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A Thousand Hills, A Million Smiles & Gentle Giants - a Rwanda and Kenya Safari


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@@michael-ibk, terrific report on Akagera, and so good to hear a positive conservation story, some serious money and effort has been sunk into it and sounds like its paying off. I never imagined so much diversity there. Even Roan, now theres a draw card for many here. We won't be back to Rwanda but your report should certainly encourage future visitors to pair it with the Gorilla Trek. The photo of the kids made me smile, I remember their smiling and waving, wearing tatty torn clothes and oversized shoes. I too recall particularly the children and their stories from the Memorial. Rwanda really left its mark on me. Beautiful photography from both of you.

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@@michael-ibk lovely to see these photos of little-visited blue and green Rwanda.


Wonderful photos of the long crested eagle. Its good to have such a clear sighting of this bird, magic to record the sighting in such great photos.

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armchair bushman


Though I cannot say for sure without seeing more of the head, the GISS (General Impression of Shape and Size) tells me Black-Necked Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis)

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We also found the memorial very moving -how could you not? , when we visited in 2005, and especially the memento's found on the deceased all in one display. And again the sheer numbers of people, the terraced landscapes for farming and the beauty of the country were much more than we expected.-We also went to the Nyungwe forest as well as the Gorillas, and again met with friendliness everywhere @@michael-ibk

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Dangerous beauty taking off! Now I fully understand why you have become such a passionate birder.

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An elephant is like a holy apparition. I am fascinated by the miraculously weightless elegance of these heavyweights gliding along.


I feel the crowned crane epitomises nature's idea of luxury design. In Solio I could also watch their artfully choreographed mating game.

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The mating game of the Pin-tailed Whydah is an absolute highlight. To see such an odd couple interact so strangely is simply pleasure of the purest kind.

Playing hard to get seems to be the secret of this female. The less she does, no matter how mousy grey her looks, the more creative he must be.


Landscapes and fleecy cloudscapes are adorable.

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I waited a few days before starting this so I had the time to read it and it was so worth the wait. To many amazing things to mention them all. Loved the Crowned Cranes and the Pin-Tailed Whydah. Stunning scenery pictures and lovely sunsets over Lake Ihema. Akagera is a very beautiful park.

Looking forward very much to the Gorillas section.

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@@michael-ibk I have to say that I've never met a single safari goer who didn't love watching birds,even if they were first time safari goers. Everyone also loves to photograph them as well.

I also have to say that as everyone has an ever evolving and growing list of dream animals which they have yet to see on safari; we also have an exponentially growing list of dream birds which we would love

to see and photograph as well. I just bought a new guidebook to the birds of West Africa in anticipation of my safaris to Zakouma,Chad and of course the Central African Republic.

Edited by optig
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Thanks again, really appreciate the kind feedback! :)


I knew little of events leading up to the genocide and this aspect in particular made me realize how little we learn or are exposed to in our daily lives about modern history.

Very true. I think I "knew" that Hutu were killing Tutsi, and the world did nothing about it, and that´s it. So it was good to learn a lot about their true history there.


I love the male Whydhas. I remember one male kept on attacking its own reflection on a shiny spotlight in the breeding season and how aggressive and fearless he was ! All for those three seconds :wub::wub:



The things you do for love.


In Botswana´s Kwando camp they had a Crested Barbet always "attacking" the fridge because he thought his reflection was competition. :)



Im interested in what you say about shoebills and sitatungas because I had excellent views of both from a little metal tower somewhere overlooking an extensive area of swamp and would have said the Akagera was one of the best places to see both species or certainly sitatungas we might have just been very lucky with the shoebill. Im not sure exactly where this was in the park but I presume it wasnt in the northern section that was sadly lost in the aftermath of the war as this was predominantly savannah, so Im surprised that its not easy to see sitatungas anymore, but then wherever it was that I saw them I dont suppose the tower is there anymore.




Until AP took over I never wanted to go back to Akagera given everything that has happened to the park since my visit, but after reading your report Im seriously starting to change my mind. I do need to go back to Rwanda someday because I havent made it to Nyungwe Forest yet. I think thanks to AP Akagera will once more become one of the great parks of eastern Africa and everyone who visits Rwanda to see the gorillas should visit the park. .



