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Peter Connan

My sincerest condolances!

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Thank you so much everybody for your comments and kind words.  It has been a fairly crappy couple of weeks but Ben had a great life and we had a really good last day with him so trying to be positive.


So now getting back into this trip report.  Next section, bit heavy on text and light on pics but trying to include lots of info on Kahuzi-Biega NP as not as well visited as the other 'Gorilla' parks.



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Wednesday 13th September


We had breakfast at 6.30am and Martin arranged to meet us at 7.00am for the drive to Kahuzi-Biega NP.  So we were back out into the dusty chaos of Bukavu.  We drove along a road that roughly follows the shore of Lake Kivu. 

The journey to Tshivanga where the NP headquarters are based takes around one and a quarter hours as the road is very badly pot-holed. There is one short section that is in fairly good condition closer to the Park and that requires a toll to be paid to use it.

All along the sides of the road there was plenty of activity with people selling fruit and vegetables and other produce.  Further along there were many more people, young and old, sat next to big piles of rocks breaking them down into small pieces for use in building houses.


On Lake Kivu we also saw the unusual fishing boats with their long extensions at either end.  They sail three abreast with their nets attached between the boats.




These pictures of the fishing boats were taken from our room the evening before.




The road eventually moves away from the lake side and travels inland. We go through a small but very busy village called Miti and then on to the toll road and Kahuzi-Biega which is now about 7km away.


The Park is named after two extinct volcanoes, Mt Kahuzi, which means ‘windy’ in the local language and Mt Biega, which means ‘rocky’.


The Park started life in 1937 as the Zoological Reserve of Kahuzi and was created by the then Belgian Colonial government for the protection of the Eastern Lowland Gorilla  (now actually more correctly called Grauer’s Gorilla).


In 1970 the Park was established in it’s current form as Kahuzi-Biega NP and was co-founded by a Belgian called Adrien Deschryver who had begun habituating the gorillas there in the 1960s.


In 1980 the Park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site but sadly in 1997 was put on, and currently is still on, their sites in danger list. During our briefing at the Park HQ we were told this is something they are hoping will change soon.


When we arrived we were met very enthusiastically by the Tourism Manager, Juvenal, who encouraged us to wander around and take as many photos as we wanted. The area around the HQ had a very relaxed feel to it and everybody was very friendly.






The ICCN guys were practising their marching skills.







Various primate and antelope skulls displayed outside the main tourist building.



The grave of Adrien Deschryver who died of a heart attack in 1989.



The only other tourists with us there for trekking today were a German couple on a mainly Rwandan itinerary.


After a short while we were invited to sit in the large tourist office for tea and coffee and a briefing on the history of the Park and it’s gorillas.

Juvenal started with a very heartfelt speech about how much our visit to KBNP was appreciated and valued, and I have to say we really did feel very glad we had come.


So, back to Adrien Deschryver and gorilla habituation techniques. At around the same time Dian Fossey was in the process of habituating Mountain Gorillas on the Rwandan side of the Virungas, Deschryver was doing the same in KBNP.  His first gorilla group and Silverback was called Casimir (named after the first tourist to see him who was Austrian).


There are a couple of important differences between the methods of habituation by Deschryver and Fossey which affects how to behave in front of the gorillas.


Deschryver always stood up in front of the silverback Casimir.

Fossey always knelt down in front of the silverback Digit.


Deschryver always looked Casimir in the eyes.

Fossey always looked aside to avoid face to face contact with Digit.


So, we were told when we are viewing the group, should the silverback charge or come towards you, you had to stand your ground, stay upright and look him in the eyes.  This differs from the advice given when viewing Mountain gorillas which is to stay low and avoid looking at the silverback.


Both techniques by Deschryver and Fossey resulted in successful habituation of each sub-species of Eastern gorilla.


Then Juvenal went on to talk about the gorilla groups in the Park.  KBNP is split between a large lowland area to the west and a smaller highland area to the east. There are 12 gorilla groups in the highland area, 3 of which are habituated to tourists, Chimanuka, Mpungwe and Bonane, all named after the dominant silverback in each group.  Eastern gorilla groups differ from Mountain gorillas groups in that there is usually only one silverback in each group.  More about the groups when we meet them.


