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


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No disappointment so far! Great start to the trip and you have really done Akagera proud between you - I am quite sure it will be getting a few more visitors a year because of it. What a beautiful place. I now couldn't i imagine going to Rwanda and not goign there.


I agree with @@armchair bushman about the snake ID. Yes, I know you are thinking "Well, thank goodness - we couldn't have slept until we heard from famed herpetologist pault on that" but I onyl have pictures of four different East African snakes, and one of them is a spitting cobra, of which your ssnake is the "spitting image". And you don't forget when you are leaning over the side of a moving vehicle to get a shot of an agitated snake and the guide says enthusiastically "Wow! a SPITTING cobra." and suddenly you really don't want a close-up any more.. :D


Of course I am much more likely to be wrong than @@armchair bushman


You guys have new glass or new bodies or something (I am writing it like that to broaden the safari-useful vocabulary of @@Atravelynn even further, just in case she doesn't have those two yet - example "Wow, that new glass on your full frame body really brings out the detail in those BIF" Lynn)). A different look and some closer looks? Or just my imagination?*




*Sorry if you mentioned this already

Edited by pault
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@@michael-ibk Fantastic! The photos are superb - that baby!! I have read about Isaro and her twins, and how sad that was when the one twin died! I think I have read about the on Diane Fossey Gorilla site, I think they monitor that group. Look forward to hearing about day 2! And sheesh, I better keep hitting the hills around here which I have been doing a couple of times a week!

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Oh my what have I done ...



@@xyz99 : So, how in shape do you need to be for the hike? 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?



@@optig : I had no idea that gorilla trekking in Rwanda was so exhausting,and difficult.



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



@@janzin : this is not in the cards for us. Definitely not in shape for it and too wimpy



@@Alexander33 : As to the gorilla trekking, I obviously need to hit the stair master, pronto.



@@SafariChick : And sheesh, I better keep hitting the hills around here which I have been doing a couple of times a week!



Sorry guys, really did not want to scare anybody about the difficulty of the thike and I do think this was quite atypical. As you will see the hike the next day really would be as easy as a walk in the park. (30 minutes - bang, there they are!) Furthermore I´m sure fitness levels are taken into consideration when one is assigned to a group. I was told that this year even a 96-year-old lady made a hike successfully. And I met some people next morning who would tell me their hike had been almost too easy, almost an dissappointment - they had found the Gorillas about 15 minutes after they had started. So it´s not true that trekking in Rwanda is generally difficult, just this one was.


And please take into consideration that the rain had been torrential the day before, the ground simply could not absorb all that water, and that was the main reason for this being so difficult. If it had been dry the hike would not have been a problem at all, I´d estimate we trekked an altitude difference of maybe 500 to 600 metres, certainly not more, maybe less. So yes, this would have been much easier in the dry season, and would have been a good deal easier without the deluge the day before.


So about "how much in shape do you need to be": Average should do, you don´t need to be extremely sportive, I really am anything but, I do like my food and drinks far too much for that. Remember, 5 kg during my South Africa trip. :) Obviously it does not hurt if one tries to get a bit in shape for the trek but you do not need to become a marathon man/woman. Our group was reasonably fit but I saw quite a few "below average" people (don´t tell them I said that.) Please do not worry, the guides are very good, and are taking care of everybody, making sure that everybody is doing fine and the pace is slow.



Alexander33 :Speaking of which, what camera and lens did you use for the gorillas?



@@pault : You guys have new glass or new bodies or something. A different look and some closer looks? Or just my imagination?*



Must be that vivid expert herpetologist´s imagination, Paul. Same stuff as last trip. :P


Canon 7d with 100-400 I, and 70d with 18-130mm for me, Andreas used a Canon 700d with a 15-85mm (he did not bring the big gun).


Not really the perfect equipment for Gorillas, cameras which handle high ISO well and lenses which allow shooting wide open would be much preferrable but we were too niggard to invest in safari stuff yet again. :)


It worked out ok on this trek but really was a problem the next day when we were no longer out in the open but in the forest. And even on this trek because of the bad weather I often had ISO of 6400, and when I tried to do with less my shutter speeds were very (too) slow, so I´m happy it worked out at least for a few. (I had to delete a lot, and even more the next day.)





xyz99: Considering how difficult the terrain was while hiking, how did you protect your camera?



@@amybatt : 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.



Well, I had camera bags for both, nothing more, the bag for the 7d with the big lens also served as my general backpack, I had the gloves, glasses, water and raincoat in there. For quite a while I had the 7d out, hoping to get some birds (there were not too many on the trek) but I stowed it away when it became too slippery and when it rained. The other camera bag I wore the strap around my shoulder, so had the bag to my side and put it out and in all the time, I did not zip the bag (until it rained) but just used those click-things.



