Crossing the Border from Uganda to Rwanda was surprisingly straight forward. Disclaimer however, this was because we had a guide who knew where to go. If you didn’t know, it would be a disaster, no clear signs or people to help anywhere. But the big change crossing the border is the driving. In Rwanda they drive on the right hand side of the road. Very confusing after driving on the left for the last 3 countries.
Our first stop was to visit a local village situated along the edge of the beautiful twin lakes. We stopped at the village bar for a home-made banana beer (Its worth a try, but don’t get too excited) and buying a round (admittedly the bar only would fit another 2-3 people). We also chatted to some of the local school children who were all excited as they had just finished their exams for the term and were now off school for a few weeks.
Gorilla Trek #2. Although having experienced the amazement a few days earlier in Uganda, there was no doubt that I was still as excited as ever to be visiting the Gorillas again. In fact, you would have guessed I was doing it for the first time. So excited!!! The Rwandan meeting point at the base of the Volcanoes is much larger with ~8 Gorilla groups allocated here
We were allocated to the Kwitonda family who had moved from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 under the leadership of a Mighty Old Silverback. He sadly passed away (natural causes) in 2013 and his son took up the charge. This group is unique in that it has 3 Silverbacks.
So with our guides Bec & Bosco leading the way, we drove for about 30 minutes to the starting point at the base of the hills, then headed off, again crossing farmland for about 30 minutes, before climbing over a stone wall and into the forest. On the other side of the wall was a big trench. The wall & trench was not to keep the locals out, but to keep the wildlife in, with buffalo and forest elephants not infrequently causing trouble and conflict in the farmlands prior to the wall being built.
To show you that anyone can do this trip, an 82 year old man was allocated to our group. As he was quite senior, instead of walking the steep and rugged trails, he elected to hire 9 porters!!! They carried him on a stretcher in 2 groups of 4 with the other one carrying his bag!!! Needless to say, he saw the gorillas, had a lovely day and wasn’t the least bit puffed😉
After trekking for a further 45 minutes through mostly thick bamboo (which Gorillas apparently love as it is a bit alcoholic to them) forests we reached the rangers. The rangers know all the gorillas by name as well as their habits and tempers. One of the silverbacks made a half-baked charge at us, but it was apparently because he thought we might steal his bamboo! The guides make certain grunting noises which he responded to and went back to eating his bamboo.
There were lots of younger gorillas in this group who loved to play games. They would chase each other around the trees, wrestle, piggy back, and pull each other’s hair or even pull each others legs out from under them so they fell over. Behaving like typical children, it was entertaining & hilarious to watch.
While watching a group of younglings playing, a large female gorilla appeared and out from behind her came a baby gorilla!!! He was the cutest, littlest, hairiest, funniest baby you’ve ever seen!!! One only a mother could love. At only about 2-3 months old, he was a delight. He tried to escape from his mum's clutches, but hadn’t quite mastered crawling yet so his attempts were quite futile. After realising this, he turned his attention to crawling all over his mother while she attempted to rest in the grass. Again time goes so fast with these creatures and before we knew it, we were heading back to the park station.
That night we were privileged to stay in Room 12 at the Muhabura Hotel - The exact same room that Dian Fossey used to stay in when she came down from the mountains. Although it’s a bit decorated with corny souvenirs, it was an amazing thing to be a part of. For those that don’t know, Dian was an American Zoologist and conservationist who studied and advocated for the care & preservation of Gorillas over an 18 year period. She is well known as the author of the book “Gorillas in the Mist’.
In Kigali before our flight we visited the genocide museum. Such a devastatingly sad and terrible part of Rwanda’s history. The scale of the genocide is almost unfathomable and to realise that almost everyone in the country either knows or was involved in the killings is heart-breaking. The place brought me to tears.
The drive in Kigali and the flight home was of mixed emotions. Still on a high from the most amazing holiday I’ve ever been on, but sad that it is now over. I have so many treasured memories and experiences that will be with me forever. What a phenomenal part of the world