There are 3 eating periods in KBNP.

‘leaves’    mid December to mid June – this helps to fatten up the gorillas

‘fruits’  -  mid June to mid September – gorillas stay up in the trees more and can travel long distances

‘bamboo’  -  mid September to mid December – gorillas stay closer to the ground eating the new shoots.


We were told the best time to view the gorillas are between now and November as the groups are easier to find because they are generally down on the ground more and not moving around so much.  Mid September to mid December is the 'short rains' time but we found it rained mainly for short bursts in the afternoons so our treks weren't affected.

The other seasons are 'short dry' - mid December to mid March, 'long rains' - mid March to mid May, 'long dry' - mid May to mid September.


First gorilla trek up next.

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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 followed the Chimanuka family and Gordon was also asked to help with the habituation of the Mpungwe family.


Lambert told us he had been tracking the gorillas of KBNP for 30 years and that today he wanted us to see Chimanuka’s group.  Lambert’s English was excellent, he had a cracking sense of humour and we were to be very impressed with his skills as a guide.


The Chimanuka group originally had 37 members but subsequent interactions with other groups led by Mpungwe and Bonane (Chimanuka’s son) has meant this has now been reduced to 22.


The Chimanuka and Mpungwe groups had been followed for quite some time by ICCN rangers and researchers and because of the interaction with Bonane (pronounced Bon-an-nay) a new group formed, ready habituated, as Bonane and the 4 females who joined him came from already habituated groups.


Bonane is now a group of 6 members as one of the females has just given birth.


Mpungwe is a group of 20 with one Blackback along with the females and youngsters.


We waited with Lambert until he received word that the trackers had found the trail of the Chimanuka group and then we were driven with himself and the rangers about 10 minutes up the forest road until we reached the start of the trail into the bamboo forest.



The forest was very dense but the temperature was perfect for trekking, probably around 18 degrees or so.  We were following a trail for around 3 hours when it became clear during several radio cons between Lambert and the trackers that the trail they had thought was Chimanuka’s actually belonged to Mpungwe.  However, we were unable to visit this group as it was already being observed by researchers.  We could tell Lambert was a touch unhappy as he explained that at this time of year when the groups are moving on the ground a lot more it can happen that trails are crossed and become confused.  We all took a break and waited for Lambert to ‘make a plan’.


Picture of one of the rangers taken while we were waiting.



We were just discussing with the German couple the possibility of not finding any gorillas today when Lambert stood up and announced that ‘we would just have to go and see Bonane instead’.  We were relieved as we didn’t mind which group we saw but it turned out that Lambert was disappointed because the Germans had seen that group yesterday and he was most upset they would see the same group twice. They assured him they were fine about it.


So off we went and within about 20 minutes we spotted our first gorilla.

Now normal practice with gorilla trekking in DRC is for everybody to wear masks.  Unfortunately we had been told at the HQ they had just run out, so today’s trek would have to be an exception to this rule.


We were watching one of the females and then Lambert spotted Bonane so he pulled us into a good position for watching him.  Here goes picture overload on our first Eastern Lowland (Grauer's) Gorillas. (A thank you to @Jochen at this point for his tutorial a couple of months ago, I manually overrode the camera ISO settings to 800 & 1000 for these pictures,not something I would have thought to do before reading it)






Going back to the differences between Eastern Lowland and Mountain gorillas.  Eastern Lowland gorillas are larger, have a longer head with a slimmer nose and mouth, slightly longer arms and shorter finer hair on their bodies. Mountain gorillas have longer more dense hair. 

Silverback Bonane









Lambert took our camera to do a spot of filming.









Then Lambert got very excited and told us to watch the female coming into view.  This was Siri, the mother of the new born.  The baby is around 7-10 days old and as yet they have been unable to determine the sex.



More of Bonane




A different female - note the damaged right eye



Below a couple of Lamberts efforts with the filming.


This one shows the female walking in with the baby, although too far away to actually see it on film


After our hour was up we made our way back through the forest and onto the initial trail that took us back to the forest road where the vehicle was waiting to take us back to the Park HQ.


Finding our way back to the trail.



We got back to HQ at around 4pm and after a quick and interesting chat to one of the reseachers working in the Park on behalf of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Martin took us back to the Orchids Hotel.

