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Zubbie15

A tale of two safaris, part deux (or, now I know why they're called MOUNTAIN gorillas!)

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AKR1

The silverback needs a teeth cleaning- dentist's dream :wub:

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amybatt

Gorgeous last shot there. I'm not sure what I expected for landscape there as I've never been in rain forest before, but I'm guessing the "mountain gorilla" part of your title here is bearing out!

 

I'm still astounded by how close and how good your photos are. Nicely done.

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Zubbie15

@@amybatt, the forest, at least what we saw, was quite mixed. There was definitely a lot of large, older trees, but at the same time both of our gorilla sightings were predominantly in clearings with thick bushes, and our golden monkey trek took us into a bamboo thicket. So quite a bit of variety.



Let me start our next day with a brief apology – you can tell this was our last full day of the trip, my notes aren’t as good as for the previous days, so some details are a little lacking. Our schedule the previous day worked well, so we were again up at 5:30AM, and at breakfast around 6. We felt more relaxed on this day; we’d handled the medium difficulty hike, had seen gorillas up close and personal, and knew the routine. So while we were excited, the stressful part was greatly reduced. The day dawned almost clear, with only a few clouds in the sky, which allowed us to get some nice (I think) photos on the way to the park headquarters.



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When we arrived, it seemed much quieter than the previous day, and in fact we ended up only being 6 in our group. While we were waiting around, Norbert introduced us to a guide (I forget his name) who had worked with Dian Fossey back in the day, which was really interesting. Our group today had the older couple from California who were with us the previous day, as well as a mother and daughter also from the US. We also were fortunate in that we would be accompanied by two rangers, Ed and Eugene. We had the pre-trek briefing at the headquarters (I realize I omitted this in my description of the previous day), where we learned about the group we were going to visit, Ntambara. I somehow don’t have my notes about this group, but from what I can find on the internet from 2015 there are 16 members, including 3 silverbacks. In any case, the previous day it had only taken 20 minutes after entering the park for the group to find the gorillas, so we were expecting a pretty easy go of it. I actually wasn’t too sore when I woke up, but my wife was, and in any case I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with a trek like the previous one.



We went to the same parking area as the previous day, and did our last minute preparations (walking sticks? Check. Hire a porter each? Check. Last bathroom stop? Check. A note about that – at this parking area, the only facility was a long-drop outhouse. We started off on the hike, and the combination of fewer tourists and an extra ranger (as well as the more leisurely pace they set this day) meant that we were able to interact much more with them. While we started on the same path through the small village, once we reached the fields we quickly veered off in a different direction. This took us longer to get to the park, but allowed us to appreciate the work going on in the fields, and to interact a bit with the women and children. One concerning thing at this point was that, yet again, the trackers hadn’t located the gorillas yet – rather, we were heading in the general direction they had been in the previous day. I can’t say how common this is, but it’s not good news, that’s for sure!



Once we reached the wall and climbed over it, the rangers decided to wait a little while until we heard from the trackers, to try to get a better idea of where to go. Eventually, the trackers radioed in that they had an idea of where the gorillas were, and so we set off along the trail. It wasn’t long however that further radio chatter indicated that trail wasn’t going to get us where we needed to be, and so we set out bushwacking. This made the trek much more different than the previous day – in this case, we were going through bushes (many that stung or had thorns – as an aside stinging nettles got me several times, and while it burned for a few minutes in my case it went away fairly quickly, and so I didn’t find it so bad), so couldn’t see much of our surroundings. However, we were also open to the sky, and the sun was out in full force today, so everyone was covering up with hats and sunscreen. The travel through the bushes made going slow – we’d progress for a few minutes, then stop while the porters and rangers made the next patch of trail. I liked this hike much better, in part because I was last in line, and was able to have a detailed, lengthy conversation with Ed the ranger (for those of you who like basketball, he looked a lot like former NBA player Popeye Jones). He’d been a ranger for 18 years, and in fact had seen the birth of the current silverback leading the family we were going to visit. He also had a big interest in photography, and noticing my Canon 5D and 70-200 lens strapped to my back led to a long chat about that (which, as I’ll get to, would pay off later on).



