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Zim Girl

“It is Hard Work”

 

Now that isn’t a comment on our journey through the Congo, but a quote that came up more than once from our wonderful driver/guide Martin, and sadly pretty much sums up the life of the average Congolese.

 

On a much happier note for us, we have just come back from one of the most amazing trips to Africa we have ever been on.

 

First, the trip itinerary.

 

11/9  -  Day flight to Kigali, Rwanda, with KLM from Manchester via Amsterdam.

            Overnight in the Hotel des Mille Collines.

12/9  -  Road journey to the border with DRC at Cyangugu via Nyungwe Forest.

            3 nts in Orchids Safari Club hotel in Bukavu.

13/9  -  Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP. 

14/9  -  Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP.

15/9  -  Boat transfer on Lake Kivu to Goma, road journey to Virunga NP.

            3 nts Bukima Camp

16/9  -  Gorilla trek in Virunga NP.

17/9  -  Gorilla trek in Virunga NP.

18/9  -  Gorilla trek in Virunga NP.

            Road transfer to Mikeno Lodge, stay for 2 nts

19/9  -  Free day at Mikeno Lodge

20/9  -  Road journey back to Goma, cross border and onward to Kigali.

            Overnight flight back to Manchester with KLM.

 

Steppes Travel based in the UK, arranged this trip for us.  They have plenty of experience in arranging travel to the more off the beaten track destinations and as we had used them for several holidays in the past we had every confidence in them.

In the DRC they use a trusted and very reliable ground agent and at no point during the holiday did we feel unsafe in any way whatsoever.

 

We particularly wanted to see the Eastern Lowland Gorillas. They can only be found in Eastern DRC and the only habituated groups accessible to tourists are in Kahuzi-Biega NP.  It then made sense to combine this with a visit to Virunga NP to see the Mountain Gorillas.  We had previously trekked Mountain Gorillas back in 2006 in both Rwanda and Uganda so it would be nice to finally see them in the Congo as well.

 

I will round off this intro with pictures of 2 Silverback gorillas.  The first is the Eastern Lowland and the second, the Mountain Gorilla.  See the differences?  More on that and the different methods of habituation later in the report.

 

Eastern Lowland Gorilla - Bonane, Bonane Group, Kahuzi-Biega NP

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Mountain Gorilla Silverback - Humba group, Virunga NP

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Edited by Zim Girl
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“It is Hard Work”   Now that isn’t a comment on our journey through the Congo, but a quote that came up more than once from our wonderful driver/guide Martin, and sadly pretty much sums up t

Monday 11th September   Arrived in Kigali at 8.15pm and was met by Martin who was to be our driver and guide for the duration of our trip.  He took us straight to the Hotel des Mille Colline

Next we were introduced to Lambert, the chief guide.  Lambert featured in a BBC documentary made a couple years ago called The Gorilla Family and Me with wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan.  They foll

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Welcome back @Zim Girl It sounds like a very successful trip. Looking forward to hearing the whole story when you have time.

 

Nice to see the 2 gorilla images juxtapostioned.

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offshorebirder

Wow @Zim Girl - I didn't know we would have a TR from such a special safari to enjoy!

 

I am very much looking forward to following along.   

 

 

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OMG @Zim Girl what a stellar trip. Might you need to change your name to @Congo Gal ? 

 

I am beyond jealous of your sojourn into the "heart of darkness" as I have been putting off my Zim trip report due to being hooked on finishing Blood River by Tim Butcher. The Congo is my new obsession!

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Zim Girl

@ld1

Blood River is a great book, I read it for a 2nd time before we went away.

 

Also, on the subject of books about the Congo.  I can highly recommend 'Congo' - The epic history of a people by David van Reybrouck.

An extremely well written and well researched book about the history of DRC but told more from it's peoples perspective.

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Zim Girl

Monday 11th September

 

Arrived in Kigali at 8.15pm and was met by Martin who was to be our driver and guide for the duration of our trip.  He took us straight to the Hotel des Mille Collines for our overnight stay.

 

Kigali at night from our hotel room.