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A fascinating section with beutiful photos. Whatever you did with your camera certainly worked! I am really enjoying reading about this region.

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Fantastic shots of the gorillas. What a relief that you were able to connect with a group. I really like the video, too -- it gives a great sense of presence with respect to the environment you were in.  Your descriptions and explanations about the differences between the Mountain and Grauer's Gorillas are interesting and most helpful.  Looking forward to more. 

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Thanks very much for continuing the tale after the difficult time you had encountered recently. I'm really fascinated to learn about the differences in techniques between two experts. I had always thought Diane Fossey's technique to be the standard one. 

In the first video I hear someone saying "stop" several times @ 0:41 mark. Just curious, was that addressed to you or or to someone else who did something upsetting the silverback ?

Hearing about their expression of gratitude to the tourists is really touching. 

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14 hours ago, Chakra said:

Thanks very much for continuing the tale after the difficult time you had encountered recently. I'm really fascinated to learn about the differences in techniques between two experts. I had always thought Diane Fossey's technique to be the standard one. 

In the first video I hear someone saying "stop" several times @ 0:41 mark. Just curious, was that addressed to you or or to someone else who did something upsetting the silverback ?

Hearing about their expression of gratitude to the tourists is really touching. 



That was Lambert telling us to stop moving back.  When Bonane got up he ushered us back a short way then told us to stop. So nothing was upsetting him just us giving him a bit of room in case he wanted to go past us.

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Thursday 14th September


So another 7am pick-up by Martin and we were off to KBNP for our second trek.

On our way through town something happened that was to become quite a common occurrence.  Martin was flagged down and asked to stop by the police. A female police officer came over to his window and asked for his documents.  Martin pulled out a big dog-eared brown envelope and proceeded to pass her various permits and licences and photocopies and all the while they were having a long and fairly heated debate.  This was all in a mixture of the local language and French so a bit tricky to follow.  After about 15 mins and a lot of tutting and head shaking by the police officer, Martin was given back all his documents and allowed to go.

Martin explained that he had been stopped because his vehicle has Rwandan registered plates but this was just an excuse because all they really want is a bribe and because he wasn’t prepared to pay one he had to go through the time wasting rigmarole of arguing it out and going through his docs.  He said this kind of thing was becoming more frequent as the police are paid very badly and that’s when they are paid at all. 

“Life is hard in Congo”.


Then just to reinforce this, when we came to the toll road barrier and Martin went into the hut to be passed through there appeared to be another debate going on. This took 20 minutes or so and then he finally came back to the vehicle.  The barrier went up and we went through.  We asked what had happened.  Apparently when you buy the toll permit which is $2.50 each way it is supposed to be valid for 5 days, but even though he paid for it when we went through yesterday they wouldn't accept this and wanted him to pay again.  He showed them the stamped permit but they tore it up in front of him and made him pay for a new one.

"Life is hard in Congo".


We reached KBNP without further issue and was again greeted like old friends by Juvenal. There were no other tourists today but there was a researcher from the UK studying Duikers, she was interested in the habitat in KBNP and had come along for a trek.  Two vets from the Tchimpounga Primate Sanctuary in Pointe Noire, Congo Brazzaville and a worker from the Lwiro Primate Sanctuary in South Kivu.  Lwiro can be visited easily from KBNP and Martin had actually arranged for us to go there yesterday but we ran out of time as the trek took so long.  It does very good work mainly with chimpanzees but also other species of monkeys and apparently well worth a visit.


Lambert came to tell us that the Chimanuka group had definitely been found, but a long way away, so we would visit them on our own while the 4 girls would go to see Bonane group as they were situated much closer.


We all set off down the forest road and stopped at the same trailhead as yesterday.  We all followed the initial trail then we left with guide Jacques to find Chimanuka and the others went with Lambert.  Jacques had almost no English but Lambert had left him with strict instructions to get us to Chimanuka (possibly at all costs judging by some of the terrain we were to go over). 

So off we went through some very dense forest.



We walked for nearly 2 hours when we came off the trail completely, we thought we must be close and on the final walk in but instead we think the group must have moved because we were now going down steep hills and crawling through almost impenetrable bamboo tunnels then up hills again.  This went on for another hour and was probably the toughest gorilla trek we had ever done.  Finally Jacques stopped and gave us masks to put on, we were close!  