Eventually, we heard that the trackers had found the gorillas, but they had crossed over a ravine, which was going to be difficult to follow for us. So we continued walking, heading up to get to the start of the ravine. It was a little precarious making the crossing over to the other side, I could envisage myself tumbling all the way down the mountain. Once on the other side, we almost immediately reached a trail that looked very familiar – we had reached the trail that we’d taken the previous day. If we’d known where the gorillas were, it would have been much easier and quicker to get up by that trail, but perhaps not as interesting. In the end, we trekked for almost the same amount of time as the previous day, although it was gentler and less taxing. We immediately dropped our bags, got ready for the gorillas, and then headed into the bush.


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Zubbie15

When we got to where the gorillas were hanging out, it seemed like there were gorillas everywhere. It was obvious that photography was going to be challenging however, as the bright sunshine combined with the shadows and dark gorillas made things quite contrasty. Encouragingly, this group of gorillas was much more active than the one from the previous day, with all members we saw alert and active.



We were greeted by this handsome fellow.


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To give an idea of the conditions we dealt with on both days, here's a wider shot of him. You can see that we were really in thick vegetation, which made keeping the 7 meter distance almost impossible (we wouldn't have seen anything), and getting clear shots somewhat of a challenge at times. The rangers and trackers would do their best to clear vegetation where possible, but several times the gorillas made it perfectly clear the rangers should stop, and they immediately did. I will say having two rangers, and only six tourists, on this trek meant they had more time to clear vegetation for us. It also meant that at times we split up as a group, each ranger having a few people with him.


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A lot of the gorillas were eating bamboo, as seen below. There is an urban legend that eating bamboo causes the gorillas to get drunk due to fermentation of the sugars. Apparently that isn't true, but they do get a bit of a sugar high, which makes them fun to watch.


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Being hot and dry, there was a lot of dust and dirt, and some bugs, that were floating through the air.


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This gorilla seemed very content to sit and eat the bamboo, with apparently not a care in the world...


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Zubbie15

As I mentioned, eating bamboo gives the gorillas a sugar high. This was nicely demonstrated to us by a pair of teenagers, who were wrestling in the bushes near us. Originally, they were really hard to get photos of, most looking simply like a large ball of fur...



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They would at times take breaks, and stop to see what was going on around them.



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I mentioned that having my camera paid off later on, well this was one of those times. I could hear the trackers and rangers talking in Kinyarwanda (the local language) and obviously didn't know what they were saying, except for one word: "photographer." Well, right after that exchange one of the trackers came to get me, moved me to a different position slightly away from the group, and cleared some vegetation so that I'd have a better view of these guys playing. A lot of the photos still came out as big dark balls of fur, but there were some nice ones that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. There were also a couple of other times later on when similar things happened, which I really appreciated.



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It was actually a challenge to know where to look while they were fighting, because on the opposite side of me was the family leader (who's name I can't confirm on the internet).



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For people wondering about what lenses to bring, I had also put my 100-400 mm lens on my Canon 7D. The first day, the proximity of the gorillas and the dim light meant that I didn't want to use that much zoom, and that dim of a lens, so I didn't take a single picture with it. Today, again the gorillas were close enough I didn't feel it was necessary, but since I'd now had 2 porters carry that on their back up the mountain, I felt bad not using it at all. So I decided to take a few close-up portraits of the chief, of which this was my favourite:



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Towlersonsafari

What an excellent report and it brings back great memories @@Zubbie15 we did two treks and saw youngsters play fighting but your photo's are certainly much better than ours. Rwanda is a fascinating country and the genocide museum a very moving place indeed. I know it has been said before but there is something so magical about being in the same palce as gorillas

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Zubbie15

Once the teenagers stopped playing, we moved along, seeing who else we could find. We were checking out a female, who like a lot of the other gorillas was taking shade from the sun in the bushes.



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All of a sudden there was some frantic whispering behind us, and we turned around to see that the big silverback had decided to start moving. He came through the underbrush near us, before stopping to check us out.



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For anybody wondering how close we got to the gorillas, this might give an idea.



