Saturday, August 18, 2012

Visiting the “rellies”: The Rwandan Mountain Gorillas

Entry into Rwanda was pretty quick, despite the fact that we had a bit of an issue with our visas. We did do a quick check a while back on what the requirements were for a Rwandan visa, but should have followed up further*. If we had done that we would have known that we were supposed to have arranged them before rocking up at the border. Opps! Anyway, a bit of lecture from the official there, some “yes sir”, “your right sir” and we were granted entry to the country. Another small run in with the Rwandan police official as we passed the gate (we missed him and he had to blow his whistle) and a plastic bag falling out of the car as he opened the door, “Contraband!!” (plastic bags are banned in Rwanda) and we were on our way. On the right side of the road no less!! A new experience for Mike. J

Lucky! We had the Mountain Gorillas booked for two days later!

After a quick overnight stopover in Kigali we picked up our Gorilla permits from the Rwanda Development Board and headed north to the Volcanoes National Park, only a couple of hours from the capital (loving being in a small country for a change).

We camped at Kinigi Guesthouse for the night, only 200m away from the park office, handy since we had to be there at 7am the next morning.

Hills and farmland at the Volcanoes National Park
The next day we arrived early at the park office, greeted by around 80 other keen Gorilla trekkers and a rather noisy cultural performance. Less keen on the festivities than some others there we quickly registered and waited in the quietest corner possible while park officials and rangers arranged groups, a process that seemed somewhat disorganised initially, but seemed to work.

We were put with an older group of six Germans and Swiss, many of whom stated they weren’t particularly fit, working in our favour (we thought) for a closer group. Embarrassingly I actually can’t remember the name of the gorilla group we were assigned to find. I managed with the first group they designated us but then they changed gorilla groups (to a closer one) and I now have no idea of the name.

Anyway, we headed off at around 8am following the other group in our car (you must have your own vehicle or be on a tour) to where our trek started, around a half hour drive. At the start of our trek the guide added on some porters which Mike and I were pretty sure we didn’t need, but I was pretty happy they came later on our walk.

The walk started out as a nice trek up through some hills and farm land. Already some of our members were struggling a little, but then again we were up at around 2400 metres. We walked for nearly an hour before finally making it to the forest. It was from here that the day gradually grew more and more cumbersome. 

The forest path. I swear there is a path we walked on there somewhere!
The forest wasn’t the nicest I’ve walked through; slippery but mostly prickly from all of the stinging nettle, it was slow, particularly with our group and as a result we were having difficulty reaching the group of gorilla’s before they moved again. A very long story (and morning) short, we finally reached the “close” group at around 1pm, climbing areas that were steeper than on Kilimanjaro!

Stinging nettle
The gorillas however made it immediately worth it. It’s not an experience that can be explained, so I won’t try to, but we did get EXTREMELY close! Twice the Silver-back charged at our group, a scary and humbling experience. No harm done though and mostly we just sat and watched as they ate and the younger gorillas engaged in play- fighting. I'll let the photos tell the story!

The Silver-back coming for us
Letting us know who is the king of the jungle
The baby coming out to play
I really wasn't sure about turning my back on the Silver-back for a photo.
Can you tell?
Yep, I still look nervous
Mike looking calm
And one for photo with the three of us!
Meal time for some....
.....and still playtime for others!
About 40 minutes with the gorillas and we had to leave them mostly because they had started to leave us first.

Some of the other members of the group
Just about time to go... 
Back down the mountain, slipping and trying to avoid the stinging thistles, we finally made it back to the cars at around 5:30pm. A long day in all! Mike and I felt initially a bit disappointed, feeling that the trek itself had overridden the time we spent with the Gorillas, however looking back now they are what I remember most about the day so that is not the case at all.

Arriving back at the lodge at 6pm we opted for a room this time so we could take hot shower. A bit achy we collapsed into bed that night after a very long day.

The trip back to Kigali was lovely, with hills and more hills. A very scenic drive that is difficult to capture in photos.

On the way back to Kigali
Hills and farmland

* To apply for a single entry visa for Rwanda you can apply online. The attached link has further information on how to go about this:

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