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Tulips

Golden Monkeys, Gorillas, Oh My! An Adventure in Rwanda

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Tulips

Prior to booking my Kenya adventure, I booked this Rwanda adventure combined with Uganda.  I love gorillas and had always wanted to see them, but not in a cage.  And so. a trip to see them was a must on my bucket list.

 

Rwanda had been on my radar, not really as a place to visit, but because a Canadian had led the UN mission there at the time of the genocide.  I'd read his book, which I highly recommend (Shake Hands With the Devil) and seen a documentary he had done as part of his therapy for PTSD and to bring awareness of the genocide in the a different way than Hollywood films.

 

Of course, being that Rwanda is one of three countries where one can see the gorillas, and because my cousin had highly recommended it, I started planning.  Together with my travel agent, we found something that was suitable for my budget and the trip was booked.  Luckily, this was done prior to the increase in permit pricing.

 

I spent four days in the country and my eyes were opened in more ways than one.  I hope you will follow along.....

 

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Tulips

I was up at 4:00am to have time for a quick bite to eat and then head to JKIA for my 7:20am flight to Rwanda.  I chose this flight as it was the only non-stop flight to Kigali on anything that wasn't Rwandair.  You can read about my saga at JKIA here. 

 

 

Kenya Airways is an ok airline.  i didn't have any problems with them and they actually served a meal.  i had a poached egg and croissant.  Not gourmet, but it was food.  Not that I needed it.  The flight left on time and because Rwanda is an hour behind Kenya, the flight arrived in Kigali at 7:50am.

 

I had no issues at immigration and bags were at the carousel promptly.  I found my transfer with no issues.  He had two other people to pick up who were also on my flight and who were also part of the package I was doing.  There would be 3 other people with the package that we would meet later in the evening.

 

We arrived at the Mille des Collines after a 40 minute or so drive from the airport. We were supposed to be at the Lemigo, but there was a last minute switch.  No complaints from me.  The hotel has a security check to get in, but doesn't take very long.  It's really just putting your bags through he x-ray and walking through a metal detector.  We were all able to check in right away, which was wonderful considering it was so early in the morning.  We also met one other person coming along for the journey at the check in. I went up to take a nap as I was completely exhausted.

 

After about an hour or so, I went downstairs with the intention of going to the Inema Arts Centre.  Th done thing with Kigali is that there aren't a ton of attractions and very little was within walking distance of the hotel.  I didn't want to go to the Genocide Memorial today as I knew we were going tomorrow and I knew I would not want to go twice given the harrowing nature of the museum.  I say I had the intention of going, but I didn't get far.  I walked no more than a foot off the hotel grounds and I was accosted by people trying to sell maps, newpapers, magazines, all manner of souvenirs.  The security guard saw this and asked me to come back and showed me to the staff door at the back.  I was only a block out and again was accosted.  Now to be fair, this happens in cities all over the road.  I've had it happen in Paris, for example.  I just was so tired and I just couldn't keep saying no all the time.  So I ended up doing a loop around the block and went back to the hotel for the day.  I think my body was telling me I needed a rest day after all the early mornings and full days out on bumpy roads in the fresh air.

 

So, i spent the day at the pool and had a nice lunch with one of the ladies joining me for the journey at the restaurant.  They had a lovely buffet with all sorts of choices.  I later learned the other five also spent the day at the hotel.

 

I did take a few photos though.  The first one is a streetscape from the area around the hotel.

 

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Rwanda has quite the art scene and the hotel had numerous pieces on display that were for sale.  I would have loved to buy a piece, but they were so big and I didn't really want to deal with shipping and customs at home.  My favourite is the giraffes.  it's made out of sand.

 

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In the early evening we met up with the guide, Paul, and met the other two people in our party of 6.  We  were advised to get some Rwandan Francs, which I had not yet obtained.  I couldn't get any from home.  There was an ATM at the hotel though and I just got the money from there.  I got about $120 worth.  I didn't want to have loads of money left at the end as we were only in Rwanda for 3 more days, but I wanted to have enough in case we were somewhere that didn't take US dollars and also I knew the francs were needed to tip the porters on the treks.

 

We had dinner in the bar at the hotel and then it was off to bed.

 

The next morning we had a lovely buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant including made to order omelet and then we were off to the Genocide Memorial.

 

Prior to entering the memorial, there was a good opportunity for a photo of Kigali.