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In fact, we all got closer to the gorillas than that picture shows. At one point just after this, one of the teenagers came by - the lady with the wide brim hat was still crouched down, and he tapped her on the head. Not long after, a second teenager followed along, doing a somersault in our vicinity and ending up rolling into my wife. Finally, a third teenager came by; he stopped to check us all out, and then continued along... stopping to give me a light punch in the leg as he passed me by. It wasn't anything violent, but more akin to a human child playing tag. Unfortunately, it happened so fast and we were so surprised that no one got any pictures!



Once the teenagers had passed along, we continued trying to follow the big silverback. He had found a shadier area to relax in, which thankfully was quite clear.



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We tried to follow him along, dodging over and under branches, around nettles, and scrambling along slopes, but at one point he headed down a slope we couldn't follow. We did find other members of the family however, who had been hanging out in this area.



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It was really dark down under the trees, and I was definitely pushing the ISO on my camera at this point.



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Our hour was basically up at this point, and we stopped to check out this last gorilla who was enjoying life to the fullest.



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We then started heading away from the gorillas, but in this case we didn't head directly toward our porters. Rather we started off at an angle, to meet them further down the hill. It was tough going through the thick brush with two cameras strapped to my back. We got back to the car a little after 1PM, so our “easy” hike was longer than expected.



We left the parking area, and began to head down the road (I didn't mention before, but the road that covered the last couple of kilometers to the parking area was truly awful, with lots of large rocks and potholes), as the last car from our trekking group. Not long after starting, we hit a big rock, which pushed us sideways and into the ditch that ran along the side of the road. It seemed like within five minutes all of the inhabitants in the area knew, and were there watching and trying to help. It was quite interesting to see. It took more than half an hour for us to get moving again; the help from the people was great, but when our guide gave some people money for their help, others also wanted some as well, and it briefly got a little tense.


We then did our souvenir shopping and picked up our trekking certificates, before returning to our hotel. Because we took a long time shopping, we didn’t finish our lunch (lupper?) until after 4PM.


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optig

The photos of the gorillas are just amazing,as are all the photos of scenery,people,and monkeys. The text is just loaded with new,and fascinating information. My best friend in Nairobi the administrator of my compound in Kilimani just loves them.

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amybatt

Wow, both of your experiences were wonderful, but in different ways. You did so well with your photos. And your text really conveys how much you enjoyed the experience!

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Zubbie15

After cleaning up in our room, and relaxing a little, we met up with Norbert to head into Ruhengeri to make a quick visit to the town. There was a lot of construction going on, in particular a lot of new roads being paved.



We stopped at a bar for a drink; it had a rooftop bar, which let us get a bit of an overview of the city. Here are a few photos just to give an idea.



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From there, we drove around a bit more, seeing the hotel where Dian Fossey stayed, before heading back to the hotel to pack up. It was amazing the number of people walking to and from the town in the dark, we had to be careful driving.


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Zubbie15

We woke up at the same time the next day, feeling the typical melancholy you feel when a trip that you've spent a long time planning and looking forward to has come to an end. But we still had one more thing to do, trekking to the golden monkeys. We got to the park headquarters at the same time, and I have to admit I felt a little jealous of the people going up to the gorillas! But we gathered the group that were going to the monkeys together for the briefing. Unlike the gorillas, there is no limit to the number of people that can go see the golden monkeys, and there were 14 people in our group. Among this group was a set of 7 Italians, who had been staying at our hotel and we knew to be very loud, as well as the mother and daughter from our previous trek.



We headed to a different trailhead this time, one that started near the Sabyinyo Lodge. The skies were quite dark and threatening as we started on what was a reasonably long walk through farmland. Upon reaching the park wall, we had our briefing and then it only took 20-25 minutes to reach the monkeys. During the walk, the Italians were loud and quite slow, as we'd been worried about. At one point we walked through some ants, where we were told to move quickly - it's amazing how ants seem to universally be the most feared animals in the forest. I somehow managed to get a couple on me, they definitely gave me a good bite. One Italian lady got some in her pants, and they seemed to be bothering her quite a bit.



When we first reached the monkeys, they were predominantly in the canopy, and rather hard to see. There were a few that came down to the ground to offer a close view, but initially the visibility was disappointing after the proximity of the gorillas. It didn’t help that the Italian group quickly got bored, and were making lots of noise and taking selfies rather than trying to see the monkeys.