We saw one female straight away who took a quick look at us but then ambled away. 



We couldn’t see any others, we looked at Jacques, he looked up at the trees and pointed.  They were up there, including Chimanuka himself.  We would have to wait. So we settled down to wait, pleased we had finally found them but desperately hoping they would come down.


Watching and waiting.



Finally after about 20 minutes there was movement.  A female slithered her way down and sat at the bottom of the tree watching us.  Then she walked past us and another came down, then a youngster and another. One by one they came down the same tree, sat for a few moments then walked by.  Not all the group was there but the last to come down was Chimanuka.  Quite amazing to see such a huge gorilla climb so easily.  However once down he promptly found the nearest vegetation and nestled inside almost out of sight.  Jacques and the rangers did their best to pull some of it away so we could see him which was great although photos were still difficult.  Then eventually he wandered off and our time was up.


Female at the bottom of the tree she had just climbed down.





Youngster climbing down




Sat with Mum




Video showing some of the gorillas coming down the tree.


And another.

Chimanuka looking for somewhere to sit 



Found it.





And off he goes.



But that wasn’t to be the end of our gorilla viewing today.

On the way back, (which thankfully wasn’t as strenuous as the walk in), we could see something was going on as the rangers were looking excited and signalling to each other, then Jacques told us to stop and wait.  He whispered ‘Mpungwe group coming’.  After a minute a female with a youngster on her back crossed the trail in front of us, then another female and youngster by her side. Then we saw Mpungwe, he was stood on all fours guarding the trail while his group crossed over.  He then moved away and we could see a big blackbuck sat behind him.  Mpungwe is the only group that has another adult male. He is called Tulia which means calm in Swahili.


Female and youngster crossing



With Mpungwe guarding the trail



Blackback Tulia



So how lucky was that!  We managed to see all three habituated gorilla groups in two days.


Group photo at the end of the trek.



We got back to the HQ at around 3pm where Lambert was waiting to congratulate us on finding Chimanuka.  He was very pleased we had made it to the group and confirmed that they had indeed started moving again after the trackers had originally found their trail in the morning.


A word on tourist group size here at KBNP.  Just like Rwanda and Uganda the maximum number of tourists that can visit any one gorilla group each day is eight.  However, in practice you are unlikely to have that many at present.  Tourist numbers are just not that high.  The park recorded just over 1000 visits last year and many of them may be researchers and aid workers like today’s group as opposed to ‘ordinary’ tourists.

The permit price of $400 is extremely good value especially when compared to the cost in Rwanda of $1500 and particularly when you consider we had one private viewing and only shared the other with two people.  It makes a really big difference to the experience.


We very much enjoyed the visits to Kahuzi-Biega and were quite sorry to leave for the last time.  The people are wonderful and passionate and very friendly but the Park needs more visitors.  For anyone thinking of going to DRC I would definitely recommend combining Kahuzi-Biega with Virunga. It doesn't take that much more effort and is a great way of seeing more of the Eastern region.


Sadly it wasn't Martin's day today.  Back into Bukavu town, and we were going round a roundabout when a police officer jumped out in front of him and made him stop.  Well there was a lot of hands in the air and shouting 'quoi, quoi'? from Martin but undeterred the policeman came over, then out came the battered brown envelope, documents passed, and again a long and protracted argument entailed.  We amused ourselves by watching the buildup of traffic all around us with horns blaring as we were still on the roundabout and holding everything up.  Eventually we were let go, with poor old Martin shaking his head.

"Life is hard in Congo".


When he dropped us back at the Orchids we had a little discussion about how our transfer to Virunga was going to work tomorrow.  

To get the vehicle up to Goma, Martin was going to start the long drive now and into the night, back across the border and up the lake road on the Rwandan side. I think this takes around 6-7 hours.  We were to be met at breakfast in the morning by someone to take us down to the jetty to catch the fast boat to Goma via Lake Kivu.  Martin had arranged for this chap to meet us at the hotel now so we knew who would be collecting us in the morning, he also gave us the boat tickets. Then someone called Thierry would meet us off the boat at Goma where Martin would catch up with us again around lunchtime.  All sorted!


