Gorillas in the mist
02.07.2019 - 06.07.2019 28 °C
Nairobi. Last day
I had arranged for a fellow to pick us up and take us around for the day and Tony arrived a half hour early at 8:00AM. I find that all the drivers are always at least a half hour early. After breakfast we headed to the giraffe centre for the 9AM opening. This is a sanctuary where they breed the endangered Rothschild giraffes and then release the young into the wild when they are old enough. Chloe and I each fed a couple with the provided food pellets . He has a very long blue tongue and the feeding was sometimes slimy
Then we put one of the pellets in our mouth and got a “kiss” from the male. It was funny
From here we went to the elephant sanctuary which opened at 11. There were a number of people there and we all pushed in to get a ringside view of the elephant feeding that was about to happen.
These little guys are rescued because their moms have died or for some reason they have been orphaned. When they are big enough , around 3 years or so, they are re introduced into the wild and watched until they are sure that a family of elephants will accept him or her into the group
We gave Chloe and elephant for Christmas but unfortunately for us Malika has just been released a few days earlier
We watch as the little ones come running down the trail three at a time and there are fed a bottled formula by three of the handlers. They devour it in no time. Then three more come down until all 9 are there. When they have finished their bottles they play in the mud and with each other. Some come close enough where we can pet them, they are very dirty. After some time they are released into the park for the day and a few older ones come down for the same routine. It was very informative and such a great thing these folks are doing. We can only stay an hour so at noon we make our way back to the car.
We went to a shopping place where they have all local hand made items, some very expensive and beautiful works of art. We both bought a couple of small items.
We had lunch and then at 4 we headed back to the elephant sanctuary again. As an adoptive parent you can come back to see them put to bed. There were a lot less people tonight and it was so cute to se these guys come running in from the park to get into their beds for the night.
I complimented a young local woman on her hair braiding and we talked a minute or two
Later on I was sitting on the bench waiting for Chloe and she sat down beside me and we had a great conversation.
I found out she has an Uber business so arranged for her to pick us up at 4:30AM tomorrow morning to go to the airport.
“Zippy” was there at 4AM to make sure we were awake for our 4:30 transfer
Our flight from Nairobi to Kigali in Rwanda left at 7:20 so we had lots of time
We arrive in Rwanda at 7:30 as there is a one hour time change. Our driver Gavis from Gorilla Trek Africa was there waiting with a sign with both our names on it.
We climbed into the Land cruiser and were on our way to the Uganda border.
Kigali is a very modern city in the downtown area and beautiful. The president runs a tight ship and seems well liked. The last Saturday of every month everyone has to do street clean up. All the stores and banks etc close until noon and everyone pitches in. It is mandatory. The city is spotless and well manicured.
The landscape outside of Kigali is breathtaking. Terraced hills of tea and trees. Lots of rice paddies, corn, and other produce. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have seen.
We stopped in a small town so Gavis could buy a box of water bottles and left us in the car. All the towns people around stopped what they were doing and just stared at us. Blatantly.
Some even came up to the car to have a better look. I don't think many Mzungu’s , (white people ) have been here.
We arrived at the border and it has changed a lot since I was here two years ago. Much more modern and does not take as long. We have to get out of the car, go to the Rwanda immigration building to get stamped out of the country, walk a block or so, (in the very hot sun) and then get stamped into Uganda. Gavis had paperwork etc to fill out and drove to meet us on the other side
A little ways across the border Gavis stopped for us to have lunch. He left us at the small restaurant called “Manhattan’ with menus on the wall of burgers fries and pizza etc. But I think they were just for decoration. We had to go up the the food area and pick out what we wanted to eat. Rice, beans, mix Vegs and potatoes. Not the best meal we have ever had but we ate it.
We are flying in and out of Rwanda to hike in Uganda because it is a shorter drive than flying into the Uganda airport. The mountains are close to the border and people hike in either Rwanda, Uganda or the Congo to see gorillas. Not many to the Congo however as they are having ongoing problems.
The drive to our lodge was about 4 hours but the scenery was so beautiful. Everyone waved and smiled as we drove by, extremely friendly people. Especially the little kids.
The road deteriorated for the last two hours to a dirt road full of potholes and extremely bumpy and slow going.
Finally we made it to the Haven Lodge. It is a community based lodge where the employees are from the local area and the money stays in the community. It is just beautiful set about the jungle and the hills in the distance. Lana and I had stayed here two years ago as well.
We had a rest in the room for a couple of hours and the skies opened up and boy did it every rain! The tin roof amplified the sound and it was deafening. But in just over an hour it was finished and the sun came back out. It is very humid here.
At dinner we met some other trekkers and had some interesting conversations again and then back to the room to prepare for tomorrow.
