JZ's Africa Expedition 2009 travel blog

Good morning!!! Today is the BIG day...I go Mountain Gorilla trekking!!! One of the main reasons for my trip! (And, I'm lucky I did so as they are raising the gorilla permits from $500 to $1000 per trek very soon!!) I kept waking up last night thinking I was going to over sleep for my 5am wake up call...but didn't. I just pray it can keep from raining until after my trek. And, I finally feel rested and back to full "energizer bunny" status!

When I walked out my door, I saw tons of men on the grass. (There is a hill and then a makeshift golf course in front of my porch.) Evidently, they were cutting the grass with what looked like mini machettis!!! Its the way they cut the grass...That would take forever to do any large portion!!

At breaky I met a new comer to breakfast as it was a girl from Australia who was working in Tanzania. As I talked to her more I found out she worked for a travel company...we then talked about the philanthropy division in her company...it turns out that she works for Ambercromie and Kent travel company which is the company I almost appplied to because the headquarters are in Oakbrook, IL! Small world!!

Now about the gorilla trek...Usually what happens is you congregate at the headquarters, the guides have a decision on where the gorillas are located, and the drivers (Abus) give hints to the guides which group you want to trek. There are several (about 7) gorilla groups in Rwanda to trek and some take 35 minutes and some (Susa) take approx 4 hours to get to and then you add the same amount of time in the return home trek. Many people request Susa as it was the group in which Digit was in. Digit was the huge, popular silverback that Diane Fossey admired and is now buried beside....the movie Gorilla in the Mist.

Well, it was like dejavu today...same meeting place as yesterday.

Since it was so rainy last night that I had asked Abus to work his magic to get me into the intermediate group which was approx 2 hour hike there and 2 hour hike back. Since there were not that many people there to hike for the mountain Gorillas today, they decided to put us in 2 bigger groups and not listen to the requests. There was a group of 8 of us along with our guide. After we were placed in our groups we started learning the history of the Mountain Gorillas. Diane Fossey fought to save Mountain Gorillas from being poached and from capturing them and giving them to the zoo. I didn't realize that Mountain Gorillas are not found in any zoo! The only gorillas you might see are low land gorillas that are found in Cameron or Congo and they are much smaller. We were assigned to hike the Sabinyo group which was a smaller group (10 gorillas), but has the largest silverback in Rwanda named Guhonda. They live to be approx 38 yrs in age and Gugonda weighs approx 220 Kilos! (Also, Sabinyo is one of the volcano mountains in Rwanda/Uganda and the top it looks like it has broken teeth...jagged edges.)

Our drivers drove us to the starting point. Wow, that was one ride!! It took us about 15 minutes to go approx 4 blocks! It had the roughest dirt/rocky road I had ever seen. Then, we started the trek and it was a nice sunny day again. One of the people in the group was similar to "papa" from last year, but without the horror stories....she was very nice. She was in her 60's and had knee problems and was limping and using a cane before she even started the hike...she really slowed us down, so we all thought it was going to be a VERY long trek that might take us into the late afernoon rain. That was not the case as I barely broke a sweat and we had already reached our trackers some 35 minutes into the hike. There was no mud, no flies, no hard work...almost too easy as I was ready for a strenous hike, but I did experience stinging needles. There are plants in the hills that sting you through your clothes and leave a slight rash that goes away in about 20 minutes. I got some terrible stinks! Ugh! Well, the experience I had was a once in a lifetime memory!!! It was absolutely amazing!! It was also a very active group which made the experience even more amazing as some just sit and lay for the full hour. The hour you have with the gorillas goes by so very fast! We were all instructed to be approx 10 ft from the gorillas and we had to be grouped all together in case they moved so that none of us would be separated and stranded alone in harms way. Well, as soon as we were going along the trail to get into position a smaller male gorilla charged past us and brushed against my leg!! I'd have to admit it scared the crap out of me! I got to see the huge grand daddy of all silverbacks...it was amazing!! He just stood in a stoic position for a bit and then started eating bamboo. He was loud as he was munching away on his bamboo stick he had. His presence was something words can't describe...so majestic and strong. He kept moving around several times and at one time charged down a pathway in front of us. The force they move with is incredible and you can't but help to jump back when that happens. Several of the other smaller males and one female would position themselves around him. We also briefly saw the baby gorilla in the tree. The female stayed hidden. There was another small gorilla, Sacola, that started hanging and playing from the branches. At the end the silverback was higher up the hill and we saw him stand up and reach for a branch on the bamboo tree...he was just massive! When it was time to leave, we started to hike down the path and the younger male gorilla, Shirimpumu, charged down the pathway we were taking and moved to the front. He stayed in front of the entire group and kept walking...almost like he was escorting us to the end of the park lines. The guide said that rarely ever happens and he was quite surprised. He hung out on the stone wall that separated the park grounds. He was peeking over the wall at us! Of course none of us wanted to leave, but we were quickly escorted out by our guides. I was able to get some great close up shots and a couple videos of their moment, but they just don't do justice after experiencing them in person!!!

Since the trek ended so early I was back to the lodge much earlier for a relaxing day at the lodge. I was a bit bummed my massage was canceled...evidently there is only one trained masseuse in the village and she called in sick! So, I got to enjoy the hot sun (not even sure what that is anymore since we didn't have a summer in Chicago!)...until the afternoon rains rolled in. While I was enjoying the sun I noticed a clothes line out back and then a bunch of towels laid on the grass in the sun and not on the clothes line...they were drying the hotel towels on the grass in the sun!! No wonder my towel is soo super stiff and crunchy!

Of course it wouldn't be a JZ travel experience without more surprises and adventures...Well, another down pour came and this time it rained hard. Thunder and super black skies. Since I had a lot of time left prior to dinner, I went to go watch a movie on my Ipod...of course I downloaded a Rwandan movie about the Genocide. After it was done I was going to shower...I turned on the light...no light. I tried turning it on again...no light! Well, the entire hotel was without lights. So, I had to take my slow drip shower via one candle and one flashlight...quite the african safari adventure! Then, when I was in the shower, I hear knocking at my door and had to answer it half wet...it was the hotel delivering their water bottles. Literally 2 minutes later another knock...I could barely get dressed quick enough as they had mentioned I would have someone escort me to the dinning hall since it was pitch black out. I stepped out out of my place and it was pitch black out...my path was lit by stars. I had dinner by candlelight and the fireplace with Abus. Ends up only Abus and I are guests tonight at the hotel...crazy! Yea! The lights go on and we resume the evening!!

But then another twist...Abus asked me last night if I wanted to go into the city and I said maybe later. Well, he asked again tonight as he had to get a haircut, and I felt bad saying no again...um, there is no city here! I was the only "muzungu" (means white person as all the kids yell that as whites go by) in this local bar, if that's what you call it. A bit of a unique experience to end my stay in Ruhengeri! And, local beer were 75 cents to top it!!! ;-)

Saybino forever has my heart!!

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