Just before sunset we left the hotel to walk up the road nearby to get a higher view of the other peninsulas jutting into the lake.  At this time of year the air is still very dusty from dry season.


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What an enjoyable and informative trip report @Zim Girl!      Thanks for taking the time to prepare it.


When and if I make it to DRC I will definitely include Kahuzi-Biega NP in my itinerary.  

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18 minutes ago, offshorebirder said:

What an enjoyable and informative trip report @Zim Girl!      Thanks for taking the time to prepare it.


When and if I make it to DRC I will definitely include Kahuzi-Biega NP in my itinerary.  


That's wonderful.  If this trip report can encourage just one person to visit KBNP it will make me very happy.

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Friday 15th September


We were picked up at 6.30am by the chap taking us down to the jetty which was only a 15 minute drive away.




Our boat the 'Kivu King'




He took our tickets into the office for us and made sure our bags were labelled up correctly and put onto the boat.  The service that links Bukavu to Goma is called the Ihusi Express.  It departs twice a day from Bukavu except Thursday and Saturday when there is just one crossing.  It costs $50 one way and takes around 2.5 to 3 hours. 

The boat itself holds around 50 people inside with very comfy seats.  There was a film showing on the big television at the end of the aisle and free water and a very tasty cheese and ham sandwich was offered at about halfway across.


A few pictures showing the shoreline of Bukavu from the Lake.  You can see how the city is built up into the hills. They are a bit gloomy as it had been drizzling with rain.






We reached Goma at around 10.30am and as soon as we got off a very pleasant young chap came over.  He greeted us using our names and introduced himself as Alex.  Thinking we must have just got his name wrong as Martin had said he would be called Thierry, we thought no more of it and followed him to his vehicle. We were not quite sure what to expect next but Alex said he would take us on a city tour of Goma.


Pulling into Goma



Now Goma is not the prettiest of towns but that’s not surprising seeing as it has been in the firing line of two eruptions by the nearby active volcano Mt Nyiragongo, once in 1977 and then again in 2002.  During the 2002 eruption the lava stream flowed through the main streets of Goma down to Lake Kivu, 30-40% of the city was destroyed.


Goma is the capital city of North Kivu province and has also been at the centre of many conflicts since the 1994 Rwandan genocide including the First and Second Congo wars.

This explains the many UN compounds and aid agencies that line the streets of the city.

There are plenty of armed UN soldiers about and there were lots of the white UN trucks on the roads. Like in Bukavu the roads away from the main streets were in a bad state of disrepair, as we were about to find out.


Driving down the street, two policemen waved us down on yet another ‘random’ check. This time the policeman talking to Alex through the window was very aggressive and loud, we guess because Alex was only quite young and maybe an easy target.  Alex also had a big brown battered envelope containing the myriad of licences and permits that are required.  However, unfortunately he was missing one, which was why the policeman was getting more and more angry.  He got into the passenger side of the vehicle and carried on haranguing the poor lad.  Alex turned to us a few times to apologise and explained there was nothing to worry about but he was missing the ‘new’ version of one of the licences and the policeman was wanting a bribe, however he didn’t have enough money on him.  Between arguing with the policeman Alex made several phone calls.  One was to his sister asking her to bring his missing licence. She turned up about 15 minutes later with the licence but this didn’t make any difference to the policeman who was getting angrier and angrier insisting on his bribe. (All of this was in French and Swahili but you got the gist). He then instructed Alex to start driving the car.  At this point he had also wanted his colleagues to get in the back with us but Alex stood his ground and refused to let them.  So we drove from the road and into the side streets, which is where we could see how much damage had been caused by the volcano eruption.  You would never have believed it happened 15 years ago, it looked like it happened only very recently.  Small houses and shelters had been built using the lava rock, many with only a piece of tin sheeting for a roof.


We carried on driving around for a bit until we came into a big empty square.  We stopped and Alex once again turned round to us and apologised for the inconvenience and not to worry. Then his sister walked up to the vehicle, unbeknown to us she had been following behind on a scooter taxi.  The policeman took Alex from the vehicle. Another vehicle then pulled up, some more people got out and they all walked off with him. Maybe this would have been the time to start worrying but his sister jumped into the front seat to explain and stay with us. We were apparently in part of the local police compound and the other people who had turned up were her husband and his security detail. He is something fairly high up in the army and Alex had called him to help. So they were now all in the police station sorting out his fine, but at least it would be a proper fine and not a bribe.