@@amybatt : I am assuming there was no need for much zoom or binoculars at this point? 7 meters is really not a lot! Incredible.



I did bring binocs but just for birds, you really don´t need them. Zoom ... to give you an idea, the shots all were taken with crop cameras (1.6), and the zoom length was


Post 1.1: 400

Post 1.2: 135

Post 1.3: 50

Post 1.5: 400 (sleeping Gorilla)

Post 1.6: 400 (finger)

Post 1.7: 190 (Silverback)


All shots of the baby were with 400, except the last one with 260.


When we changed position we would be closer to the Gorillas, so in post 3 it´s:


1: 22

2: 18

3: 100

4: 105

5: 85

6: 18

7: 105


And in the last post:


1: 105

2: 400


Most photos are cropped but just a bit. Hope that helps.

Edited by michael-ibk
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It brings it all back @@michael-ibk! the sheer joy of being so close to them, grinning madly like a loon not quite believing you are there! And as I am sure you will show, going twice gives 2 different experiences. When we went we were assigned one of the short groups -one look at my puny frame! and there was a 70+ year old English lady just there-in rwanda-for the weekend-she was given a piggy back down the hill on the second trek but the first was very easy-perhaps just 20 minutes past the park boundary.The second was about an hour but we went in September and it was not hard going.I second your advice-definitely need stout gardening gloves! Is there anything cuter than a gorilla baby? We had a youngster approach Jane and grab her coat until the guide shooed it-the gorilla not Jane-away! And I can still make the guide's contact call just in case i meet a gorilla socially. Loving the report!

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Oh my what have I done ...


Sorry guys, really did not want to scare anybody about the difficulty of the thike




No, no, no.... Don't soft play it. It's a New Year, and we all have our annual Resolutions to exercise more, lose weight and get in shape. I need all the incentive I can get!

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Three years ago I shared a vehicle at the Porini camps in Kenya with two grandmothers from New Zealand. They were doing their 'now or never' trip of Africa and had just come from Rwanda. When I say grandmothers, I'm saying mid-70s and in mobile condition, certainly not hikers by any means. Well, they had just done the gorilla trekking in Rwanda. They set out for the "easy" group and 4 hours later, were still going after them. The "easy" gorilla group kept moving. The trackers reported the moving to the guides and the guides gave the grannies the option of continuing or turning back. They continued. 5 hours until they found their group. 5 hours back to camp. Their porters carried them back, but THEY DID IT. Any time I get discouraged, I think of how enthusiastic they were in telling me the story and how they made it seem like nothing but the experience of a lifetime. I'm certainly not belittling the effort or discounting it and I may be singing a different song next month, but I have to think if these two did it, many of us can. The only advice they imparted was bring more snacks than you think you'll need. Just in case you're out past lunch. And hire porters.


That said, I'm running lots of hill on the treadmill and spend time on the step mill now. I'm not nearly as concerned about my fitness as I am the altitude, I live and exercise at sea level!

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@@michael-ibk I remember doing the gorilla trek in Uganda despite having twisted my ankle 3 days earlier while chimp trekking in Kibale National Park. It was wet and slippery as well as long haul uphill,but I pulled myself forward.

I also hired two porters.

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In the morning we had talked about maybe doing the Twin Lakes in the afternoon, or maybe go to a swamp not too far away for some birdies, but it was already 14:30 when we came back to the lodge. Luckily they offer lunch from 12:00 to 15:00. We decided we had done quite enough for one day and just relaxed.


A bit about our place, the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge:




One of the mid-range lodges. Not one of those accomodations you madly fall in love with and remember for the rest of your life but I liked it a lot. The premises are very nice and full of birds, staff very friendly and food was quite good. Buffet with an insane amount of stuff, I really worried what they do with all this. We were the last ones finishing lunch and there was still enough there to feed a company. The lodge was nowhere full, I´d guess in total maybe 20 people, and I think it can host up to 60-80 or something like that. So I would probably avoid it in the high season but in November it was just fine.






They have a shoe cleaning service which is really a great help, when we returned from the hike our boots were unrecognizable as footwear, they looked more like abstract objects some amateur had shaped in a clay modelling course. Miraculously after both treks they were returned to us absolutely clean. We were given slippers by the lodge in the meantime.




Every guest has one of these bungalows, so they are quite private - and spacious:








It does get quite cold at night so a fire is made by staff in your room and they bring quite a lot of firewood.




Very comfy, I loved sitting by the fire. Although I often kneed before it and puffed my lung out because the wet wood would often refuse to burn.

