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SafariChick

Mud, Sweat and Tears

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SafariChick

Ok, that title is misleading - I will admit up front that there were not really any tears, though there were some aches, pains and stinging nettle encounters! But all well worth it!! However, I am getting ahead of myself. By the way, this is part II of the recent trip taken by me and Mr. Safarichick to celebrate our 20th anniversary. The trip took place in February 2017 and part I can be found here: http://safaritalk.net/topic/17178-into-thin-air/

 

We arrived in Rwanda quite late, around 12:20 a.m., having taken a 10:45 p.m. flight from Addis Ababa. The flight, on Ethiopian Air, was remarkable in that we had our tickets and seat assignments for many months in advance but, when we boarded, a woman with a baby was in one of our seats. When we pointed this out to the flight attendant, she said “oh, yes, but she has a baby. You can sit somewhere else”!! Somewhere else meant back of the plane – our seats had been the front row! She said “the plane is not full so it doesn’t matter.” Very interesting way of viewing things! But it was a short flight, so not a big deal.

 

@@amybatt and I went back and forth a lot before our respective trips as to whether it was necessary or helpful to get a visa for Rwanda in advance. I became convinced that it was a good idea to try because arriving after midnight it would make life easier to have one less thing to worry about once we arrived. Actually getting the visas online was quite a chore, requiring multiple attempts when the credit card wouldn’t go through but finally it did work. When we got to Rwanda, though, the line for visa holders was longer than the one for those trying to get visas and it ended up seeming like it would have been much easier to get them on arrival. That’s what I would recommend for anyone else going to Rwanda.

 

We used Umubano Tours (also used by @@michael-ibk but who we first heard of from the report of @BonitaApplebum). We were met outside by a cheerful energetic fellow whose name now escapes me. He was only assigned to take us to our hotel – our real driver/guide would be Bosco. We requested Bosco because BonitaApplebum had spoken so highly of him. Our driver that night took us to the Manor Hotel and made sure we got checked in ok. As we drove through the streets of Rwanda at night I was impressed with how clean and quiet and safe it appeared. I was also impressed with the traffic lights that did countdowns to show you how much longer they would be red or green. Why can’t we have that in the U.S.?

 

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The Manor hotel was fine – we were only there for about 8 hours as we were being picked up at 9 a.m. In the morning, there was breakfast included which was a buffet. Mr. S. wanted some butter to put on his pancakes but we could not find any. We tried asking the staff but they could not understand what “butter” was. We kept saying “for the pancakes.” (They also did not seem to have any syrup despite the sign in the room advertising breakfast options in the room included pancakes with “Marple Syrup” which is apparently an item found in a traditional European breakfast ):

 

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Finally, I suggested Mr. S. look up the word for butter in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda, which he did – and he then tried to say the word, and also showed the staff a photo of butter. That apparently did the trick, and they led him to some little packets we had seen earlier which were simply labeled “Roquefort.” The only Roquefort we know is a type of cheese. We did sort of wonder why there were these miscellaneous packets of cheese there but for some reason that is what they call butter! We never did get any Marple Syrup though.

 

View from the hotel:

 

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Our guide, Bosco, met us at 9 a.m. sharp and he was delightful. He knew so much about Rwanda and its history, and was very nice. He told us the plan was to take us on a city tour and to see the Genocide Memorial Museum. Mr. S. and I had gone back and forth about the museum. We knew it was an important thing, but we also felt it would be sad and depressing to spend our limited vacation time on, and we thought we knew about the genocide, having seen Hotel Rwanda. In the end, after Bosco described the plans he had for us, we felt it would have been almost rude and disrespectful not to go. The Rwandan people really take pride in how far they have come since that time, and rightly so, and in retrospect I am glad we went.

 

Seen on the way to the museum:

 

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Regarding that last photo, Bosco told us something we’d heard before our trip also, that Rwandan citizens are encouraged (required? Not sure) to spend the last Saturday of the month doing clean up of their neighborhoods, which must be one reason the country is so clean. They also have banned plastic bags entirely from the country. (To answer a FAQ, they don’t mind if tourists bring them for personal use while in Rwanda, they just ask that you take them away with you when you leave).