She was very nice and we spent the time chatting, she had really good English.  Eventually Alex came walking round the corner and got back into the vehicle.  Many apologies from him later and we were on our way.


This had all taken about an hour and now it was time for lunch. His sister stayed with us for the drive and we were taken to the very pleasant Lac Kivu Lodge.  Alex said Martin would be meeting us here after lunch.  We sat down and while we were waiting for the drinks we mentioned to Alex that Martin had said to expect someone called Thierry.  ‘Ahh’, he said, ‘that is me’.  We obviously looked slightly confused so he explained that as some tourists found Thierry hard to pronounce he called himself Alex.  So mystery solved and we told him that we had no problems calling him Thierry.  He also let on that he was Martin’s son and he helps out with transfers for him on a regular basis!!  So there you go, alls well that ends well!

At that point Martin turned up and left us to finish our lunch while he and Thierry took our bags to his vehicle.


Next up, the drive to Virunga National Park.

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Yikes, I have to say I probably would have been a little unnerved by that experience. Maybe I’m still just a little green, or else you are more stalwart than I.   In any event, it looks like you were well-taken care of (makes all the difference) and, in the end, it didn’t manage to derail your plans.  Looking forward to the Virungas!

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OK, no self driving then. What an Xperience, Alex makes his namesakes proud!

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On 17/10/2017 at 9:34 PM, Alexander33 said:

Yikes, I have to say I probably would have been a little unnerved by that experience. Maybe I’m still just a little green, or else you are more stalwart than I.   In any event, it looks like you were well-taken care of (makes all the difference) and, in the end, it didn’t manage to derail your plans.  Looking forward to the Virungas!


Honestly, although they may sound a little disturbing, I think the guides are well used to dealing with all the police checks.  At no point at all in our time in the DRC did we ever feel unsafe.  

In fact, what we did notice when being driven here compared to other African countries is that we never drew a crowd when the vehicle was stopped. When we were in Miti village near KBNP and Martin was trying to sort out his toll permit, we were left on our own in the vehicle for a while and not once did anyone come over to bother us, no beggars, no one trying to sell us anything etc.  People just went on their business or if we caught anyone's eye they just smiled.


One of the nicest experiences was when Martin stopped on the roadside coming back from KBNP on the second day.  He wanted to buy some onions to take home later so he was stood at the back of the vehicle with a few sellers.  While he was busy two ladies came very tentatively over to our window, they were carrying some bunches of bananas and very politely in French asked if we would like to buy any.  We very politely declined, they smiled and thanked us and walked away. That just sums up how everyone was.  It all felt very humbling and made us very pleased that we had come.


Also, all the fruit and veg they were selling looked to be of excellent quality and if we had actually have wanted anything we wouldn't have hesitated to buy.

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So now we were back in our original vehicle with Martin.  Thierry (Alex) had done his job, but before we could start the drive to Virunga NP we first had to go and meet the Parks armed ranger escort who would escort us all the way to camp. This is normal procedure for anyone travelling to any of the Virunga NP camps.

While we were on our way to the Park’s Goma office  -  Guess what?  -  another police check!  So we knew the routine now.  The head shaking, the arguments, the brown envelope etc,etc. 15 minutes later we were on our way. 

The escort had been pre-arranged for 2.30pm and we arrived at the office just in time.  An armed ranger followed us on a motorbike as we took the road out of town towards Virunga.


The drive to Bukima Camp took almost 2 hours on yet another very pot-holed road.  There were signs of some upgrading going on so hopefully in the future this shouldn’t take as long.


View of Mt Mikeno on the drive to Bukima Camp.



Bukima Camp has 6 tents with a main mess tent and sitting out area just in front.  It is situated just a couple of minutes walk from the gorilla trekking start point. It looks out onto crop fields and forest behind and has a glorious view of Mt Mikeno and when the sky is clear, Mt Nyiragongo.


Main Mess Tent



Side view of the main tent






Inside the main tent (with resident cat)



Our tent - No 4



All the guest tents are hidden from sight of the main tent and each other in the surrounding vegetation.