 

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 The memorial is a resting place for at least 250,000 people who lost their lives in the horrible atrocities of 1994.  The museum is free to enter, but there is a $15 charge for an audio guide and $20 if you want to take photos inside the building.  It is free to take photos outside and in the gardens.  There is a short film at the entrance and at the end of the visit. I recommend seeing both as they provide a context from survivors and family who lost loved ones.

 

This is such a sobering place to visit and I had  a particularly hard time in the children's room.  The room provides information on some of the children killed, such as their favourite things.  The other exhibits are really well done and informative.

 

The main museum

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One of the unmarked graves

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The garden showing a map of Rwanda and it's provinces

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This statue of an elephant with a cell phone is meant to symbolize never forgetting what happened and telling the outside world what happened.

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After gathering our thoughts, we headed to the Nyamirambo Township and the Women's Centre.  This township is the largest in Rwanda and the Centre provides women and girls the opportunity to support each other through education and training programs.

 

We took a guided tour of the township with local guide, Joseph.  This tour gave us the chance to meet some of the people who have benefitted from the centre as well as see some of the local businesses and learn about their daily lives.  Coming from a first world country, it really is eye opening to see how many of the modern conveniences we take for granted, simply don't exist here.

 

A Nayamirambo streetscape.  All of the streets in Rwanda are named by letters and numbers as represented in the signs below.

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To the left is the market and to the right is a man ironing with a coal iron.  The iron does a good job.

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As part of the experience, we were invited to lunch at the home of one of the women.  She spent four hours cooking the meal over coal stoves.  She does not own a modern stove or fridge.  We were invited to her home for the lunch.  It was a lovely meal.  it was a vegetarian meal and there were 8 dishes to choose from.  There was lots of food leftover, for which I felt bad, but there was so much food, we just couldn't eat it all.  Luckily, the food does not go to waste and is eaten by the family afterwards.  No processed foods here.

 

 

This is the lady who spent so much time cooking a meal for us.  She kindly allowed a photograph.

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As it was getting later in the day, it was time to head off to Volcanoes National Park and our hotel.  The drive took about 3 hours and the roads were quite good.  Nothing like Kenya.  The volcanoes were shrouded in fog and cloud, so we didn't get to see them.  

 

The next three nights would be spent at the Gorilla Mountain View Lodge.  Several Safaritalkers have stayed at this lodge.  The cottage was nice, but yes, the bathroom is a little weird.  There is a large sitting area and also a bar and dining room in the main lodge, which are the only spots you can access wifi.  There are no safe's in the room, so you must store valuables at the front desk.  They put your items in an envelope and give you a receipt.  I saw one lady put her camera and huge lens in one.  I just kept my camera with me.  I didn't want to chance it getting dropped.

 

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It was quite cool and pouring on arrival and compared to the heat of Kigali.  I actually put on a sweater.

 

Dinner was a large buffet including a made to order stir fry station.

 

 

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Over dinner, we asked about the weather for tomorrow and we were told it was iffy.  I checked and I didn't think it looked bad, but I'm not familiar with which are the reliable weather websites in Rwanda, so for all I knew, it may not have been accurate at all.

 

I had asked for a fire in my room before dinner so that it would be ready and the room warm when I returned afterwards.  When I returned, there was no fire.  Of course, my cottage was further away from the lodge, so I hoofed it back and asked how long the fire is supposed to last.  I didn't want to get angry if the fire would have been lit and been out.  I was told it should last all night, so I reminded him that I ordered the fire.  He apologized and said someone would be there to light it soon.  I waited another 20 minutes and hoofed it back to the lodge again.  This time, I went with the staff member who was to light the fire to ensure it was done.

 

It wasn't the most relaxing evening, but afterwards, it was nice to sit by the fire for a few minutes before bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Tulips

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amybatt

WOW!  Your room at Mountain View Gorilla Lodge was SO much nicer than ours!!  We had the same corner shower, but wooden floorboards (that were so soft that my foot went through one the last night we were there) and the sleeping area was not as nicely paneled or floored.  We did have to ask for fire each night too but were closer to the main lodge so it wasn't as much of a trek to go request it again!

 

Your neighborhood tour makes me wish we'd spent another day in Kigali.  I would have enjoyed that.

 

Looking forward to your trekking report!

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Tulips

The weather Gods smiled upon us today and we had no rain.  In fact, the cloud lifted enough that the volcanoes appeared.

 

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This morning was an early one.  Up before 6am in order to have time for breakfast and then to get to the trekking headquarters.  Breakfast was a large buffet and had a made to order omelet or egg station.  I had quite a big breakfast.  Larger than I would normally have, but I wanted to be fuelled.  I didn't know how strenuous the hike would be and didn't want to be hungry at any point during the morning.