Edited by michael-ibk
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As mentioned the garden was very nice for birds, and I spent most of my time there "hunting":




Regal Sunbird




The female (probably, maybe, female Sunbirds are way too difficult for me).




Streaky Seedeater




Chubb´s Cisticola




Cape Robin-Chat




Rwenzori Double-Collared Sunbird




(Probably) the female




Ninja Turtle Bird aka Common Waxbill




Black-Headed Waxbill




And one more Sunbird.

Edited by michael-ibk
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Love the Regal Sunbird!

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@@michael-ibk such a beautiful report. It transports me back there in an instant. We were during Sept and we saw rain and cloud over the course of our stay. No rain on the treks but our second was after a night of rain and agree it makes the return journey tricky and I ended up on my derrière at least twice.


Your photos and writing are wonderful and although the Gorillas are the star. I'm loving all the wider shots and verbal reminders, like the scent of woodsmoke in the rooms and sitting in the garden, in our case drinking tea, watching all the birds with that awesome mountain back drop.


@@amybatt I'm a desk-potato with a known adverse reaction to altitude (I managed to feel ill hiking at Ngorongoro). I was 45 when I did two treks both between 1-2 hours from the Buffalo wall, which is where the steeper inclines start. I could already feel the altitude on my lungs during the stroll through the fields but it didn't get any worse and I did the treks fine. I didn't get ill or struggle, I could just tell breathing was a little deeper. The rangers go at the pace that suits the group. On our second trek which was perhaps the harder of the two we had a 70year old gentleman who was no mountain goat and he did just fine.

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@@michael-ibk I'm far from being an ornithologist, but I can see that you had the pleasure of seeing and photographing various bird species which one doesn't find in East Africa.

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@@michael-ibk spectacular sunbirds and beautiful photos that catch the gleaming feather colours perfectly.

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Fantastic stuff @@michael-ibk and you have brought back some great memories. Good advice as well on the trek but for anyone still worried don't be. Our guide wasn't too concerned about which group we got so we ended up with a hard group. I also live on a prairie so was worried about altitude. As was said above the breathing is a little harder but 3 hours later we found the gorillas and it was worth every step.fall and thorn. My wife did zero training and she managed this as well as Kili a month later. All that is needed is a little willpower. I should add we had a man in his upper 60's who was a mountain goat and continually looked down in disgust at us young ones slowing the trek!

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Another report for me to catch up on @@michael-ibk. Really enjoying your photos; the quality is top notch and the variety is great. Without a doubt the gorillas are the stand outs but I always like to see pics of the places we visit, the buildings, the people and the scenery and you have a great mix. Also nice to see the every day things like accommodations and the other guests and the image of the group resting on the way down from the gorilla trek is one of my favorites; everyone has that look of tired happiness that must only come from an "in your face" encounter like that. I would have wasted one battery while sat there reviewing any photos I got.


Looking forward to more and surely a drink or three to celebrate your milestone birthday in your favourite place?


PS - for the moderators - I got an error message while trying to access page 4 (something about "500 sever error"?).


kind regards



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Thanks again!




No rain on the treks but our second was after a night of rain and agree it makes the return journey tricky and I ended up on my derrière at least twice.


Très enchanté to have learnt such a noble word for one´s behind, @@ld1 ! :)




I'm far from being an ornithologist, but I can see that you had the pleasure of seeing and photographing various bird species which one doesn't find in East Africa.


A few, yes, @@optig , the two Sunbirds do not occur in Kenya , the others all do.




Looking forward to more and surely a drink or three to celebrate your milestone birthday in your favourite place?


A few indeed, @@deano , but I am ashamed to admit that I did not have one single Jameson on this trip! :o

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At first glance pic #3 of post 48 appeared to be a pith sculpture. I thought perhaps in your honor, on your birthday and all.


Ruzizi Tented Lodge looks gorgeous.

Edited by Atravelynn
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The weather was much, much better for our second trek:




While we waited for our group assignment we enjoyed the view of the Volcano mountains which had mostly kept hidden under clouds the day before.








We had a flight departing in Kigali at 19:00, so Umubano had guaranteed us that they would get us a "short range" group for this second trek, to ensure we would get to the airport in time. They kept true to their word, and we got the Hirwa group today. The starting point for this "trek" is very close to the park headquarters, we drove less than 10 minutes there. We were again joined by the two Americans from yesterday, a Canadian couple on a multi-month world trip (very jealous!) and a young woman from South Africa.




Unfortunately I did not note the names of our guides, the lady especially was very friendly and we talked quite a lot about the park, Rwanda in general and also Austria (she has a friend there).




Ok, everybody, memorise this plate, there will be a test in couple of posts! ;)




Promise, this trek will be so much easier!