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After a while, some more monkeys were seen by the trackers a little bit away – I was standing with the lead tracker, and she took me over there to watch that group. These monkeys, with less human disturbance, were much more relaxed and easier to observe. Eventually, our entire group except the Italians, ended up in that area, watching the monkeys eat, jump, and play. This was really enjoyable, and despite the fact that it started to rain lightly I had a lot of fun watching them. It was quite dark in the forest, especially with the cloud and rain, and I would recommend bringing a flash if you have experience using one for wildlife photography (you are allowed to use flash with the monkeys, not the gorillas though)



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Toward the end of the hour, as we were about to leave, one monkey came down on the ground very close to us. It stayed there for a while, and the rangers let us have a few extra minutes since it was so close.



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When we finally started back, we learned that the Italian group had left quite a bit before, as they had felt that they had seen enough. It was definitely better for us once they had left, the extra noise seemed to be bothering the monkeys. The whole experience was not strenuous, and while different from gorillas it was quite fun and a nice way to spend our last morning.


We then returned to the hotel, and dropped off our shoes and gaiters for a quick cleaning. We took showers, grabbed lunch, and then headed back to Kigali. Once in Kigali, we did some last minute shopping (scarves for some women back home, some fabric for my wife, and some coffee for us), before heading off to the airport and our flight home.


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Zubbie15

Thanks to all that read along this short trip report. To finish off, some tips from our trip (copied from a post I put on Tripadvisor, https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293828-i9987-k9632466-Some_tips_based_on_our_visit-Rwanda.html)for those planning to go in the future:



- I felt that visiting the genocide memorial at the start of our trip was the best plan for us. It allowed you to see where the country was coming from, and to build up from there. It was a very moving experience.


- There is a lot of security – soldiers/police with guns on the street corner at major intersections, metal detectors and x-ray machines at the shopping malls, and mirrors to look under cars at the Mille Collines hotel. It took a little getting used to on our part, but the residents seemed to accept it as a normal part of life. Even outside Kigali there were often men with guns at major intersections. Despite (or because of?) this we never felt anything but safe.


- Bring a second pair of shoes for while the hotel is cleaning your hiking shoes. Otherwise, our hotel (Mountain Gorilla View Lodge) give you fluorescent green flip flops that don’t fit particularly well.


- Definitely hire a porter for the gorilla treks, even if you are in great shape and regularly hike in mountains. They are typically former poachers, and by employing them you help to protect the park. Compared to the price of the permit, a porter ($10 US to hire, plus tip) is really inexpensive. And, if you do end up needing one, there’s nothing you can do if you didn’t hire one, unless someone else’s porter takes time out to help you.


- It’s hard to generalize after two hikes, but I felt that it was an advantage to have the two rangers with us. It gave you twice as much opportunity to chat with them and hear their stories while walking to and from the gorillas. I also found that when we were with the gorillas, you had more opportunity to roam, as the rangers could split up, rather than all being clustered together as we had to be when there was only one. And having the second ranger present allowed them to spend more time helping us get clear photographs (by moving the vegetation) than was possible with the one ranger. I’m not sure how easy it would be to request a group that had two rangers going that day, but it’s something I’d try for do if/when I return.


- Tipping (all amounts in USD unless indicated): We gave each ranger $40 for the two of us. The first day we gave each tracker (there were 4) 2000 Rwanda francs, which was probably a little low. Most people just gave one tip to the head tracker to spread among the group; the second and third days we did this, giving $20 each day. However, we really appreciated the extra lengths that the head tracker went to for us at the Golden Monkeys, and so separately gave her $10. For the porters, we ended up giving them all $40 each. This was probably quite high, but my wife said she definitely wouldn’t have been able to get to the first gorillas without her porter, so we tipped him extra, and then decided to be consistent for all porters afterward.


- Photography: For the gorillas, because they were in dense vegetation both days, we were almost always closer than the theoretical minimum distance of 7 meters; typical distances, based on the focusing window on my lens, were 2-4 meters. Based on our experience, I’d say a lens in roughly the 200mm range, or slightly longer if you want frame filling portraits, would be ideal. If you aren’t sure, have someone at home stand various distances (2-7 meters) from you at home, and see if you’re happy with the framing you can achieve. For the golden monkeys, they spent a lot of time up in the canopy, and having a longer lens would have been nice (say, our 100-400mm). They do come down closer sometimes though, so it’s not required. Note that there’s no flash with the gorillas, but you are allowed for the monkeys – we were pushing the ISO quite a bit with the monkeys, since it was quite overcast and we were in the forest, so if you have experience with flash for wildlife it would probably be useful.



