Some more rest back at the Lodge and early sleep to make the 05:45 wake-up knock and flight to Kisoro. Back on our eleven seat Caravan for a thirty-minute flight. Beautiful mountains, which did not seem too far below as we descended towards Kisoro.
Met by new Guide Issamye who was as courteous and efficient as Petrus
Cyanika border crossing was primitive with two stops to exit Uganda and two stops to enter Rwanda. Not too sure why everyone seemed so interested in our occupations but… hey. Once the Immigration Officer in Rwanda recognized that we were from Montreal, the conversation switched to French and everyone was happy.
Once we walked across the border, we drove forty minutes to our three-day stay at Virunga Lodge, the last of our stays with Volcanoes Safari.
Just when we thought there was no way to beat the Kyambura Lodge, lo and behold, Virunga Lodge is a notch above. Huge Banda Ibirunga with separate bedroom, sitting room, changing room and bathroom.
Amazing bookings by Marcelle Jarry of Groupe Voyages in Montreal and also a friend, together with &Beyond tours based in Africa.
This log entry is being done outside on the terrace facing a beautiful extinct (we hope) volcano.
Volcanoes Safari Tours are to be recommended without hesitation for any who go to Africa on safari in the Uganda/Rwanda area. Every service in the three Lodges we stayed at are top notch. Now getting ready for three days of trekking in Parc National des Volcans– two for gorillas and one for also almost extinct golden monkeys
Apparently primates are early risers, so for the next three mornings it is 04:45 wake-up calls - -pitch black and pretty cold. Rwanda seems more popular for trekking than Uganda so the rendez- vous point, which is one hour away, is already teeming with activity. The number of trekkers in this area is now 20,000 p.a. and the rule is eight trekkers max on any visit, which can only last one hour with the respective gorilla family and monkey troupe.
Important for the economy as the cost is USD 750 per permit per person plus a lot of employment for the guides, porters, trackers, security people plus shops.
Excellent local dance troupe with rhythm that Glenn can only shake his head at plus registration with trekking permits, educational instruction on the gorillas and monkeys with very knowledgeable guides then off for another hour’s drive to the various trail heads.
Excitement builds as we arrive at our destination and is met by a group of uniformed porters (helpers), two security people with again the serious guns to keep the unwanted of all types at bay.
And then the trek begins. All those hours on the elliptical machine and treadmill were soon put to the test of reality. The treks averaged two hours over terrain that was difficult to say the least.
Rains had come early so there was boot sucking mud, plenty of wet moss and running water – not great for unwater-proof hiking shoes and even Sylvia’s new gortex water proof boots soaked through.In any case, no matter the start, the animals are on higher ground.
So we trekked up very rough rock strewn riverbeds or over slippery mud. And yes this is the tropics so jungle conditions made all of this very hot. Bottom-line, without the porters this would have been nigh impossible for at least the Bussandris and the Rourkes especially as Sylvia and Claudio each brought along an amazing assortment of camera gear that would have been way over any carry-on weight limit of any airline.
The porters at times pulled us up the steep areas and helped us down the steep declines.
Otherwise it would have been wipeout time again plus sprained ankles or worse.
On our second gorilla trek in Rwanda we ran out of ‘trails’ to follow. Therefore we had to navigate on the mashed down vegetation created by the gorilla family we were following. End result is that we were not walking on terra firma but rather elevated over the jungle floor on beds of branches, bamboo sticks and vines. Very tough slogging and again only through the grace of the porters did we manage to move along.
Highlight of this trek was the plight of Sylvia who was being helped by two proters who deftly avoided a major hole under the bed of vines. Alas, Sylvia did not and one leg disappeared into thin air below the vines. She figured the rest of her was going to have the same fate and got pretty nervous. However with a lot of pulling and pushing by three porters she managed to get back above ground. A scare but hey…
Other highlights included having to crawl under the over growth of vines with little light –easy for the gorillas but not so
easy for the Homo sapiens. Big step-ups and big step-downs all added to the fun
and the exertion.
The guides and porters are amazing. Although many years younger than us, they were highly nimble, agile and strong.
Rules are very strict on exactly one hour with the various families per trek. As in the case of Uganda, it is awe inspiring to be two or three meters (yes too close) to the huge alpha male silverback 150-200 kgs of pure muscle and who could destroy us in one blow. They are laid back and spend all their time lying around or tearing down bamboo trees – no easy feat for us and grooming their family members or playing with the young babies. In fact to see the caring of the very young by these huge and powerful animals is quite touching.
BUT as the guide often warned us, things could change on a dime with bad consequences. Therefore, no fast movements, stand still if a gorilla approaches or walks by, do not touch any animal, careful not to scare the babies for fear what the mother or silverback might do etc., etc.
All four in our group came in contact with a gorilla – not a silverback. We were brushed as they walked by and Diane had her pant leg pulled by a curious young gorilla. Sylvia got three taps two on her arm and one on her shoulder. These are all very special moments and by most accounts at the top of list of the best experiences in nature.
Poachers murdered Diane Fossy, as we know for her concern and caring for the mountain gorillas, which threatened their livelihood, but now with a lot of international interest and moneymaking tourism, there is an increase in the gorilla population in Uganda and Rwanda.
Majestic and impressive they are and seeing them close up in a very wild environment is an experience not to be forgotten.
Our final trek was to see the golden monkeys and we lucked out. Often they are too high in the jungle canopy and appear as ‘blobs’ to the eye and in photos. We saw many at eye-level and were able to observe them moving (very quickly) through the trees and perched on branches eating away. This final trek was not as hard as the gorilla treks but was quite long, as we had to walk for forty-five minutes through farmers’ fields to get to the bamboo groves. Ironic as it m might sound the major crop in this area is ‘Irish potatoes’ so it warmed my heart to see these spuds being grown in Rwanda!
As a finale we were hit with a torrential downpour on our second trek from the time we left the gorillas until we arrive back at the trailhead. Soaked through is the right concept but it added to the fun.
Saturday Feb 25 we left the countryside after two great weeks including four treks and drove to Kigali the capital of Rwanda. In Rwanda everyone has to participate in four hours of cleaning the
streets, environment the last Saturday of each month. As a consequence Kigali and the whole country is extremely neat and clean. Both Uganda and Rwanda are big produces of all types of produce and Rwanda is enjoying some major investment in a variety of industries.
We were impressed with the city and absolutely humbled and moved by the Kigali Genocide Museum. Because of the role
f Lt General Dallaire and the terrible decisions by the UN, just being reminded of 800,000 murders in 100 days is overwhelming. The terrible tragedy as it was explained was that the Hutus and the Tutsis were an invention of the colonials
under Germany and Belgium
The museum is extremely well done. We were proud as Canadians to learn of the respect for General Dallaire – but it is a very tough place to visit. There was a section of the museum devoted to the Holocaust, Armenia, Bosnia and Cambodia so one is left with deep thoughts.
We had lunch at the Hotel des Milles Collines which is where General Dallaire stayed and prominently featured in hisbook Shake Hands With the Devi as well as in the movie Hotel Rwanda which according to Rwandans we met was not totally accurate.
On board RwandAir towards Kilimanjaro where we shall meet up with Letiza Ray and Ric McKimmie leading to our next stop which will lead to the Serengeti Plains.