They have en-suite bathrooms with a flush toilet, running cold water in the basin and a bucket shower. A large bottle of water is refreshed every day.  The tents have plenty of room and seating and the bed was the most comfortable of the holiday.  Hot water bottles are put in the bed each night while you are at dinner.





There were only 2 other guests in the camp when we arrived so we chilled out at the main tent until it was time to get showered and have dinner.

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Saturday 16th September


An early trek had been requested by the other guests which was fine by us.  Normally treks start around 9 to 9.30am when any guests who are joining treks from Mikeno Lodge and Goma have arrived. However, the advantage of staying in Bukima Camp is that where possible you have first call on when to start trekking and which group to see.


We had a 6.30am breakfast and walked down to the start point at 7am to meet the rangers.



Our guide for today was to be Jacques.  He gave us a short briefing on the gorilla groups in the Mikeno sector of the Park.  Four groups can be trekked from Bukima.  They are Humba, Rugendo, Nyakamwe and Munyaga.


Board in the office showing the groups and numbers of gorillas in each one. Group Solitaires at the bottom isn't actually a group but 4 solitary silverbacks.


Masks were handed out to us and the four of us and the guide and rangers set off back past the camp and along the fields until we reached the point where we had to cross the fence and go into the forest.

Crossing the fields with Mt Mikeno in view.


We were going to find the Humba group this morning.  Humba has 10 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 3 babies.

It took about an hour and a half to find the first silverback sitting eating some bamboo, the other silverback was close by with the 2 juveniles up in the trees.  Very soon the juveniles came down and with the silverbacks joined the rest of the females with the babies.  This was a really good viewing of all members of the group in a quite open setting.  The smallest baby was about 6 mths old and we had a great view of him.


I struggled with the photos initially but they got a bit better once they moved to the more open area.




Both silverbacks can be seen here.







Jacques our guide.































The youngest baby jumping off mum's back



So then she can have a moment to relax















Finally we were able to see the baby properly crawling around near the silverback.

















Edited by Zim Girl
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Here is a film of the young baby playing and eating.  You can see it is still not that steady on it's feet. (Neither was the cameraman judging by how shaky some of this is) :)



Our hour with this group seemed to last forever.  There was always something to watch and they were all really calm and being very co-operative.


We got back to the ranger post at around 11am.  The others were off to Mikeno Lodge so we had the camp to ourselves for lunch and the rest of the day.  In fact we were the only guests for the rest of our stay.  It rained very heavily all afternoon but there were a few books to read in the main tent so the time went quickly to dinner.  Martin had dinner with us to keep us company.


You can just see one of the tents through the trees.




There were a few people spraying crops in the fields in front of camp.



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Great photos. Your portraits of the baby are especially good. In Rwanda, we were not required to wear masks. It's a precaution that I probably wouldn't have minded, but I wonder why the two countries differ in this approach. 

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Wonderful. A really special time with that family. You capture their personality so well, it is a real pleasure to read this. 

It is interesting to see the board showing the different families. There appear to be a good number of juveniles and babies. A good sign I hope. 



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On 21/10/2017 at 0:05 AM, Alexander33 said:

Great photos. Your portraits of the baby are especially good. In Rwanda, we were not required to wear masks. It's a precaution that I probably wouldn't have minded, but I wonder why the two countries differ in this approach. 

Hi @Alexander33

Thank you very much.  

We didn't actually ask the question but I have heard that Rwanda and Uganda would have liked to introduce the wearing of masks but because all the early habituation was done without, when they tried, the gorillas didn't like it as they were used to seeing people without masks.  Not really sure how true that is as we did both in KBNP and the gorillas didn't mind either way.  Does seem like a worthwhile precaution though and after a few minutes you didn't notice you were wearing it.


On 21/10/2017 at 11:24 AM, TonyQ said:

Wonderful. A really special time with that family. You capture their personality so well, it is a real pleasure to read this. 

It is interesting to see the board showing the different families. There appear to be a good number of juveniles and babies. A good sign I hope. 




Thank you.  It was a very good viewing and yes, there are babies in every group which is really positive.

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Sunday 17th September


As we were the only ones in camp, yesterday Martin had arranged for us to have an early trek just for the two of us.