I'd also suggest checking out this other post that has a lot of useful information, and which I referred to a lot in our preparations:


https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293828-i9987-k7903361-Info_for_those_planning_a_trip_to_Rwanda_to_see_the_gorillas-Rwanda.html


Edited by Zubbie15

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dlo

@@Zubbie15

 

Lots of nice golden monkey shots, I regret not going to see them but we decided to go to Dian Fossey's grave instead. Well that worked out well for us as we crossed paths with another gorilla group and got a free sighting for our efforts. To top it off we got charged by the silverback as our guide quickly let us know to get down!

 

Enjoyed both trip reports and look forward to you're next one whenever that may be.

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michael-ibk

I really enjoyed this report - both sections. The Rwanda one of course was very exciting for me, since I will be there in about a month. Thank you for all the helpful advice and practical information, an excellent, well told report with lots of excellent photos. Bravo!

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Towlersonsafari

loved the golden monkey shots! @@Zubbie15 and very much enjoyed the report. We went in 2005-so long ago-and also went to the nyungwe forest which was well worth the visit.We didnt do the chip trekking but just walking in the forest was wonderful.The accommodation was very basic although i understand there is a very posh lodge now

thanks again

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amybatt

@@Zubbie15 I'm sad to see this report come to an end. You did wonderfully describing the experience and getting the photos. I'd read that the golden monkeys are hard to photograph due to both the lighting and their rapid movement, but you have some excellent shots!! We're doing them first to ease into the experience, then two gorilla hikes. The golden monkeys have sweet faces and look mischievous! It looks like you made a great choice with both A2T and T2R. I'm thrilled that it turned out so well.

 

@@michael-ibk I look forward to your trip report and photos! I go in February, so I will have to live vicariously through trip reports until then!

Edited by amybatt

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Zubbie15

@@Zubbie15

 

Lots of nice golden monkey shots, I regret not going to see them but we decided to go to Dian Fossey's grave instead. Well that worked out well for us as we crossed paths with another gorilla group and got a free sighting for our efforts. To top it off we got charged by the silverback as our guide quickly let us know to get down!

 

Enjoyed both trip reports and look forward to you're next one whenever that may be.

 

Thanks for reading along @@dlo - we heard of a group that while trekking to one gorilla family ran into another on the way and also got a free sighting. Very lucky. We were just happy we chose to do something our last morning - the couple from California who did the two gorilla treks with us were actually on the same flight out of Kigali as us, and at the airport they told us they regretted having spent their last day in Kigali rather than doing something in PNV. Not sure where our next trip is going to be, but doubt if I'm going to get back to Africa before 2019 at the earliest... :(

 

I really enjoyed this report - both sections. The Rwanda one of course was very exciting for me, since I will be there in about a month. Thank you for all the helpful advice and practical information, an excellent, well told report with lots of excellent photos. Bravo!

 

Thanks @@michael-ibk, I'm sure you're going to have an amazing time, there's just something special about being right there with one of our closest relatives. I'll look forward to your report.

 

loved the golden monkey shots! @@Zubbie15 and very much enjoyed the report. We went in 2005-so long ago-and also went to the nyungwe forest which was well worth the visit.We didnt do the chip trekking but just walking in the forest was wonderful.The accommodation was very basic although i understand there is a very posh lodge now

thanks again

 

Thanks @@Towlersonsafari, I was tempted by Nyungwe Forest, but there's just too many options and not enough time. Maybe next time!

 

@@Zubbie15 I'm sad to see this report come to an end. You did wonderfully describing the experience and getting the photos. I'd read that the golden monkeys are hard to photograph due to both the lighting and their rapid movement, but you have some excellent shots!! We're doing them first to ease into the experience, then two gorilla hikes. The golden monkeys have sweet faces and look mischievous! It looks like you made a great choice with both A2T and T2R. I'm thrilled that it turned out so well.