Many thanks for your post, I always appreciate your well-informed and detailed contributions and it´s very interesting to hear about how the park was before the war. I´m quite sure that tower you mention must be long gone, otherwise we would have gone there for sure especially since I expressed my interest in Shoebill and Sitatunga. I´ve been following the "Friends of Akagera" FB feed, and it never came up there. And as mentioned the 2015 game count had only one Shoebill (and three Sitatunga). People do see Shoebill from time to time, but i recent times apparently just one individual and always the same. I remember Lynn saw Shoebill in Akagera a few years back.


Game Count link here:




Happy that you are re-considering going to Akagera!




Though I cannot say for sure without seeing more of the head, the GISS (General Impression of Shape and Size) tells me Black-Necked Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis)

Many thanks for the help!


@@michael-ibk I have to say that I've never met a single safari goer who didn't love watching birds,even if they were first time safari goers.

Well, I have. :)


Of course everybodes likes Bee-Eaters, Rollers and Cranes but for some strange reason most people are decidedly less enthusiastic about Larks, Pipits and Cisticolas. ;)


Fast-forwarding a bit now - Gorilla time!

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During our visit to the memorial it had started raining heavily, and also on the drive to Volcanoes it rarely stopped. We arrived at our lodge at around 4pm, explored the area a bit and went to bed early. We were very excited and a bit anxious - would we see the Gorillas tomorrow? How difficult would it be? (Spoiler: Of course. Very.)


Didier picked us up at 06.30 and drove us to the park headquarters, a 15 minutes drive.




The weather did not look too promising, it was very dark and gloomy, but we were thankful that it did not rain. Didier reassured us and said that normally the rains only started in the afternoon. (Normally!) Then he went off to clear the formalities and get us assigned to a group. It works like this:


There are ten habituated gorilla families at present. A group of eight people max. can visit a familiy for a duration of 60 minutes. There are "short, medium and long"-distance groups, but there´s no guarantee that an easy group will be the shortest hike - it all depends on their movements and the area they´re roaming at any time. So it´s entirely possible to find a long-distance group sooner than a short-range medium group, but from what I was told at most times "short, medium and long" is exactly that. The park always knows where the families are, trackers are keeping an eye on them and look for them in the morning to make it easier for the tourists - and of course (equally important) to safeguard them.


Didier thought we should do one of the long-range groups but we did not really trust the weather and asked for medium. (Very happy about that decision afterwards). It took quite a while until everything was sorted out, only after almost an hour the groups were decided upon. Even though it´s the low season there were a lot of tourists there, but it was not fully booked, AFAIR eight out of 10 possible families were visited that day.


We got the Isabukuru ("Anniversary") group on Suza Mountain with five others (four Americans, one Japanese). Didier drove us to Suza village (about 40 minutes), the starting point of the trek. Everybody hired porters, and off we were!




Two guides, Ignaz and Patrick, were leading us. It was a lovely walk up the mountain, through the village and cultivated areas, and we were quite hopeful that we would stay dry. (We would not of course.)




Pied Wagtail




We really enjoyed this, just for the scenery and the friendly people, this would be a great activity even without the Gorillas. One could really notice that people here are very proud of the park, and most families here would have a few members doing some Gorilla-affiliated work.






White-Eyed Slaty Flycatcher






For quite a while this was very easy and enjoyable. The path was ok, and was not too steep.






One of the guides found a Chameleon - I assume this is an Ituri Forest one.






When we arrived at the forest´s edge the hiking became more and more difficult. The path was very narrow, at times very steep, and one had to be very careful where to put one´s feet. This was mostly loamy ground, and since it had rained heavily yesterday it was very, very slippery. Our shoes soon were mudballs, and we all had to take great care not to slip and fall - not always successfully. When you would put your shoe on the ground you would sink in a bit and then the drenched ground would move - and your foot with it. Quite exhausting.




The forest´s - and park´s - edge.




For quite a while we followed the stone wall bordering the park. It started raining a bit, and of course this did not make things easier, so after about 90 minutes of hiking Ignaz decided we should have a short rest before moving on.






Where are you, Gorillas?!






We finally met up with the trackers.They knew where the family was! The good news was they were not too far from the forest´s edge. The bad news was they apparently were in difficult terrain and the trackers had to find out how to best to get to them. After proceeding a while along the wall we were finally told to get ready!!!! Excitement!


Leave the bags and walking sticks, just take the cameras. Don´t approach them more than seven metres. Don´t stare into their eyes, they don´t like that. Don´t point at them. Keep your voice down. If you feel threatened don´t run, hunch down and say "Hhhhrrüüüöööömph".




