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Bad backs & gorilla treks?

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My husband and I are considering booking a trip to Uganda. I've been to three African countries, but I've longed to see the gorillas and chimps. Unfortunately, I have a bad back and am wondering if I'm taking too much on myself to do the trekking involved to see them. Anyone else have this problem? Just HOW strenuous and difficult are these treks? I know that nothing is guaranteed and you have to "work" to get the great experience, but I don't want to set myself up for failure. I also wouldn't want to inconvenience others in our potential group with my physical limitations. Any thoughts? Many thanks.

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    Hi Beachmama!
    My husband and I (early 60s) did our gorilla trekking in Rwanda, in part because I'd heard that trekking there was less difficult than Uganda. There are usually 1-2 gorilla families that are closer to the base area -- and older (or less agile) trekkers are usually assigned to these groups unless they request something more challenging (and appear fit enough to manage it). That said, sometimes the "easy" families are unexpectedly down in a crater or high up the mountainside.

    We did two treks; the first was a relatively easy 40 minute hike from the trail head. It included clambering over a low stone wall and being able to step over low brush and downed trees. The trail went uphill but wasn't really steep. Depending on how much it has rained recently, the ground surface can vary from loose dirt (that's what we had) to ankle-deep mud.

    IF/IF you can walk over uneven ground for up to an hour, I think you can manage this. By all means hire a porter ($10) who will do everything in his power to get you to the gorillas and back! (If you don't need his help, at least you've given someone employment for the day.)

    I fractured my spine 4 years ago and managed the easier trek (and a far more strenuous one the 2nd day) without problem...but I don't have chronic back pain. I would talk with your doctor -- and, if s/he agrees, maybe work with a physical therapist or Pilates instructor to strengthen core muscles before your trip! Surely the prospect of time with the gorillas would provide motivation!

    The experience is magnificent!! Good luck!

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    We trekked in Rwanda as well and I've also heard it's easier than Uganda. There was a man in one group with a broken neck so if he can trek, I'm sure a bad back wouldn't be a problem. Like the last post suggests, hire a porter and request an easy group that's lower down the mountain. If you do decide to go to Rwanda, stay away from the Susa group and skip the Dian Fossey trek.

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    Hi Skibumette and Loru 100--
    Based on your feedback, I contacted my travel agent and asked him what he thought. He agreed that Rwanda would offer a simpler trek than Uganda for someone with a bad back.
    So we are now reconsidering our itinerary based on all those opinions.
    Here's my next question: If we DID switch to Rwanda, would we need to give up the chimps?? I hate to want it all, but I did want to see the gorillas and the chimps. If we switch to Rwanda, it sounds like the chimps are OUT. Sigh..We only have two weeks for our vacation, so we can't do it all.
    Ideas, folks??
    Many thanks, Beachmama

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    There is a park in Rwanda called Nyungwe where people go to see chimpanzees in the wild. I have not been there, but I have heard it is extremely strenuous, mainly because of trying to follow the rapid movement of the chimps in the trees.

    I also agree with the other posters that gorilla trekking can be easier in Rwanda than in Uganda -- definitely our treks in Rwanda were much easier than the ones in Uganda.


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    Could you post your whole itinerary so we can see potential tradeoffs?

    I agree with all the info given on Rwanda vs. Uganda and chimp options.

    In 2 weeks you could have chimps, more chimps, and gorillas.

    1 Leave home
    2 Fly

    3 arrive Entebbe, Uganda and afternoon boat to Ngamba Island in Lake Victoria off of Entebbe. This is a Jane Goodall operation with rescued chimps (not wild). Chimp walks in the forest may be permitted. These are not strenuous until the baby chimps jump on your head, back and into your arms to be carried.

    4 Ngamba Island with rescued chimps

    5 Leave Ngamba and head back to Entebbe - o/nt Entebbe

    6 Go to Kibale where you walk with wild chimps. It was flat ground and not stenuous. The "go" part could be driving all day or if your back is a consideration, it might be worth it to charter a flight.