 

I won’t go into detail about the museum, as you may have read @@amybatt’s recent report where she did, but it was an informative and moving experience. We did learn some things we didn’t know about the genocide. Actually one fact about the genocide we learned after leaving the museum almost by accident had to do with dogs. It was pretty awful, so sensitive readers might prefer not to read the rest of this paragraph. I noticed that unlike in other African countries, and really many third world countries, I didn’t see dogs running around stray in Rwanda. I asked Bosco did many Rwandans have dogs as pets. He said no – not any more. He said before the genocide, they did, but the perpetrators of the genocide trained many dogs to hunt people, attack and kill them, and actually eat them. After the genocide ended, people were traumatized and the dogs that were left were feral and vicious. People were still being attacked by these stray dogs so the government eventually had to kill them. After all this, understandably, the people had very bad memories and associations with dogs, so most people no longer have dogs as pets. But he said they do have cats as pets.

Ok on to happier parts of our trip. Bosco drove us around showing us the city, and the buildings were quite impressive. I was still concerned about the fact that I had no brush. It had now been a few days and my hair was starting to get tangled. I asked Bosco if he thought there was somewhere to find a hairbrush near where we were going for lunch. He did think that this mall nearby would be a good possibility so in we went. We went into a large store that seemed to have just about everything but the hairbrush selection was not good for my hair. We looked into a variety of little shops – nothing. Finally, we see a kiosk in the middle of the mall that seemed to sell hairpieces, and the hairpieces had hair kind of like mine. Bosco went to talk to the woman and she pulled out a hairbrush that was not exactly what I wanted but closer than anything we’d seen so far. Only problem was, it had some hairs in it and was all beaten up – clearly not new! I asked if she had a new version but this was the only one. But she assured me it wasn’t “used” because she had only used it to brush the hairpieces! To me that is used, but anyway we negotiated a price and she cleaned it as best she could and voila, I had a brush!

 

We had a very good lunch at Chez Robert, a restaurant across the street from the Hotel des Milles Collines (the hotel made famous during the genocide). Chez Robert had a buffet with many options for me as a vegetarian and Mr. S, the omnivore, enjoyed it also. And then, we were on our way to Musanze, the town closest to Volcanoes National Park.

Some photos from along the way:

 

Mr. S. and I were impressed by the many "bicycle taxis" in Rwanda - there is a seat behind the driver, a bit lower down, padded, for the passenger. It's especially impressive with the many hills in Rwanda. Bosco said sometimes nice passengers will hop off when there is a hill and run up it while the cyclist bikes up and then get back on at the top!

 

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Of course, some cyclists without passengers choose to get some help up the hill themselves

 

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Some views along the way:

 

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When we stopped to admire the view about halfway through, there were some really cute kids hanging out and they didn't mind if I took their photos. They loved seeing them on the camera screen.

 

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It only took about 2 and a half or 2 and three quarters hours to get to Musanze, MUCH better than the drive to Bale Mountain Lodge! Coming up, our great hotel and ... Gorillas!!!

Edited by SafariChick

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ld1

@@SafariChick I also asked about the lack of dogs. Even after the genocide museum that answer really hit home, because it was a simple fact of everyday life. Loving the report (and the Bale leg), you describe Rwanda very well and I found it had a charm all of its own.

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Towlersonsafari

@@SafariChick "Marple" syrup is surely named after the Agatha Christie detective so you would not have found it-its all part of the mystery

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ld1

I might have nightmares about Beef ? Bacon. That's some crazy kind of science fiction is that. No no no, you can't mess with Bacon.

Edited by ld1

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michael-ibk

Wow, I did not know about the dogs. :(

 

As I was told people are under obligation to clean up.

 

I agree, it would be almost rude by anyone not to visit the Memorial. I was very impressed that Rwandan companies offer this to every tourist visiting, clearly showing that they are facing their past.