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Tuesday 12th September

 

Breakfast on the terrace at the Mille Collines lived up to it’s reputation and we had a very relaxing time and some very good food before being picked up by Martin at 7.45am for the start of our Congo adventure.  Martin is Congolese and lives in Goma and knows this part of Congo like the back of his hand.

 

The terrace at the Mille CollinesWP_20170912_06_35_46_Pro.jpg.5cb223d9a622cc2d04ef7e7479ca8a2f.jpg

 

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We followed the main RN1 road south west of Kigali passing the many crop fields of sweet potato, sugar cane, bananas, rice and farmed fish ponds.

 

Rice fields at Gitarama.

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The terraced crop fields that Rwanda is famous for.

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As we approached Nyungwe Forest the big tea plantations started to appear.  Driving through the forest we were hit by a massive rainstorm, so heavy that Martin decided to stop driving for a while and we waited for it to ease off.  This slowed us down a bit so we only reached the border with DRC at 1.30pm.  In better conditions this drive can probably be done in 4-4.5 hrs.

 

View of Bukavu, DRC from the road to the border crossing.

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DRC has 2 main border points with Rwanda. A ‘dry’ one at the new One-Stop border post at Goma and a ‘wet’ one here at Cyangugu, (as explained by Martin).  If you are wondering about the ‘wet’ bit, the crossing into DRC is actually a bridge over the river running from Lake Kivu.

 

This is a picture of the nice new blue steel bridge.

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This, however, is a very sneaky phone shot (no pictures allowed at the border) of the extremely rickety wooden bridge next to it that is used instead!!

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The vertical slats you can see have been nailed to the horizontal ones for a bit of extra support – comforting to know or possibly not when you also find out that this is the main entry point for all commercial traffic, ie. Big, heavy trucks, into South Kivu from Rwanda.

 

Martin’s theory is that they will start using the new bridge when the wooden one finally gives way!  Not wanting to be the straw on that camel’s back we whizzed across quick.

 

Back to the border formalities.  Everywhere was busy and fairly chaotic looking as is usual at an African land border but this was actually a very easy crossing.  First we queued at the small building on the Rwandan side to get our exit stamps, this only took about 20 mins.  Then on the other side of that bridge we parked up and Martin took us to a much more rustic hut that was the DRC border post.  This time Martin took our passports and went into the very small office to handle things for us.  Prior to our trip Steppes had organised our visa application forms and Martin had copies of these.  The visa for UK tourists is $100 each.  We were never asked for our Yellow Fever certs although you are advised that these are required.

 

While we were waiting for him a chap came up to us asking why and where we were visiting, he had thought we were probably aid workers as most white people at the border are, it turns out.  He was most pleased we were actually tourists and going to be visiting Kahuzi-Biega.  He was a security consultant seeing a few researchers through the border.  He has also been involved in security in Kahuzi-Biega and was keen to tell us how good the ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) guys are and how well they are operating the tourist section of the Park.

 

By now, Martin had reappeared with our passports and we were on our way.  This didn’t take much more than about 20 mins either.

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Alexander33

@Zim Girl

 

I'm very much looking forward to this report. Personally, I've not been brave enough to consider venturing into DRC, but I stand ready to be convinced, and those first two photos are certainly a step in that direction!

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Really looking forward to this report.  It's probably dangerous to my bucket list just as I'm about to start planning Safari 2018, but I'm willing to be swayed.  Thank you!!

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michael-ibk

Glad to hear your trip was a big success, and can't wait to hear all about it! 

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Sangeeta

Very excited to follow along, @Zim Girl - this promises to be a real treat.

I love the juxtaposed pics too :)

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Please, don't take too many breaks. I want to read it in one go.  "Heart of Darkness" was my class reader in Grade 12 and I had to critically analyse various characters. It was a painful task to start with, but gradually I fell in love with book. Since then it's one of my dreams to travel to follow Conrad's footsteps. 

I have been seriously thinking about going to Odzala, but that looks too easy. Instead I fell in love with Virunga !!  My heart goes out to those brave rangers and every time I learn about another death in the line of duty I feel terribly sad. Travelling to Virunga is the best way to support their fight. 

And lastly to the excellent books already mentioned here, may I add Michael Crickton's Congo as well ? Clearly not in the same league but a good read to kill a few hours in the airport. 