 

We drove a little ways from the lodge to the headquarters.  There was coffee available and loads of people.  No music or dancers though.  Today, we were doing the golden monkeys as a warm up for tomorrow's gorilla trek.  The golden monkeys are endemic to the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda parks (Virunga, Volcanoes, Magahinga).  They like bamboo, but also eat fruit and other plants.

 

At the entrance

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We had to wait quite a while at the headquarters while they sorted out the various groups for gorillas.  We waited in the area allocated to the golden monkeys.  There were 24 people in the area and there are a maximum of 25 allowed on the money treks.  We were then divided into two groups.  There was our group of 6 and we were joined by a family of four including two teenagers who were staying at the new Bisate Lodge.  So there were 10 in all in our group who would be trekking to one group of monkeys and the other 14 would go to another group.  

 

While we were waiting, there were people coming around renting gaitors for $5 US.  They were the same price at the lodge also.   I had brought mine from home and the family had obtained theirs at Bisate.  The other members of my party rented some.   The one issue with renting, is  you don't necessarily get a pair that fit properly.  This doesn't mean you should rush out and buy them if you wouldn't wear them normally.  I use them at home in the winter for snowshoeing and hiking.

 

Francis, who is the head guide, was leading our group.  He talked to us for a bit about the monkeys and the hike and then we were off in the vehicle to drive back to an area near the lodge where we would begin the trek.

 

We all hired porters for $10 US each.  Well worth it.  They carry your bags and water bottles and are very helpful with the trek in general.  In fact, I had to tell my porter, Leonidas, that I was ok a couple of times as he wanted to help every time there was a step or a little hill.  You hire the porters at the entrance point for your trek.

 

Leonidas

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The trek was not all that difficult actually.  We started by hiking through quite a bit of farmland and I was amazed at how rich and ferrite the land was.  There were lots of children around who happily posed for photos.

 

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Once we arrived at the forest, there was one area that we had to go a down a steep rocky hill that was slippery and I was really happy to have Leonidas at that point as I don't think I would have got down on my own.  I have a fear of falling and can be quite timid on steep rocks like this.  Then we came to all of the bamboo.  I'd never seen so much bamboo in my life.

 

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We hiked a bit further and Francis announced that we were near the monkeys and we would have to leave our bags and porters.  I had my vest on and put my wide angle lens in one of my pockets and attached my big lens to the camera.  At least it wasn't too far to the monkeys as it was difficult walking with the big lens out in the open.  i didn't want it to get damaged.

 

We finally came upon the monkeys and they weren't all that cooperative.  They stayed quite high up in the trees and were often hidden by leaves and branches.  They were very difficult to see and photograph and I was glad that we were only a group of ten as we were all jostling to see them.  There wasn't a lot of room due to all the bushes and trees.  I used my 300 prime lens the entire time.

 

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I didn't realize they had such long fingernails.

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Even saw a bird, although I don't know what it is.  I think its some type of weaver.

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All too quickly, our hour with the monkeys was up.  Its amazing how fast the time goes when you are enthralled with watching something.  I loved the monkeys and found them so expressive.  I just wished they would have come down a bit.  Some did come a bit lower though.

 

The trek back to our vehicle.

 

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A scarecrow along the way

 

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I had my tracking system on and in all our trek was 4.6 km long.  We were only a little over 2 hours in total trekking.

 

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Edited by Tulips

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Tulips

Life got in the way a bit and I have slacked on completing this, but I will have something up on the weekend.  

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Alexander33

I think you did very well on the Golden Monkey shots. The cloud cover is definitely an asset under those circumstances. 

 

I think your bird bird may be a White-starred Robin. 

Edited by Alexander33

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optig

@Tulips I just love your photos of the golden monkeys. I think that they are an underrated species. They have a fascinating face.

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mapumbo

I did not know anything about these monkeys.  Nice shots and interesting  report.

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inyathi

@TulipsI'm not sure I'd caught up with the golden monkey photos until this evening, a beautiful species that I've never seen, I have though seen the yellow bird before and it is exactly as @Alexander33 says a white-starred robin.

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pault

A story untold @Tulips? Hope you'll carry on as there are some lovely photos so far, even if the monkeys weren't making it easy. 

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Tulips

Thanks @mapumbo , @inyathi And @pault

 

@pault  I do intend to finish, hopefully this weekend. Life and my Uganda report got in the way.

 

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Tulips

Upon returning from the golden monkeys, a large lunch buffet awaited back at the lodge.  There was lots of choice and a made to order item, which today was grilled sandwiches.  