 

Looking forward to your Gorilla adventures, and I´m sure there will be no tears but very happy smiles!

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Alexander33

Actually getting the visas online was quite a chore, requiring multiple attempts when the credit card wouldn’t go through but finally it did work. When we got to Rwanda, though, the line for visa holders was longer than the one for those trying to get visas and it ended up seeming like it would have been much easier to get them on arrival. That’s what I would recommend for anyone else going to Rwanda.

 

Ah, good to know. So that's now two votes for visas on arrival. Still makes me a little nervous, as I always like to have everything necessary in hand, but I'm starting to be persuaded.

 

The explanation about the lack of dogs is fascinating. Rwandans seem intent to look forward to the future, but that's yet another reminder that the past is always still there, in some form or fashion.

 

So "Roquefort" is butter? Who knew? I will feel so in-the-know when I ask for some Roquefort, please. (Of course, with my luck, I'll end up with pancakes with salad dressing or cheese on them.)

 

Looking forward to your trek through the mountains!

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Game Warden

A lot of negative things happening in Africa which only serve to make me down presently, but I have to say the comments from @@Towlersonsafari and @@ld1 almost caused me to cough up my wine over the keyboard laughing :) Fear not, there's still a haf full bottle of red beside me so I'm settling in for a good read @@SafariChick.

 

Matt

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SafariChick

@@Game Warden I shall try to get to another installment tonight (my time) which would be in several hours, so try not to drink so much wine that you pass out before then!

 

@@ld1 we were a bit stumped by the Beef Bacon option, but apparently it's a thing!

 

@@Towlersonsafari of course, Miss Marple - why didn't we think of that!

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SafariChick

We had been supposed to stay at Jack Hanna's cottage (funny that he showed up in Amy's report as well as mine, but that is the extent of his appearance here) but a couple of months before our trip, Umubano let us know that it would be closed for renovations during our visit and we would need to choose somewhere else to stay. This was a bit disconcerting as we'd been happy with Hanna's cottage as a nice compromise cost-wise between something like the Gorilla Mountain View Lodge and the very expensive places like Sabyinyo and Volcanoes Virunga Lodge. Herbert from Umubano suggested we look at either Gorilla Mountain View Lodge or a new place that was getting good reviews called Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel. (Actually for some reason Herbert always called it Five Picks not Five Volcanoes, and so did Bosco. We thought maybe he was meaning Five Peaks, which would make sense, but he spelled it as 'picks' so who knows!). The reviews we saw on Tripadvisor were good and we decided to go for it as it looked like a step above Gorilla Mountain View Lodge but the price was good - it ended up being a bit less expensive than Jack Hanna's Cottage. Five Volcanoes turned out to be a wonderful choice. The service was great - everyone was super friendly and nice - and the rooms were awesome. They had air conditioning and even TV - which we really didn't need but nice to have. The room and bathroom were beautiful. And the food at the restaurant was really delicious. They always had three choices of entree, and one was always vegetarian. Breakfast was the only slightly weak point in that they had not found a way to keep the waffles warm. But if that is the only complaint, that's pretty good! And the coffee - delicious - they seemed to make every cup individually for you, and you could order espresso or coffee - they would also bring a French Press pot out if a few people were having coffee.

 

Some photos:

 

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Check out the double rain-shower showerheads in the shower - fancy!

 

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Having settled in and being well fed, we started to get everything ready for the next morning - laying out our clothes, camera, etc. We had only brought one camera with us, as we figured one person could take photos with it while the other used a phone. I believe it was at this point as we were making sure we had the camera and extra battery when we suddenly realized ... (Hint: the second lost item on the trip) ... where was the camera battery charger? We had the extra battery but the charger? Nowhere to be found. We knew we had one full battery and then the one in the camera was mostly full, maybe 2/3 or 3/4 but ... we still had two days of gorillas and four days in Kenya to go - this was not good! We probably spent half an hour turning all of our bags upside down to finally conclude we did not have it. We must have left it in Ethiopia. Crap. We remembered using it and seeing it the day I was sick - Mr. S. had taken the charged battery and charger out of the wall and he remembered putting them with my bags but something must have happened when we were packing up. Messages to Ethiopia did not turn it up. @@Sangeeta who arranged our trip was kind enough to find a place in Nairobi that sold our brand of camera so we thought if we were desperate when we reached Nairobi we might try to go there. Meanwhile, we would hope that the batteries at least lasted for our two days of gorillas, and we thought they certainly should. So we finally went to bed a half hour later than we meant to due to the frantic searching and got as much sleep as we could before the early morning wake up for breakfast.