So it was another 6.30 breakfast and then walk to meet the rangers at 7am.  This time our guide was Julian.  He explained we were going to see the Rugendo group.  This group of 10 has 4 silverbacks, 2 adult females, 1 sub-adult, 1 juvenile and 2 babies.


This time we walked in the other direction away from camp, along the edge of the fields and finally through the electric fence and into the forest. The walk to the group took about 2 hours and was probably our easiest trek so far.


The dominant silverback is called Bukima and he was having a bit of a sunbathe when we found him.  There had been a very quick shower as we were walking along the fields but now the sun had come out and all the group were making the most of it.































This baby had fallen down and was slowly climbing back up to mum.







A helping hand at the top



These were 2 of the non-dominant silverbacks moving away because Bukima, the dominant one was coming towards them





Bukima, the dominant silverback





The other two had settled down a short way off





This was another superb viewing and completely private.  Julian was a very good guide.  He was keen to make sure that we had a good view of every member of the group and chipping in here and there with bits of info but also letting us relax and enjoy it at the same time.  When the hour was almost up the group started moving.  We moved with them for a bit with Julian explaining that 2 of the sub-dominant silverbacks were leading the group while the dominant silverback, females and babies stayed in the middle and the remaining sub-dominant silverback brought up the rear. We could see this was the case and great to see it in action.

We didn't follow any further as our hour was up but we had had a truly excellent time.


We were back in camp for 11.30am and ready for our lunch.


Another of the tents hiding in the bushes.



Enjoying the hot sun after lunch.



Today had been a clear day so it meant we could see Mt Mikeno really well as it started to go dark.



We could also see Mt Nyiragongo glowing in the distance.




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Some films from this second trek.

Mr ZG apologises once again for the shaky shots.






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Monday 18th September


We were so impressed with Julian yesterday that we had asked him if he could guide us again today.  He said he would love to but we had to arrange this with Park management.  So in the afternoon Martin went to have a chat to them and arranged for another early start and a private visit with Julian as our guide.

This was to be our last trek and then we were moving onto Mikeno Lodge, so we left our packed bags in the main tent after breakfast and walked down to the start point.  Julian was there to meet us.  Today we would be trekking the Nyakamwe group. 12 members including 2 silverbacks and 2 babies. The dominant silverback is called Nyakamwe and he is the son of Humba who we saw on our first trek.


This was to be our hardest trek in Virunga.  First was a very long walk in over the fields and through an entry point into the forest much further away than our other two treks.  Once across the fence line Julian pointed upwards and smiled. “Very steep mountain” he said. He was right, it was very steep, no worse than we would do on a tough fell walk in the Lake District but made tricky because of all the wet mud from the overnight rain.

We made it up the hill and through the forest and after about 2 and a half hours walking in total we found the group.


I think I may have forgot to mention that as in Rwanda you can hire porters here to carry your rucksack. It costs $10 per porter. Also, visitor group sizes differ here.  For a gorilla group with over 10 members the maximum size is 6 people. For groups of 10 and under the maximum is 4 people. So as in KBNP there is the chance of very good gorilla viewings in small numbers for only $400 per permit.


Mt Mikeno at sunrise from camp



Volcanoes Karisimbi, Visoke and Mikeno



Julian always had a smile on his face



Julian pointing out one of the gorillas' favourite plants



They are in there somewhere!



Found the dominant silverback, Nyakamwe



Enjoying a bamboo breakfast









One of the babies popped up from near his feet







The other silverback can be seen below him 



Off to join some of the others



Spot one of the trackers sitting nearby to the far right of the picture









Example of the surrounding vegetation



The group is scattered around the clearing













This is the blackback pulling down some branches.  He then went on to make a day bed and laid down while covering himself with leaves and branches.





The two babies having a tussle















Another superb hours viewing.  All the group members were there and Julian took us round to every one of them making sure we saw them all.


Starting back down the steep slope. Hard to see in this picture but the ground falls right away from me here.



Back at the entry point into the forest.






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Some films from our final trek.





After a last goodbye to Julian and his team we got back into camp at around 12.15pm.

We picked up our bags and Martin was ready and waiting to drive us to Mikeno Lodge for lunch.


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