 

There was a bit of time for a rest before the next adventure back in town...a visit to the Karisoke Research Centre.P1160636.thumb.jpg.c5e6770027133f8132eee703c5c99fd1.jpg

 

A comparison of the human skeleton and the mountain gorilla skeleton

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We were met by a researcher and given a tour of the facility.  I learned a lot about the gorillas and their behaviour as well as about Dian Fossey.  There is a section of the facility that is designed as a replica of her camp and they have some of her belongings.

 

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The most fascinating thing for me was to learn that gorillas can be identified by their nose prints.  Like human fingerprints, each nose print has a different patten.

 

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The Centre has been in operation since 1967 and does many great things and focus on four areas of work:  Protection, Scientific Research, Educating Conservationists and Helping the Community.    As a result of their efforts, in 2016, there were no gorillas caught in snares.

 

This visit was really fascinating for me and I highly recommend visiting if you have a chance.

 

Back at the lodge, all of the gorilla trekkers had returned and were in the lounge having drinks and excitedly talking about their day and showing their photos.  Made me really excited about my trek the next day and a little nervous.  One group had to drive an hour and a half just to get to their entry point and then had a two hour hike in to the gorillas.  I didn't overly fancy 4 hours of trekking and 3 hours of driving.  But, of course, would do anything for the chance to see these wonderful animals.

 

The weather forecast for the day was a bit iffy.  So we were concerned it might rain as well.  

 

Prior to dinner there was also some music and dancing.

 

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Dinner was another large buffet and then it was off to bed for an early night in anticipation of the next days events.

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Tulips

So, remember how I said the weather forecast was iffy for today?  Well, this is what I woke up to.

 

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I had a hearty breakfast and then it was off to headquarters to learn which gorilla family we would have.  It was all hurry up and wait.  We waited for what seemed an eternity while our guide negotiated with the rangers.  Finally, the guide came back and announced we would be going to see the Agashya Group.  This group has 22 member, 2 silverbacks and a little 3 month old.  

 

The ranger, Francis, pulled the 10 people going aside and talked a little about what to expect.  He told us that Agashya means "Special" and the head silverback was named as such because the females of the group had rejected several silverbacks prior to Agashya's arrival and they finally accepted him.  So it was assumed that he was special.

 

All 10 of us hired porters for the $10 USD and were provided with walking sticks and told to take 2 bottles of water each.  We also took a few moments to pose for photos.

 

Here I am, all decked out and ready to go.

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And we were off.  WE started by going through some farmers fields.  We walked around 10 minutes to an entrance to the jungle  and Francis radioed and was told the gorillas would be best reached from another entrance.  So we walked another 10 minutes or so to that entrance.  On the way, he stopped to explain the different types of potato crops. 

 

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We walked another 10 minutes or so and then Francis stopped to see how everyone was doing. We were all fine.  The trek hadn't really been difficult to that point.  A little up hill, but nothing strenuous.  To this point, we had not been told how long the trek was anticipated to be.  After about another 10 minutes or so, Francis stopped again and talked about how to act when we are around the gorillas and taught us a grunting sound that calms them.  Then he radioed again and then announced it would be another hour and a half to the gorillas.  Ok. If the rest of trek was the same, none of us would have any trouble.

 

I kid you not, we walked about another 10 minutes and walked into a clearing.  Francis then announced that we would be dropping our bags here and leaving the porters.  We were 10 minutes from the gorillas.  OMG!  I had no idea which lenses to take.  I wanted my big lens, but wanted a smaller lens in case.  Francis let me take a little bag that I got not he plane for my lenses.  

 

Some people had the foresight to bring rain pants.  it never occurred to me to bring these as I do have a pair.  I wished I had them after I had a couple of run ins with stinging nettles.  May hands were protected by the gardening gloves, but my pants weren't that protective.   This bit of the trek was the hardest as it was all up hill and it was a steep hill.  I wished I had my porter.  But Francis and the two trackers who were with us helped us all along the way.  We were huffing and puffing but it was all worth it.

 

We arrived and we saw our first gorilla.  For any of you who have done this before, you will know the indescribable feeling of seeing these animals up close.  I should point out that you are supposed to say 7 meters from the gorillas.  At no time were we that far from them.  The reason was that we were in such dense jungle, it was impossible for us to be that far away and to see them.  As it was, the ranger had to bush whack so that we could see them.  Thus, all of the photos are shot with a wide angle because we were too close for the 300.

 

This was our first gorilla.

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The second gorilla was enjoying a meal.  They are very messy eaters.