Day 14, July 4th.
I woke early and went out on the verandah to listen to the many groups of monkeys calling from the forest around me. There were many beautiful bird and jungle sounds as well.
Breakfast was at 7 and we headed off with our packed lunch at 8AM. I was able to secure two permits for Buhoma which is only a 10 minute drive from the lodge. I had to do this a year ago as it is very popular.
We were entertained by some local women dancers and singers while waiting for everyone to arrive. They were very energetic and wonderful to watch.
This is my third gorilla hike. I did one here in Uganda and one in Rwanda two years ago. Rwanda has now doubled the permit price to $1500 USD making it primarily for the rich and famous which is sad. It has impacted a lot of the local shopkeepers and operators because not as many people come now.
The Ranger came out and thanked us all for being there. Our $650USD permit fee goes partially to the community (25%) and also to the conservation of the gorillas. Many of the rangers, porters and trackers would be poaching if they had not been hired to track them for tourists instead so it has greatly increased the numbers of gorillas
Our names were called and we were divided into four groups, in front of signs with the name of the gorilla family we were going to see. Our group was Rushegura group which has about 19 members. It was the closest group which is what I wanted.
There were nine in our group of tourists (usually only 8 but being high season they sometimes fudge it a bit), four trackers with guns to scare any wild elephants or animals we may come across on the way, a ranger, two guys in training and we each hired a porter to carry our backpack and help us up the mountain. In all there was a total of 23 in our group
We drove to the trail head and then set off. It was soon quite apparent to me that things were not going well with my breathing. My lungs have deteriorated quite a bit in the last two years. Add that to the 100 % humidity and the altitude of 8,000 ft I was gasping for breath after 10 minutes. It was a very steep hike up the mountain and even with my guy holding my hand, my walking stick and a woman porter pushing my ass up the hill I found it very challenging and pretty humiliating too. The others were looking at me with concern. My COPD was rearing it’s ugly head like a cobra ready to strike me down
About a half hour in the ranger said to me “. We have only just begun, are you going to be able to do this?”
“Yes. I will do this. I may be slow but I will do it”
Even though I wasn't sure I could and wanted to give up every 5 minutes I was also worried that Chloe would not go on without me so I persevered.
I went first, with my entourage of porters. The slowest sets the pace, and well that would be me!
Everyone was quite nice saying how well I was doing , don't worry about holding us up etc. But I was still mortified.
We were all sweating profusely, but I was pouring it out.
We were almost at the top of the mountain when the ranger got a call. How we find the gorillas is that there are three or four trackers that go ahead of us a few hours earlier and find and follow them then radio down to the ranger.
They are not far, so basically I need to pick up the pace before they leave again.
At the top of the mountain we start our decent and then go down a path that has just been cleared by machete by the trackers. Lots of vines and tripping hazards along the way but before long they tell us to leave everything we have with our porters except our cameras.
Down the trail a bit further we see them. We are so incredibly lucky. This is called the Bwindi Impenetrable forest, so quite often you will see gorillas behind thick bush and just get a glimpse here and there.
But here they are, three young ones, a Silverback, a black back and three females all lazing in an open area for all of us to get a perfect view.
There were a couple more behind us and a another black back a bit away as he can't get too close to the silverback. The silverback, the guy in charge, thinks of the black backs, adult males, as a threat to wanting to take charge of the group and mate with the females.
The little ones were so cute playing in the trees, wrestling on the ground and tumbling about. One would beat his chest to say that he was the strongest of the three, then a few minutes later another would beat his chest.
There was a lot of farting going on by the adults.
This little guy went up to cuddle with his mom and just looked at her with such love in his eyes.
It is incredible how human like they are.
There were lots of flies but they seemed to just stay with the gorillas and not bother us at all.
In what seemed like such a short time the ranger said our hour was almost up. Then the gorillas started getting up one by one and leaving. They knew the hour was up too.
We were mere feet from them. They would look at us with disinterest really,
“Oh here there are again, those camera clicking humans for an hour”
They are what is called habituatied, which means that they are used to humans being with them for one hour a day. They don't want to stress them out so an hour is all we can have. They are still wild animals, and we must be careful and listen to what the ranger says, but gorillas are really very gentle giants and are usually only aggressive with other male gorillas, or if they feel threatened .
We started our climb back up the hill and then back down. The trail is very narrow, not too muddy which is a bonus, but slippery with loose gravel and rocks. My breathing was fine going down but after an hour and a half my legs got pretty wobbly from the steep descent. Chloe, Mary her porter and a few others slid and fell at least once. I fell once too but my porters were hovering so close to me that I didn’t get the chance to even hit the ground before they pulled me back up again.