Just wondering, why not Nyiragongo ? 

Cheers 

Edited by Chakra
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Atravelynn

This will be a great trip report!  We know you saw gorillas.

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Zim Girl
On 28/09/2017 at 10:31 PM, Chakra said:

 

And lastly to the excellent books already mentioned here, may I add Michael Crickton's Congo as well ? Clearly not in the same league but a good read to kill a few hours in the airport. 

Just wondering, why not Nyiragongo ? 

Cheers 

 

@Chakra

 

Funny enough, that book was on the reading shelf at Mikeno Lodge and Mr ZG read it while we were there.

Nyiragongo would have been a great addition to the holiday and it was mainly time and budget constraints that meant we left it out.

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Zim Girl

Thank you for all your comments, I want to try and do justice to DRC and this trip report, but I am afraid there will be just a few days break before I can post again.

 

In the last couple of days we have had to make the very sad and hard decision to put our beloved and beautiful dog Ben to sleep.

So we are now spending our last weekend with him and trying to enjoy the time as best we can and celebrate the wonderful 11 years we have had with him.

 

The next post had already been prepared so I will put this up and get back as soon as I can.

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Zim Girl

The road from the border crossing leads straight into Bukavu.

 

Bukavu is the capital city of South Kivu province.  It sits along the southern coastline of Lake Kivu with it’s five peninsulas jutting out into the lake.  The buildings of the city are built up from the lakeside and into the surrounding hills.  It was obviously once a very beautiful place with it’s many art deco buildings and even now still has bags of character and colour.  However, the road infrastructure has disintegrated and is now virtually non-existent with everywhere in a bad state of disrepair.  Traffic is very busy and driving here is definitely not for the faint-hearted – imagine Delhi at rush hour but without any roads or pavements.  Horns are blaring constantly and the motorbike is king.  In order to make any headway Martin just drove into gaps that weren’t there and then you would find that a motorbike had followed in next to you.  I have no idea how we didn’t become one big pile up of vehicles.  It was quite an experience – and actually great fun (for us at least)!

 

After a while we trundled down a little side street, through some metal gates and into the oasis of calm and greenery that is the Orchids Safari Club. We were in room 1 which was at one end of a line of ground floor rooms with terraces that look directly out onto the lake.  There is just a small strip of grass between the end of the tiled terrace and the steep slope down to the lake and great views across to part of the city and the next peninsula.

 

Here are some pictures showing the hotel room and gardens.

 

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Whoops, just noticed me in the mirror.

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The lake at the end of our terrace.

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The lovely hotel gardens.

 

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View of a lake jetty and Bukavu.

 

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Alexander33

@Zim Girl

 

I'm so sorry to hear of the impending passing of your beloved dog. I know how difficult that can be. Please take all the time you need. We will be here when you're ready, and this just gives us more time to savor the prospects of what undoubtedly will be a fascinating report. 

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@Zim Girl....very sorry to hear about Ben,  Have a loving weekend with him.  We can wait.

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michael-ibk

Very sorry about Ben - I know how difficult and sad it is to make that decision.

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So sorry to hear about your pup.  I know how those last days are and how important they are.  Hugs to you all.

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Haven't even read the prepared post...too devastated by your loss....my heart is broken for you....having recently gone through a similar experience with my "baby" boy Calvin (cow-kitty) that shared my life for 13 years....I am so sorry and shedding quiet tears with you :(

 

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Double Dare

I am so sorry to hear about Ben.  The decision is never easy.

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Kitsafari

oh dear, so sorry to hear about your dog. hugs and hugs. take your time. being with him is far more important. 

 

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Sangeeta

So sorry to hear about Ben, @Zim Girl. Stay strong. Our SImba is getting frailer by the day too, and my heart really goes out to you. 

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Sangeeta

If you don't mind my interjecting here, @Zim Girl I just got a newsletter from Virunga NP with their new offers. They have a new Short Stay package, with 2 nights at the new Kibumba Camp, 1 gorilla trek and 1 Nyiragongo hike for less than the cost of 1 Rwanda permit! For those of you interested in supporting the park, do consider this. They had elections slated for Dec 2017 but it looks like they may not happen after all and you can do this very, very reasonably.

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