 

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This is one of the babies in the group.  So playful!

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This was was hanging out in the trees.

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Looking up!

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This one loved to have his photo taken.  He wanted to make sure we got his best angles.

 

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This is Agashya, the head silverback

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This is me with Agashya's son, the other silverback.  He was so co-operative.

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He liked to pose too!

 

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This was the 3 month old and Mama was very protective and didn't want to show the baby.

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The hour we spend with the gorillas flew by.  You just totally lose track of time watching them.  They are such gentle giants.  We were treated to a parade at the end, where one by one they filed right past us all.  It was a sight to see.

 

 

Agashya parading.

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One last look back!

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On our way back down, I shot this photo of the porters waiting below.  The photo doesn't quite convey how high up we were.

 

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I tracked the trek and we went a little over 3 kms all together.  We moved around a bit when we were with the gorillas as well and my tracker shows that we just went into the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Good thing there was no border crossing or our East Africa Visa's would have been voided. 

 

 

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What a morning.  It was so exhilarating.  We were on such a high.  There were high fives all around and I think we were skipping through the farmland on the way back to the vehicle.

 

We met back up with our guide and went to the place they take you to get your certificate and we all got t'shirts as well.  There are several shops that sell the shirts with all the different group names on.

 

It was back to the lodge for a well earned lunch.  

 

We were still on a high and I think people just wanted to sit and talk about the experience and look at everyone's photos and have a drink.  There was another engagement to the Iby'iwacu Village.  Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this visit at all and found it very hokey.  I think the above contributed to my feelings.  I wanted to be doing something else and just couldn't get into it.  They have several huts explaining different things, like the former rulers, medicine, marriage etc.  There was dancing and such as well as a fake wedding ceremony. I am attaching a few photos though.  

 

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Back at the loge we were able to have some drinks, look and photos and revel in the excitement of the day.

 

We did also have a meeting with he park warden for a gorilla talk.  We were supposed to do this the night before gut there was a 25 year old Swedish woman who had gone hiking somewhere with her boyfriend and died.  So he had to tend to that.

 

The meeting with the warden was interesting and he explained the substantial increase in permit prices as being due to the need to support the community and the porters and to protect the gorillas.  It's kind of a double edge sword, because they need to support these things, but they also need tourist and you can't price things so far out of people's price range, that you don't get what brings in the money in the first place.

 

All in all, the gorillas were the complete highlight of the trip to Rwanda and I was so happy to have the opportunity.

 

Thanks for reading along!

Edited by Tulips

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amybatt

Wow you were in some very thick vegetation, but you got some wonderful sightings nonetheless!  Good job!  The baby is precious but the little toddler was a cutie too!

 

Your rain pants would not have done much with the nettles.  I wore mine and they still managed to poke through!

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Tulips
3 hours ago, amybatt said:

Wow you were in some very thick vegetation, but you got some wonderful sightings nonetheless!  Good job!  The baby is precious but the little toddler was a cutie too!

 

Your rain pants would not have done much with the nettles.  I wore mine and they still managed to poke through!

 

Thanks.

 

Good to know now about the rain pants not being any more protective.  

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mtanenbaum

I enjoyed your photos since I just came back from Uganda and seeing the gorillas there. Ours were much sleepier (except the babies) and weren't moving around too much or eating, just resting. I loved your golden monkey photos--the hike was too hard for me on the Uganda side (it sounds like it was much closer on the Rwanda side, so too bad I didn't do it on that side of things!) so I didn't get to see them in person.

 

Thanks for sharing!

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Zubbie15

I think with that sunrise you were guaranteed to have a good day.  The gorillas are such a treat to visit, and you were lucky to see the young baby.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the price increase, I guess as long as the keep at least 50% of the hikers the fees will still work out.  The question will be how the ancillary money (hotels, restaurants, etc) gets affected.  Thanks for sharing your report, it brought back good memories!

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Tulips
On 2018-01-28 at 9:23 PM, mtanenbaum said:

I enjoyed your photos since I just came back from Uganda and seeing the gorillas there. Ours were much sleepier (except the babies) and weren't moving around too much or eating, just resting. I loved your golden monkey photos--the hike was too hard for me on the Uganda side (it sounds like it was much closer on the Rwanda side, so too bad I didn't do it on that side of things!) so I didn't get to see them in person.

 

Thanks for sharing!

Thanks @mtanenbaum  The gorillas on Rwanda aren't necessarily easier to hike to. It depends on which group you get.  Some of the groups are far away and very high up meaning a longer and more strenuous hike.

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