We crossed the wall, and so we finally, after more than two hours, went into the forest. Oh wow, this was even more difficult than before. We were on a very steep hill, completely overgrown with ranks, and we basically had to climb up, using the vegetation to get a hold. It was a good thing we had our gloves.


I was the first in the group. And then I saw something to my left, less than two metres away from me, forgot everything about the rules I had been told, raised my hand, pointed my finger, stared the something in the eye and spluttered a not too quiet "G-G-G-Go--Gorill-A!"






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This was what I had seen. :)




Fortunately this Gorilla did not really care too much about me breaking all the rules I just had been told and quietly, peacefully and happily continued munching. :)




We had found the Isabukuru group, hipp-hipp-hooray! I am really sorry nobody took a photo of the human group (us), because there was limited space we had to hunch down very closely, we all had such happy faces, mouthes wide open, maniacally grinning, going "oohh" and "aaah" or "uuuuuh", all kinds of sounds of joy and delightment could be heard, and all our faces said "This is so cool". We would have made such a good photo for advertising just how wonderful it is seeing Gorillas. And it is. :)




"What´s all the fuss about, they are only big and black, I am much cooler."


No, sorry Mountain Buzzard, you are not.






The Gorillas could care less about our admiration, some of them preferred to have a good sleep-in. And Isabukuru, the Silverback himself, ignored us completely. He stubbornly refused to look our way just once - very impolite!




I´m afraid I have forgotten pretty much anything I was told about the group, except that it means "Anniversary", they are about 15(not really sure). The big guy originally was a member of "Pablo"´s group. Extremely handsome and big early on all the females were crazy about him. In 2007 he broke away at the age of just 14 with three females, and that was the start of the Isabukuru family.






Edited by michael-ibk
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The most endearing member of the family was - of course - the BABY! :)




The little one was very shy at first, but after a while he/she(?) became curious about us and checked us out. Cuteness ensued. :)






The baby was born this January. The mother is called Isaro.






Sadly, the baby lost its sibling this August. Isaro gave birth to twins (which is a rare occurrence and made the news), and for a while everything looked good. But then there was a skirmish with another Gorilla group, and one baby was fatally injured. Isaro was still carrying her dead baby when the trackers found them the morning after the battle. :(








The cutest little thing I have ever watched. And I never felt like watching an animal, more like watching a little person.



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@michaeal-ibk I think that your photos of the trek, the scenery,etc. are as equally charming as the photos of the gorillas themselves. For example:

I love the photo of the pied wagtail just as much as I do those of the baby gorilla.

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After a while we changed position, walked/climbed around them to try to get a closer look at Isabukuru and the others. Not all members of the familiy were present, I think about seven, though we could hear the others close by, but they were invisible to us in the thick vegetation.




Photos never show this accurately, but this should give an idea how steep the area was.




Isabukuru himself still refused to be a good photo model but at least he would look our way a couple of times. :)




It does not look like he really trusts us? Could be, I´ve done a bit of reading today, and it´s a good thing I did not before the trek, otherwise I would probably have been a bit more nervous around the big guy. Apparently "his low tolerance of human observers is well known", and after the death of the one twin he was "extremely stressed out and very aggressive toward the trackers."




I am not quite sure since when the Isabukuru group has been having tourist visitors. They don´t feature in most group lists, and I read that at least in 2014 they avoided any human contact (trackers, researchers, not only tourists) for half a year.


Well, I did not know that, and thought he is a very relaxed, nice and friendly guy. :)




The seven metre-rule was not really in effect, there were few options where we could all stand, so I think at times it was less than half.






Edited by michael-ibk
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What an amazing experience!!! I can only imagine, but hopefully...someday...


So, how in shape do you need to be for the hike?


Considering how difficult the terrain was while hiking, how did you protect your camera?

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Wow @@michael-ibk I don't know what else to say. You led us right to the gorillas with your words and I was so stunned by how gorgeous your first gorilla sighted was. Wow. Your photos are excellent. I am assuming there was no need for much zoom or binoculars at this point? 7 meters is really not a lot! Incredible.


I too have the same question about your camera. I would want to have mine handy for things I see on the climb, but also don't want to fall on it if I fall.