    7 Kibale again for chimps

    8 Kibale and swamp walk. No mosquitoes in swamp.

    9 Back to Entebbe and o/nt Entebbe, unless you would fly that night to Rwanda and o/nt Kigali

    10 Fly to Kigali (assuming you did not do that the night before) and drive to PNV o/nt PNV

    11 Gorilla visit 1
    12 Gorilla visit 2 and back to Kigali

    13 Leave Kigali
    14 Get home

    If you did not do Ngamba, you could fit in Kibale and Rwanda even easier. Maybe drive to Queen Elizabeth Nat'l Park in Uganda to and from Kibale if no Ngamba.

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    Dear Atravalynn--
    Here is the suggested, temporary itinerary that my agent came up with. As you can see, he has factored in a little wildlife viewing in Kenya, which my husband has never seen. Also, my husband has a strong desire to see the African coast.
    Your post, though wonderful, seems to be heavy on chimps. My primary focus is gorillas, and, if we see some chimps, that's just icing on the cake.
    What do you think of the proposed itinerary?
    Thank you, Beachmama

    My travel agent wrote:
    Okay, I have had a look at prices and Tanzania / Zanzibar is going to be too expensive – itinerary coming in approx US$8000.0 per person – starting on arrival into Kigali and departing from Zanzibar .
    So, I think the best option will be to look at a Rwanda / Kenya combination. An idea is as follows:

    June 09
    Day 01: Arrive Kigali , Rwanda and meet your guide. Drive north to PNV for 3 nights at La Palme Guesthouse in Ruhengeri near the gorillas. Two gorilla permits included for each of you. I would suggest a rest day in between, where you can either track golden monkeys (fun and rewarding but more walking), visit Lake Kivu or explore locally with your guide.

    Day 04: After you second gorilla trek, return to Kigali for overnight.

    Day 05: Morning at leisure in Kigali , before you fly in the afternoon back to Nairobi (this flight is currently not included in the price). Transfer to a hotel for overnight.

    Day 06: Fly to Masai Mara for 4 nights in a tented camp such as Kicheche or Kicheche Bush Camp with all activities included etc

    Day 10: Fly to the coast, and spend 3 nights at Pinewood Village south of Mombasa (half board).

    Day 13: Transfer to Mombasa for your flight home.
    Approx price: US$5500.00 per person. Please note however that this price does not include the return flights between Nairobi and Kigali , or any flight from Mombasa back to Nairobi at the end (all of which you might be able to get as part of your international flight schedule). For your information, these three flights, including taxes etc will probably cost around US$930.00 pp. So, if you arrange return flights to Nairobi , and we do everything else from there, a more realistic price is likely to be around US$6500.00 pp, once everything is finalised. One less night on safari will save around US$430.00 pp.

    I realise that you have been to Kenya and the Masai Mara before, but from Mark’s point of view – what a trip! Gorillas/ culture/ volcanoes/ jungles etc in Rwanda then open plains, more culture, great wildlife including cats in the Mara, and finally the Indian Ocean coastline. From your point of view, it is still a fantastic trip as the only place you have been before is the Masai Mara, which will be a pleasure to go back to. Value for money wise, the Masai Mara is the option for the safari. Please note these prices are approximate and I will need to confirm details. The exact price could easily come down a little, or possible go up a touch.
    Please let me know what you both think about the idea in general. Of course you still have the Uganda itinerary to consider as an option (with PNV instead of Bwindi for gorillas), but QENP cannot compare to the Masai Mara for the safari.

    Two further interesting points to note:
    1) Seeing the gorillas in Rwanda is pretty guaranteed, especially in June when the gorillas are lower down (they go higher in the dry season from late June/July to October). We can never guarantee 100% but not everyone does the trip twice (some people choose to just to see two different family groups).

    2) It is possible to see chimps in Kenya – albeit in a sanctuary. Ol Pejeta Ranch has a chimp sanctuary, and if you spent two nights at Kicheche Laikipia Camp ( you can see chimps as well as rhino and various other species. You would need to do 2 nights Kicheche Laikipia and then 3 nights Kicheche Mara. – obviously this is more expensive so you would need to drop one of the gorilla treks and a night in Rwanda in order to try and even things out.

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    If you want a traditional safari with your gorillas, then the itinerary you posted looks good. The comments are accurate too.

    Since I am a wildlife fan and not a beach or city person, I'll ask if you really want to include Mombassa. I'd swap it for the Ol Pejeta (Sweetwaters) chimps. I have not been to Sweetwaters.

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