Today I would not even call this a "trek". The terrain was almost flat, the path wide and easy to go, and the ground pleasantly dry. No sliding around like yesterday.




Again the guides found Chameleons.






White-Eyed Slaty Flycatcher




Yellow-Backed Weaver






Sun-dried flowers (on the way back).




The kids had fun following us.




After not even 45 minutes we were told to leave our bags and get our cameras - we were already there, and the Gorillas were apparently right at the forest´s edge. After yesterday´s hardships we almost could not believe how easy this had been!

Edited by michael-ibk
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Pic #3 of post 48 looked like a giant pith sculpture at first glance. I thought maybe it was in your honor, being your birthday and all. Ruzizi Tented Lodge looks lovely.


Roan in Akagera, what a treat. And nice spot! This park is really starting to bloom and I am so pleased. It really screamed of potential when I visited in 2009. It certainly has the space and the water to support a variety of species. Your photos show the beauty of those wide open Akagera spaces.


Your whydah shots are enchanting and complement that rather humorous video, though it is no laughing matter to the whydahs involved.


You caught that long crested eagle in mid-squawk. Here's an account of an exchange between my Rwandan guide and me about this eagle.


Whenever a long crested eagle was spotted, the tradition was to ask of it, “Oh crested eagle, will I survive or not?” If the eagle flipped its crest forward in response to the question, the answer to the survival question was yes. If the crest flipped back, the answer was no. “What if the crest does not move?” I asked. “Then you must ask again,” was the response.


That exchange seemed symbolic in light of the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda, so powerfully memorialized. Your decision to visit the memorial was a good one.


On a lighter note, your flower filled, terraced hillside ascent to the gorillas, followed by mudball shoes, and your rule breaking first encounter was delightful. It is easy to forget rules and just about everything else when that first gorilla comes into view.


Looking forward to the rest of your excellent report.

Edited by Atravelynn
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The Hirwa group was so, so much fun! Unlike yesterday the whole familiy was present, and the youngsters especially were always running, jumping and climbing around, there was non-stop activity for the entire 60 minutes.


"Hirwa" means lucky, this family was formed in 2006 by some members of Sabyinyo group and others from 13 group (Agashya). More gorillas joined in and now the group is composed of 17 members including the silverback Munyinya. The group derived its name from its formation process that was out of luck.




They were incredibly fun to watch but decidedly less fun to take photos of. They were moving fast and in very deep shadow under all that bamboo, and the lightrays contrasting hard with all that dark made this even trickier.






I cherished the short moments when one of them decided to stay in the light for a couple of seconds.








Munyinya, the big guy himself was completely unfazed by all the ruckus around him, and of course he ignored us completely as well.




(Drastically brightened up here)






Penny for your thoughts, big guy!




They really do love their bamboo!






And not only for eating, especially for climbing!




Edited by michael-ibk
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We changed positions to get to know other members of the family.




Not exactly a baby anymore but still clinging close to Mama. :)




And here is the youngest member of the family:








22 babies were born last year, and the population in Rwanda is going up! No Gorilla was poached or snared last year, although the rangers did find a lot of animal traps and had to remove many.



















In the second half of the video you can see how gentle the mother is with her baby. A very touching scene!

Edited by michael-ibk
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Catching up again with the youngsters.






Luckily we had a little more light for these!


About the seven metre rule - of course we did respect that, but the Gorillas most certainly did not:






They were playing right in front of us, and it seemed they were playing tag!




In my very first post I already ominously predicted that somebody would be hit by a Gorilla in this report. So who was it? @@AndMic of course - see at 00:30 here:



Oops indeed. This was a clear "Hey man, either you join the game or you better get out of the way."


He did not listen, and so it was only fair that he would be run down the second time. :)


Edited by michael-ibk
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Even the big guy got interested in what was happening now and checked:




But soon satisfied that it was just a stupid tourist being mowed down by his kids he approved and settled down in the shade again.




"Hey pops did you see me showing the ugly hairless ape how it is done?"




"I really scared him, did I not?"




"Junior, if you want to spread fear and terror show him your TEETH!"




"Oh my, so you think I was lousy at this? *sob*"




"Do not worry son, it´s all just a matter of practise. Come on now, let´s do it together!"



Edited by michael-ibk
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It was an absolutely magical hour, completely different from our first trek, and again, we found it very hard to say good bye to the Hirwa familly, but sadly we just had to.




"Aww, do you really have to leave?"




"That´s quite sad, but I will just lick bamboo."






"You can go now, I would like to give my dèrriere a good scratch anyway."



And so we left.




Good Bye, Volcano Mountains, you were fantastic!

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