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Watching Gorillas is proof of the relativity of time. We did not even notice it had started raining heavily again, and were sure that we had been there for no more than maybe 30 minutes when our guides asked us to prepare to leave. Thankful for having experienced this extraordinary privilege of sharing one hour of our lives with our cousins we did.







The way down was even more arduous than the hike up, because of the rain the word "slippery" fails to accurately describe the descent, and it was really a good thing we had all hired porters who were incredibly helpful. Unfortunately one lady of our group still fell and strained her knee and had to hobble the last kilometres down. But I met her the next day, and she was fine again - and prepared to go on her next hike.




We saw a Ruwenzori Turaco on the way down, but unfortunately I had packed the big lens away because of the rain and the risk of falling.




A tired group, taking a well-deserved rest on the way down (the rain had stopped again). Tired, but - We had hiked the Isabukuru group, and it had been the most awesome thing we have ever done in our lives!. Yeah!! :)


Yes, this was a difficult, exhausting trek, more so than I had expected. But in a way this made the whole thing so much more rewarding, we all had a great sense of achievement, felt we had worked hard for it, and therefore kind of deserved it.


Rain, mud, slipping, thorns, loose rocks - does not matter, I will always think of this day as perfection. :)


A few remarks:


I was in reasonable shape for this trek (after many hikes in the alps this summer) but found it to be quite difficult. But that was really only because of the rain and the slippery underground, otherwise this really would not have been too hard at all. And our trek the next day would really be just a walk in the park, extremely easy.


But still, good, proper shoes are essentials, warm clothing (onion look) rainproof jacket at least, gaiters not a bad idea, you absolutely need walking sticks, and I really would have hated to do the last part without gloves - a lot of nettles and thorny stuff there. Don´t forget enough water, and maybe a few snacks. There are a lot of people working for you on the treks, and of course they all hope for tips, so make sure you have enough for guides (two in our case), trackers and porters.

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@micheal-ibk I had no idea that gorilla trekking in Rwanda was so exhausting,and difficult. I'll make sure that I'm in good shape when I go. I've been gorilla trekking before in Uganda, and as fabulous as it was it was only one of the many life altering experiences that I've had on safari. I'm only glad that I have more to come.

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I was the first in the group. And then I saw something to my left, less than two metres away from me, forgot everything about the rules I had been told, raised my hand, pointed my finger, stared the something in the eye and spluttered a not too quiet "G-G-G-Go--Gorill-A!"





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Phew! Well, one thing is sure, our gorilla trekking will only be through your photos.

Edited by xelas
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Amazing experience, I'm sure...but I fear, like @@xelas said, this is not in the cards for us. Definitely not in shape for it and too wimpy ;) And honestly I've never been that keen on primates of any kind...for instance I found your photo of that Turaco just as fantastic (too bad you didn't have the big lens!)


However the country looks beautiful...so green! Its a nice change to see such greenery on a safari trip report...usually trip reports are much more brown! Love all the birds!

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I don't know...I would really want to go and see them in real life...the difficulty of the hike is the main issue..


Do you think it would be easier in the dry season, when the path is not muddy? Would an average-fit person be able to do it?

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@@michael-ibk, your excitement and emotions, and lovely photos, take me straight back. "Once in a lifetime" is bandied around a lot in travel circles, seeing a Gorilla just meters in front of you, is pretty hard to match.

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This is a great report -- as usual.


First, Akagera does indeed look like a beautiful park. I really loved your crowned cranes in flight. Thanks also for the information in the shoebill. That's a main reason (but certainly not the only reason) why Akagera was in my thoughts. It sounds like one would have to be very lucky to come across that shoebill, though.


As to the gorilla trekking, I obviously need to hit the stair master, pronto. The only hiking I've done recently has been on the flat prairies of Texas! However arduous it might have been, the results appear to have made it well worth the effort. That baby is just fantastic.


The rains may have made that first trek challenging, but there is a side benefit to doing it in the rainy season which I hadn't considered when we booked for the dry season. Clouds make your photography output more pleasing. When the sun is out, the gorillas' black fur radiates highlights, and due to their heavy brows, the resulting shadows make getting clear shots of their eyes very difficult. I'm actually praying we get clouds in July.


I kind of like your wide-angle shot of the turaco. You were able to show more of the environment than one normally gets with more intimate portrait shots, and I think it adds a lot of benefit to the mixture of your photographs.


Speaking of which, what camera and lens did you use for the gorillas?

Edited by Alexander33
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