 

After breakfast, Bosco picked us up and we headed over to the headquarters where we would be divvied up into different gorilla groups. A word here about attire: you may have heard that it's not a bad idea to have gaiters to wear over the bottoms of your pants and the tops of your shoes. I thought the reason for this was to prevent ants from getting in your shoes and socks, and that may be one of the reasons but in our case, another purpose would be protecting your pants and shoes from mud. I had some very short little gaiters that I got from Doug McDonald in Mana Pools, and I had another pair that were taller that I got from the BugShirt company when we went to the Kafue. This first day I wore the Doug ones and gave Mr. S. the tall ones. The hotel also had their own gaiters that guests could borrow and the staff will put them on for you. I highly recommend these! we ended up using them the second day and they were much better than ours at protecting our pants and boots.

 

Bosco it turns out had been a ranger at Volcanoes park for a few years - the only reason he was no longer working in that capacity was that he had an accident where he was thrown out of the flatbed of a truck on the bumpy roads there and hurt his back and was forbidden by his dr. from hiking for several months. He needed to work so he got a job with Umubano Tours and enjoyed that a lot also so he stuck with it. In any case, being a former ranger-guide for the park, he really knew everything about the gorilla groups, individual gorillas and gorilla behavior and we talked about all the groups with him the day before at lunch and on our drive. He also was uniquely positioned we thought to advocate for us to get a group that we wanted since he knows the guides and all the employees there very very well. (Though I'm sure that all the regular driver-guides know them well also). We had discussed with him our wishes to have maybe a medium hike on the first day and a short/easy one the second day because the second day we'd be driving back to Kigali to stay overnight for an early flight the following morning. I told Bosco I was a bit worried about my abilities but he seemed to think I'd be fine on a medium hike. He suggested we try to go for the Isabukuro group the first day and that is indeed the group we ended up with.

 

Mr. SafariChick at Headquarters:

 

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Coming up next ... the hike and the gorillas.

Edited by SafariChick

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JohnR

@@SafariChick I doubt I would ever be capable of making the hike to see the gorillas so I look forward to living vicariously through your report.

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optig

@@JohnR if you couldn't make the hike then you could be carried in a litter. It's incredible just how many physically challenged people go on gorilla treks in Rwanda and Uganda. Many people are well over 70. I did the gorilla trek in Bwindi National Park despite having twisted my ankle while going chimp trekking in Ndali National Park. I also was aided by two porters

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SafariChick

@@Alexander33 I know I was nervous about not having the visa before arriving but trust me, we literally ended up moving into the line for the people who didn't have visas because that line was done and ours was still waiting! And the stuff they seemed to ask to get the visa on arrival seemed SO much shorter and less than what I had to fill out online which was 4 pages!

 

 

 

Rwandans seem intent to look forward to the future, but that's yet another reminder that the past is always still there, in some form or fashion.

That is a very good way to put it.

 

 

So "Roquefort" is butter? Who knew? I will feel so in-the-know when I ask for some Roquefort, please. (Of course, with my luck, I'll end up with pancakes with salad dressing or cheese on them.)

 

 

 

:D:P

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pault

@Safarichick European = white person like you. "Whitey's Breakfast" might be a better way of putting it.......... or maybe not. :P Five picks is probably becuause "pic" is French for "peak".

 

Look forward to the rest..