Part way down we stopped for our bagged lunch. We gave our hard boiled eggs to our porters and I also gave mine the chocolate bar which he appreciated. Toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches tasted pretty good, but I was too exhausted to eat much.
Gavis was waiting for us at the bottom and we drove back to the centre to get our gorilla certificates and we tipped all the porters ranger and trackers.
That was the best sighting I have had of the three treks. I was so happy for Chloe to see them in such a clearing and so many together. It was a real gift.
I was exhausted. We stopped at a small shop so Chloe could buy a couple things but then back to the room where we just flaked out for the rest of the afternoon.
Shortly after the rains came again with a vengeance. I was so glad it didn't rain on our hike or that trail would have been very difficult coming down.
My mountain and hill climbing days are over, but what a great last climb to have.
That evening at dinner a woman from Spain was celebrating a birthday so the staff came out with a cake and sang to her. Her husband said to give each of us six guests a piece and the rest was for the staff. It was really good. We chatted for a while talking about our gorilla treks that day, each of us with a different family of gorillas and a different experience.
A young man found out we were Canadian and was so excited, he was around 20 and from Ontario, I think he was homesick. He and his friend went to Princeton but were doing internships in Entebbe Uganda for a while. They took a few days off for this adventure.
Last day in Africa. Day 15
After breakfast we set off on our long drive to Rwanda again. Distracted by the beautiful scenery and people smiling and waving as we passed by it wasn’t that bad of a drive. We saw some small markets in some of the smaller towns
The border crossing was the same in reverse except this time a woman dressed as a nurse put an electronic thermometer in our ear to check our temps. Looking for Ebola I imagine.
We then headed for Kigali and the Genocide museum.
Rwandans were made up of Tutsi and Hutu people and the Hutu were encouraged to believe that they were much better than the Tutsi. In 1994 the genocide, which had started earlier, came to full force and for four months Tutsi men, women and children were brutally murdered, many by thier own Hutu friends and neighbours because of the brainwashing that they were inferior and referred to as cockroaches
In all between 500,000 and a million lost their lives and many were found in mass graves. Mans inhumanity to man once again and so many acts so horrible I cant write them here. A good movie on the subject is ‘Hotel Rwanda’ which I have seen a couple of times
The museum was very sobering and well done
The security to get in however was next level. Gavis said it was usually not like this, many solders with guns, we had to leave the truck, it was searched, we were searched.
Gavis figured a dignitary must be coming
When we left we see a the place is surrounded by men in black suits, earpieces and at the ready. Looks like a Men in Black movie set. Soldiers with dogs, many police. Crazy. Time to leave
I saw a limo with flags on the front that I recognized and later found out that it was the president of Tanzania who had come for a visit.
Airport security was even more insane. We had to get out of the truck when we approached the airport. We went through scanners. The truck was put on a conveyor system like a car wash and scanned.
At the airport we hugged and said our good byes to Gavis
More scanning of us and suitcases when we entered the airport. You are not allowed into the building until a hour and a half before your flight. More scanning. And at the gate once again our bags and we are scanned
Our flight was delayed a half hour which gave me a bit of anxiety as we were connecting in Nairobi but we finally arrived at 8PM and had 3 1/2 hours untill our flight left for London.
A long line for another health check. Temperatures were shown on a screen above as you walked by the nurse and handed in your health questionnaire
Then to immigration
Another health check
Luggage scanning as you left the airport
Our next flight was right outside this terminal and we got into a long line for our BA flight to Heathrow. The sign says ‘flight boarding’’ which was nerve wracking but a number of us in this slow moving line were on the same flight
Another luggage scanning and search
At our gate yet another scanning , followed by the last one when the fellow asks me to open my bag
“ what are you looking for and I can tell you where it is?”
After all those scans the last one detects my little nail clippers. Out they come, confiscated, and we wait for our flight in the lounge with only minutes to spare. 3 1/2 hours in Nairobi is not a lot of connection time it seems
I think Chloe and I and our luggage are all glowing from the amount of radiation in the past few hours, but we arrived in London safe and sound and that is the main thing. They take their security very seriously
I upgraded our seats to premium economy which meant that our seats reclined a bit more, we had foot rests and a bit more room which made it easier to sleep a few hours of the 8 1/2 and didn’t arrive in too bad of shape at 6:30AM
We both loved East Africa. The people were so nice and friendly. We met so many other interesting travellers from all over the world that were wonderful to talk with. And the animals! Every day was better than the last. To be so close to these magnificent animals and see them in their natural habitat was amazing.
I am pretty sure that Chloe will be back again at some point. She said she just loved it. Even though this was my third visit it was just as exciting as the first,
Now we are back to London for a few days at the end of our journey