that was sufficient for Samburu/Buffalo Springs, and if I had an extra day I'd probably try to visit Lewa Downs, which is maybe an hour or so from Samburu and which is supposed to be great for rhinos.

Beisa Oryx -- nothing special, to me looked just like the Gemsbok, but its a different species that lives only north of the Equator

Somali Ostrich -- females look just like Masai Ostrich counterparts, but males have blue skin on legs and neck
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Nov 21st, 2003, 11:29 AM
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Just bumping to the top so a friend could find it. Please indulge me -- I'm not trying to barrage you with repeated trip reports.
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Nov 21st, 2003, 12:06 PM
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Cool!!
 
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Nov 21st, 2003, 12:52 PM
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Great report. This struck me as a sort of genuine, minimalist adventure - akin to the kind experienced by previous generations: Lots of walking, waiting, and some great payoffs. I commend you for connecting with Africa in a way that few of us are likely to experience.
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Nov 21st, 2003, 01:23 PM
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Just the animal facts, how different, how great. It's nice to see that the hikes to find the gorillas weren't that long - is that always the situation?

And here is a "very female question" - Was the smell terrible?

The reason I ask, is that friends (a couple) had done gorilla trek a few years back, and most (half)in their small group were so taken by the odor of he gorillas, gave back their breakfasts (both men and women)! Sorry folks, but just had to know.

Curious - If you had not found the gorillas in bright light, how dark would it have been that you'd have to use 800ASA? And then I gather you wouldn't be able to use the flash? Reason I inquire is that we had taken photos in a forest in the Seychelles, weren't allowed to use flash, but our 200ASA worked fine!

Nice to hear that you felt comfortable and safe walking about in Kigali (when one thinks of the horrors there not so many years back).

Next to the Mara, Samburu was a favorite park and the Reticulated giraffe are beautiful, as is the rarely seen Gerenuk. Welcome home!
 
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Nov 21st, 2003, 01:38 PM
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My two treks to the gorillas were short -- only 15 minutes in Bwindi (Uganda) and less than two hours in PNV (Rwanda), much through farmland. There was no noticeable smell, other than a very clean smell of dew and leaves. That's not to say that the gorillas and their droppings don't smell, its just that we must have been fortunate to be upwind. Don't let the potential smell prevent your visit.

You are NOT permitted to use flash, so 800ASA or higher would be needed, perhaps with a monopod for stability.
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Nov 22nd, 2003, 12:05 AM
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Thit_cho, which group in PNV did you visit? Last year I saw the Susa group, which took 1 1/2 hrs to the park boundary, and 1/2 hr more to the gorillas, who were fortunately near the boundary that day. The entire trek was up steep terrain, so not for the unfit. I may have a chance to get back to Rwanda again next year, so would like to visit a different group next time.

We also caught the gorillas in a sunny clearing. Several of them were on their backs sleeping, so perhaps they enjoy sunbathing on a clear day. I suspect had it been raining they would have kept to the undergrowth. At any rate, we certainly didn't need ISO 800 film that day.

Hlphillips2's question about whether an overnight in Nairobi is essential: it really depends upon what time of day you arrive in Nairobi. The issue isn't jetlag, but getting to your next destination (if by road) during daylight. Unless you arrive early in the morning you wouldn't have time to transfer to your safari vehicle and get to one of the parks before dark. Traveling at night by road in Africa is not generally advised. I enjoyed my overnight at the Serena, especially their beautiful pool. It really set me up for the safari.
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Nov 24th, 2003, 08:25 AM
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I don't recollect the name of the gorilla group we visited in PNV, but it wasn't as large as Susa. Our group had nine gorillas I believe, and we walked from PNV headquarters through "town" and into and across farmland, and after around an hour or so we came upon a stone wall, which we crossed and began our climb up the bamboo-lined volcano. It was a steady and moderate climb, hacking through bamboo and climbing over and under limbs, and we arrived at the gorillas after a 45-minute climb, dirty and sweaty but exhilerated.

I expect that with proper "payment" you can request a group or change your group once assigned.
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Nov 24th, 2003, 02:50 PM
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You're right there, Thit_Cho. We arrived early at the OTRPN office, around 0700, and had our choice of groups. Susa was a wonderful experience, with 35 gorillas, but next time I will be looking for an easier option. Your description sounds like the Sabinyo Group.
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Nov 24th, 2003, 03:09 PM
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Thanks, the Sabinyo Group sounds familiar.
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Dec 3rd, 2003, 11:59 AM
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Topping since question re Uganda asked and in my response I referred to trip report.
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Dec 4th, 2003, 04:33 AM
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Thanks for topping this. It sounds wonderful. Definitely something to keep in mind for the future.
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Jan 7th, 2004, 08:07 PM
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Your trip is exactly what I am trying to pull together for next July. I had chill bumps reading your experiences with the gorillas. I would die a happy
woman if one of those fine creatures would reach out to me. Thank you for sharing your beautiful trip. What was the company you used? I am working with
Go2africa "Gorilla Express" excursion.
The main reason for my trip to Africa is
to work with the Earthwatch team and help with research on the Grevy zebras in the Samburu area. We will be staying in Wamba and Lewa Downs. This is my first trip to Africa and I will be traveling alone. Do yo recommend flying from Nairobi to Entebbe or is the train an option? I would appreciate any info you could give me.

Sincerely,
Leslie
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Jan 8th, 2004, 01:57 PM
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First, I would definitely recommend the safe, one-hour flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, as opposed to a lengthy train ride. If cost is an object, I believe there are buses which I would expect to be safer than the train, but I don't recall the plane flight being that expensive. Plus the plane flight will give you an "extra" day since you will not need to spend a day on the train.

I planned my trip using Volcanoes Safaris, but so long as your operator can secure the gorilla permit, it hardly matters with whom you visit the gorillas, because the operators drop their guests at park headquarters and you are divided by park headquarters into smaller groups. Your guide will not go on the gorilla trek with you.

Have a great time.
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