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Alexander33

Okay, forget the hairbrush (although I am glad that you did end up finding (a used) one that worked out for you nicely ? ). Ugh on that camera battery charger. My four-letter word would not have begun with the letter "c." Looking forward to hearing how this turns out.

Edited by Alexander33

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SafariChick

@@pault ah you may have solved the mystery about the peaks/pics! Not to be confused with pique ....

 

@@Alexander33 stay tuned for the battery charger resolution though I warn that you may have to follow the saga through to the Kenya portion of the trip

 

So we were assigned to the Isabukuru group, the same group @@michael-ibk had visited on his first trek. Once you are assigned a group, the guide who will be taking you on the trek gathers the 8 hikers and tells you about the group you are to see, and also asks each hiker a little about themselves. in our group we had four German guys who were rotarians traveling together, in their 50s and 60s. They had been in Kenya working on some kind of charitable project and then came to Rwanda to see the gorillas. Then there was an American couple who were in their late 20s or about 30. They were both doctors doing their residencies. She was a pediatric something (oncologist? orthopedist?) and he was an emergency room doctor. I felt a bit more confident knowing we had a couple of doctors along in case I collapsed from the effort of the hike!

 

Our guide was named Patrick, and he was great: easygoing, warm and quietly funny. He told us all about the group we were to see. Isabukuru means "Anniversary" and the group is named after the lead silverback of the group, who has the same name, but I cannot remember why they are both named that. Isabukuru is 29 years old and the second silverback of the group is 22. They fight because the younger one wants to mate, but the lead silverback is supposed to be the only one who gets mating rights. There are 5 females, 3 blackbacks, and 9 juveniles and babies. Sounded like a good assortment of characters!

 

So we all got into the car of our own driver-guide to be driven to the starting point of the hike. We gave a ride to Patrick, since Bosco is his friend from their guiding days. It wasn't a very long drive. When we got to the starting point, there were a number of men waiting to see if we would hire them to be our porters. Patrick later told us there are about 300 of these porters and they work in a rotation system so that it is fair - he said they each only end up working one or two days a week. Mr. S. and I each hired a porter. The going rate is $10 and you don't pay until the end. Mr. S. really didn't need a porter but as it turned out, I apparently could use two! Patrick told us that the hike was going to be a bit steep until we got to the park wall, but then after that it would be easy and pretty much flat.

 

Patrick was right about one thing: the hike before we got to the wall was somewhat steep. Lucky for me it was not too hot as I found going at the pace the rest of the group was setting was a bit fast for me and I did get a bit out of breath trying to keep up. That's where the porters jumped in - both mine and Mr. S's. One would get in front of me a bit and to one side and hold my hand and sort of pull me along and the other got on my other side and supported my elbow. Whenever we got to a big step up or step down, they would support me and kind of help move me along. It had me moving a bit faster than I wanted to but it also was helpful and in this way, i didn't slow the rest of the group down too much. Patrick would pause from time to time and talk and that would give me time to catch my breath and drink some water. And along the way there were tons of kids who wanted to wave to us, say hello, sing and dance for us - it was really cute. When we finally got to the wall, I thought ok, now we're getting to the easy part. Uh, no not really. It was still uphill and fairly steep, though it eventually got less steep. But it was super muddy! The porters again were great, showing me where to step to hopefully not get completely submerged in mud. The lower part of my pants and gaiters were completely mud-covered. Finally we got to a point where Patrick said we should stop and put on our rain pants and raincoat. We wondered why, as it wasn't raining! He said to protect us from the stinging nettles - he said I promise you, your long-sleeved shirt and pants are not enough! So we put them on, as well as our gloves, and kept going. By now we were close and then he told us we were meeting the trackers and leaving the porters and our backpacks and walking sticks. It had taken us about 2 hours and 20 minutes to get there.

Edited by SafariChick

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SafariChick

P.S. I had some trouble there where my computer crashed and I had to recover my auto-saved text, then wouldn't recover so I had to copy and paste it into Word and then paste it into a post, then the formatting looked all weird so I had to just post the reply. Here are some photos I meant to put in the last post.