 

@@michael-ibk I look forward to your trip report and photos! I go in February, so I will have to live vicariously through trip reports until then!

 

Thanks @@amybatt for reading along (twice now). The golden monkeys were tough given the rapid movement, but there are so many of them all over the place that even if you miss a lot of shots you can still get some good opportunities.

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Antee

Nice capture on the Golden monkeys. They are beautiful!

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ld1

@@Zubbie15 fabulous report and pictures. We had a very similar experience to you when we visited in 2012. It is interesting to hear about the tightening of security these days. There had been a small number of isolated grenade attacks in Kigali before our visit and although we saw no visible security at the time there was a sense that a tightening of security was imminent. We were lucky enough to see the golden monkeys on our second Gorilla trek, but your photos show the value of doing the trek itself as during our sighting they were definitely on their way somewhere.

 

I totally agree on the tipping of rangers and hiring porters. We also tipped the trackers who go up in the morning and stay with the groups all day.

 

I loved Rwanda and hope we can return one day.

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Zubbie15

Nice capture on the Golden monkeys. They are beautiful!

 

Thanks @@Antee.

 

@@Zubbie15 fabulous report and pictures. We had a very similar experience to you when we visited in 2012. It is interesting to hear about the tightening of security these days. There had been a small number of isolated grenade attacks in Kigali before our visit and although we saw no visible security at the time there was a sense that a tightening of security was imminent. We were lucky enough to see the golden monkeys on our second Gorilla trek, but your photos show the value of doing the trek itself as during our sighting they were definitely on their way somewhere.

 

I totally agree on the tipping of rangers and hiring porters. We also tipped the trackers who go up in the morning and stay with the groups all day.

 

I loved Rwanda and hope we can return one day.

 

Thanks @@ld1. Good point about the trackers - we left 20USD with the head tracker each day to be spread among all the trackers. For the golden monkeys, I also gave the head tracker an extra 10USD because I really appreciated how she helped me get away from the loud group and have better views of the monkeys.

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SafariChick

@@Zubbie15 thank you SO much for this report! like @@amybatt I will be doing gorilla trekking in February as well (with my husband) and I am probably equal parts excited and anxious about how I will do out there physically. Your report kind of confirmed both parts! But you got wonderful photos and sounds like an amazing experience! I am wondering if I should ask for TWO easy treks since even your easy one turned out to be as long as your medium one!

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Zubbie15

It is definitely an amazing experience @@SafariChick, one you'll remember for the rest of your life. Are you going with a guide, or doing the trip yourself? If with a guide, I'd suggest you see what they recommend, for us Norbert asked a few questions and suggested what we try to do. To be honest, the medium hike was certainly a challenge, but the second anyone asked for a break we stopped immediately. Also, the difficulty of the trek doesn't necessarily equate with the quality of the experience. And, if you want to see a lot of babies, or a lot of silverbacks, that may play a big role in determining which group(s) you try to hike to.

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SafariChick

@@Zubbie15 we will have a guide ... I'd love to see babies and youngsters but also want the hikes to be manageable.

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ld1

@@SafariChick you are going to have an awesome time. I was 45, unfit, as I sit at a desk all day and do NO exercise. I panicked and went on about 3/4 local hikes in the Peak District in the UK beforehand. I was fine, to be honest the greatest affect was the altitude and I knew it would be as I don't do so well at altitude. I was still able to keep up and we had a lovely gentleman of 70 on one of he treks and he was by no means a mountain goat type ? Both our hikes were about 1.5-2 hours. Similar to @@Zubbie15 on one of our treks we did quite a lot of traversing with the porters cutting foot holds in the side of the mountain....it was so much fun!!!!

Edited by ld1

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SafariChick

@@ld1 Thank you. I'm about 9 years older than you were at the time, and have been quite overweight for a long time. But I've been exercising an hour a day for about 6 months and on a weight loss program and have lost about 50 pounds in that time. I'm happy about that and trying to lose a little more before I go as it really makes a difference in my ability to keep up at a reasonable pace. The exercise I've been doing is aerobic but not on hills, mostly, so I'm going to start doing some hill hiking now - I have about 16 weeks before I leave. I don't know how I'll be with the altitude but will just hope for the best.

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