WE TREKKED TO THE GORILLAS! PART 1
WE TREKKED TO THE GORILLAS
Here is an impression of myself and my husband’s Rwanda Mountain Gorilla trekking tour, part of the December 2019 K and T and Rwanda tour.
I might have to split this into segments if t will not all go into one post. Hope to post a picture of myself and fellow Tauck forum member Smarks who was on the tour. I have her permission. More about the tour in general soon.
We flew from Nairobi to Kigali and stayed overnight in an excellently Serena hotel. The next morning we set off for about a two and a half hour drive with our new drivers in Safari vehicles.
Rwanda is known as the country of a thousand hills, it has some of the most stunning scenery we have encounter in Africa, lush hills and valleys covered in green vegetation with terraces everywhere producing rich crops of fruits and vegetables that are tendered by subsistence farmers. The paved road is good. Everywhere you see people walking along the road. This is even more fantastic than you see in other parts of sub Saharan Africa because about 90% of the women are wearing the traditional clothing of wonderful African fabrics ( I love them) in amazing patterns and colors. Some are carrying huge loads of everything from firewood, grasses, huge containers of water, vegetables and so on, perfectly balanced on their heads as they walk along. Some have babies on their backs wrapped tightly in the same colorful fabric.
Kigali is renowned as the cleanest city in Africa, it certainly is! It is possibly the cleanest city we have ever visited. The last Saturday of the month, everyone in the country spends from 7-30am to 12-30pm cleaning a specified area near their home. Even the Prime Minister participates. High security is everywhere, this means crime is very low. There are armed police everywhere to encourage everyone.
We arrived at the brand new One and Only Gorilla’s Nest hotel, open only exactly one month. We are the first Tauck tour to stay here. It is a fantastic place. Spread out over a huge area and designed to fit perfectly into the surrounding landscape. There are 200,000 new plants in fantastic landscaping, I’m a gardener, it’s one of the best planted landscapes I have ever seen. The staff are wonderful. The rooms are spread out over the big area, connected by winding pathways. Golf carts can be called to take you to anywhere on the property. For example, the pool was about a five minute cart ride from our room. The pool area is fantastic, the pool is heated to 29 degrees Celsius, gorgeous! The rooms vary in size and some people got suites including an outdoor bath tub. The room has such luxuries as Dyson hairdryers, I’ve had one for a while and love it, so take the opportunity to try it out to see if you think it is worth the $400 price tag. There are electric bicycles for use all over the property. I’ve never seen an electric bike and no one told us they were electric or o would have tried one.
But we did not come here for the hotel, we came here for the gorillas.
The next morning, we had an early breakfast in the reception area ready to set off at 6-15am. We had our walking boots on and the hotel provided us with gaiters and helped us put them on. There were ponchos if we needed them and waterproof covers for our backpacks. We had snacks and water and other essentials in our backpacks.
Our Tour Director had split us into two groups based on her observations of our fitness and age that she had seen on the couple of hikes we had taken with her earlier on the trip and our requests. We arrived at the ‘base camp’ which had about 100 very excited people plus porters and guides. There was an area to get coffee and toilets. There was a loud excited chattering buzz about the place. There was quite a bit of waiting around while permits were sorted and groups put together. Decisions were made about which group of people would see which gorilla family group based on their known whereabouts the night before. It was only then that we were assigned our own Gorilla guide for the group. We sat with the gorilla guide who told us about our gorilla family what to expect and how to behave. Finally, we set off in our vehicles to the nearest starting point to meet the AGASHYA Family of 24 members. AGASHYA means ‘Special’
Our group of people were supposed to have an easy hike, but if we got reports from the trackers higher up, that the gorillas were on the move, our hike could be longer. We met our individual porters on the roadside near the start of our trail, who carried our backpacks. Walking sticks were provided to those of us who wanted them. We had bought our own new trekking poles, but much to Mr B’s annoyance, I chose to use a cute gorilla carved stick. He used his new poles and found them extremely helpful. I just used my walking stick and my guide’s hand when needed!
It was not raining, not too warm. I was just wearing a medium thickness long sleeved t shirt. I had a hat and put on my gardening type gloves recommended for the trip. Soon after we started walking the guide told us all we didn’t really need them and that we would be cooler without. So I took off my hat too.
We started off at a fast pace. There were large volcanic rocks on a very narrow and muddy uneven path, and we were heading into farmland and crops. My legs felt fine, but every step you had to see where you were placing your foot as it would be so easy to slip or turn an ankle. I was wearing good boots that went over my ankles. Very soon, the altitude started to get to me 8,600 feet according to Mr B’s handy dandy app. My breathing was very fast and my heart was racing. We carried on, I felt no sign of altitude sickness, headache or whatever, my lower body was coping, it just was a frightening feeling to be breathing so fast. After about half an hour, we all stopped to take a break. The guide explained we were better to all keep together partly because there were chances of encounters with elephants or buffalos and partly because no one would see the gorillas until we had all reached them together. She suggested that the slowest people lead the group to even the pace, that was not me, maybe I was say number three of the seven of us.
The ascent became less steep and we entered the forest. Now there were huge leaved and tall stinging nettles to negotiate, bamboo, trees and some vines, very narrow trail, not that muddy, still no rain. All of a sudden, after speaking to the trackers, our guide told us the gorillas were very near. We were quiet but so excited. We left everything with the porters except our cameras and carried on carefully avoiding nettles and excessive muddy areas on the very narrow trail. Then they were there, our gorillas! About 18 of the family were right in front of us, totally seemingly oblivious to our presence and doing what gorillas do.