 

Me and my porter at the start of the hike. I am about 5 foot 3 inches. This little guy doesn't look like he would be able to pull and haul me up hills, but he was amazing!

 

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Some photos of the kids we saw on the hike towards the park:

 

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My muddy pants and shoes:

 

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Giant worm we saw on the hike. I think @@amybatt saw one of these but didn't include a photo - you really have to see it to believe it!

 

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One of the porters brave enough to pick it up:

 

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Edited by SafariChick

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optig

@@SafariChick I have to say that I admire the fact that your'e such an intrepid lady,as of course is Mr. Safarichick, You,Lynne and of course Kit have similar safari tastes to my own. I needed two porters as well when I went gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Forest 6 years ago because I twisted my ankle in Kibale. I can only blame myself because I didn't wear my books which offered ankle support. Well there's no gain in life without pain.

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SafariChick

At last we headed in to the gorillas. By this time, as I said it had taken about 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach the gorillas and we had started around 8:30 so it was close to 11 a.m. by the time we reached them. The gorillas seemed to mostly have eaten and were lounging around, relaxing, grooming each other, some napping, and, in the case of the babies, being adorable and trying to play. We'd been told to keep seven meters away from from the gorillas if in an open area, or four meters away if in a tighter area. But it seemed to me we were usually no farther than the four meters, sometimes closer than that. It was amazing, magical, and we took ten million photos. It's so hard to put into words what the experience is like. I had been wanting to do this for many years now, and I was worried that the experience couldn't live up to my expectations. But I need not have worried. It was just so amazing to be right next to these beautiful creatures that are so much like us, in their world. I will just post some photos now.

 

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SafariChick

Some more photos:

 

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Edited by SafariChick

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michael-ibk

Great stuff, SafariChick! Love seeing Isabukuru again, and glad it did live up to your expectations. :)

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SafariChick

@@michael-ibk thanks, Michael! @@optig I didn't have an excuse of having twisted an ankle, but I certainly was glad to have the help of the porters. I think I would have been able to manage the hike without them but I would have been slower for sure.

 

Here's a brief video of one of the babies trying to play with some adults while they rested:

 

 

By the way, I mentioned this in a comment on Michael's trip report but in case any reader of this report didn't see that, I was curious to know how the mother gorilla was doing that had lost both of her young twins. She had just recently lost the second one in January and our guide Patrick had told us she was sad and kept to herself for about a week but then resumed her normal activities. When we got to the group, I asked where she was and Patrick started asking the trackers who were with us. He learned at that moment, and then conveyed to us, that the mother had just recently left Isabukuru (about a week earlier) and gone off with the gorilla that had interacted with Isabukuru causing her baby to die. The gorillas behavior is fascinating.

Edited by SafariChick

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JohnR

@@JohnR if you couldn't make the hike then you could be carried in a litter. It's incredible just how many physically challenged people go on gorilla treks in Rwanda and Uganda. Many people are well over 70. I did the gorilla trek in Bwindi National Park despite having twisted my ankle while going chimp trekking in Ndali National Park. I also was aided by two porters

 

I am tempted by the litter. It would make quite a site if I also wore my pith helmet, though perhaps not politically correct. :rolleyes:

 

Added after reading @@SafariChick 's report... I'm also not sure how comfortable it would be as the trek sounds pretty arduous. :o

Edited by JohnR

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SafariChick

@@JohnR it really wasn't THAT arduous - Mr. Safarichick said he didn't find it arduous at all - he's very fit and active - he found it fun. I'm overweight and would just have been more inclined to go slower if it were up to me! Especially if you requested an 'easy' or short hike and had the litter, I bet it would be just fine.

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kittykat23uk

I'm really enjoying this report and the wolves section! :)

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Zubbie15

I've really enjoyed your report so far @@SafariChick, 2 hours and 20 minutes is a long medium hike, especially when it's so muddy. That's a big difference from when I was there last February, I almost felt we didn't need the gaiters at all because there was almost no mud for us. Hopefully the lost charge didn't end up causing any problems!

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