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Sangeeta

What a feast literally for all the senses, @Zim Girl - thank you so so much for taking the time to do this! I know I’ll def be following in your footsteps on this one :)

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Zim Girl
8 hours ago, Sangeeta said:

What a feast literally for all the senses, @Zim Girl - thank you so so much for taking the time to do this! I know I’ll def be following in your footsteps on this one :)

 

Thank you, @Sangeeta

It really was an adventure in every sense of the word, we loved every minute of it.

 

More to come at Mikeno Lodge.

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Zim Girl

I forgot to add this picture.  While at Bukima camp one afternoon Martin came running round to get us.  He had found this insect on a nearby tree, but I can't remember what he called it.  He seemed very excited at finding it.  Apparently they are solitary and it was making a lot of noise.

 

Anyone know??

 

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Uncropped picture for scale.

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Sangeeta

A cicada of some type? A giant cicada ?

 

And a logistics question for you - in retrospect, do you think it makes sense to take the ferry both ways to reduce time at  those annoying police stops? Was there a reason to do it by car one way?

 

thanks @Zim Girl

Edited by Sangeeta

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michael-ibk

What a splendid adventure, Angie, you really had high quality - and private - Gorilla experiences. I've discussed Congo a bit with our guide on our last trip, and he also thought it's the place to go these days for Gorillas. Your excellent report confirms that big time, we will definitely follow in your footsteps when the Gorilla craving gets too strong. (P.S. Sorry, ran out of my likes today.)

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Zim Girl
On 25/10/2017 at 6:46 PM, Sangeeta said:

A cicada of some type? A giant cicada ?

 

And a logistics question for you - in retrospect, do you think it makes sense to take the ferry both ways to reduce time at  those annoying police stops? Was there a reason to do it by car one way?

 

thanks @Zim Girl

Hi @Sangeeta

 

Taking the ferry will not make any difference to the random police checks.  They can happen at any time during the drives through Bukavu and Goma to get to the national parks.

We only took the ferry one way because we entered DRC at Bukavu in South Kivu from Rwanda which is the best place to access Kahuzi-Biega NP.  We then took the ferry to get to Goma for Virunga NP.  If we hadn't taken the ferry we would have to have exited DRC back into Rwanda at Cyangugu and taken the long drive up the lake road on the Rwandan side to get to Goma.  Then we would have had another visa cost to get back into DRC.

We only needed to go one way because we were leaving DRC at the other border crossing between Goma and Gisenyi in Rwanda.

 

 

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Zim Girl
On 28/10/2017 at 6:33 PM, michael-ibk said:

What a splendid adventure, Angie, you really had high quality - and private - Gorilla experiences. I've discussed Congo a bit with our guide on our last trip, and he also thought it's the place to go these days for Gorillas. Your excellent report confirms that big time, we will definitely follow in your footsteps when the Gorilla craving gets too strong. (P.S. Sorry, ran out of my likes today.)

 

Thanks @michael-ibk

 

Yes we did, because of the exclusivity they rated much higher than any of the treks we did previously in Rwanda and Uganda.  Also the guides are obviously very passionate about the gorillas. It really shows and they are so keen for you to have a good experience. I would absolutely recommend going to both parks and seeing both species of gorilla.

 

Hope you had a great trip to Kafue and Mana - can't wait to hear all about it.

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Zim Girl

The drive to Mikeno Lodge took about an hour.

It is situated amongst an area of forest within the Virunga Park headquarters at Rumangabo.

We were met with welcome drinks by the manager Patient who also gave us an introductory talk about the lodge. 

The setting of the main communal areas is quite idyllic and there is a big undercover area for dining and a large fire pit to sit around in the evening.

It was now about 2pm so we had lunch and then went to find our room.

We were in room 2 which was hidden among the trees.  It was huge.  A big stone rondavel with an open plan room with seating and a fireplace and a large separate bathroom. It also had a lovely wooden veranda across the front of the building.

 

We quickly unpacked and then went back up to the main area for a drink and to make the most of the sun which was making a rare afternoon appearance.

 

Outdoor seating at the main lodge

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Our room

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After a very relaxing afternoon enjoying the sun and watching the black and white Colobus and Blue monkeys in the trees we went back to our room to get ready for dinner.

We then sat around the fire with some very cold beers.  Anyone who likes a 'lager style' beer will love Primus.  It is the beer of choice in this part of DRC and is definitely the best beer I have tasted in Africa.

 

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Blue monkey

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Zim Girl

Tuesday 19th September

 

We had arranged to meet Martin after breakfast this morning to go and visit the Senkwekwe gorilla sanctuary that is based at Rumangabo. This care facility was built early 2010 and named after the dominant silverback of the Rugendo group who died in one of the terrible gorilla killings in 2007 along with 3 other members of his group.

Two of the female babies who survived from the Rugendo killings were the first to be looked after at the centre. They are still here and are joined now by a young male and most recently a 3 year old female called Mazuka.  She was found in a snare and had to have her foot amputated.  She is currently in a separate enclosure with a young bushbuck for company and her care giver who spends all day in there with her. When she gets a bit older she will join the others in the main enclosure.

Another of the centre’s care givers accompanied Martin and us to one of the viewing platforms overlooking the sanctuary and explained about their work while we watched Mazuka playing down below. There are plans to extend the outside areas for the gorillas further into the surrounding forest and they want to allow visits by local school children to learn about the gorillas and the Park’s conservation efforts.

Then we went into the sanctuary’s main building where we met Andre, the chief ranger.  We had to wear masks and walk through disinfectant trays before going in.  We saw the orphan’s sleeping quarters and play areas and the 2 females came in to have a look at us.

It was a very interesting and worthwhile visit.

 

The main outside enclosure at the Senkwekwe centre

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The smaller enclosure holding new arrival Mazuka. She sleeps in the building in the corner overnight.

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Mazuka and her care giver

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A touching bond between two young orphans

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Being checked out by the two female orphans in the main building

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Martin watching the male orphan or is it the other way around?

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Next we walked down to the gorilla cemetery. This has the graves of all the gorillas who were killed in 2007 and since then, any gorilla that dies is also buried here. It was a very peaceful spot and we stood for a while reading the names marked on each grave.  An army ranger joined us while we there and explained how each of the gorillas had died.

 

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Maisha was one of the early female orphans looked after at Senkwekwe.  She was 16 years old and the 'mother' of the pack.

Sadly she died only a couple of months ago after a long illness.

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The new headquarters.  The helicopter is used for pleasure flights to the top of Mt Nyiragongo amongst other things.

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He then offered to take us round the old headquarters building.  There isn’t much left inside but he wanted to show us some old maps of the national park and told us about the sectors that make it up.

We thanked him for his time and planned what we were going to do next with Martin.  We wanted to see the Congohounds and Martin had spoken to the ranger in charge of them yesterday who said he would ring him today when they come back from training exercises.  He was expecting that to be around 3pm, so in the meantime we would go for lunch and a walk round on our own.

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Zim Girl

Martin came to find us after lunch.  The Congohounds were back and we could go to see them.  We walked down to their compound which is not far from the lodge.

The handlers were waiting to meet us.  I didn’t make a note but I think they said there were 10 bloodhounds, they also have 2 springer spaniels.

 

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They were going to put on a little demo for us.  The chief handler went into the enclosure and picked one of the dogs, a female called Sabina. 

 

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The others are alert now, waiting to see if they were going out as well

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Harnessing up Sabina.  Unfortunately it started to rain quite hard now so could only take pics on the phone.

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He harnessed her up then asked us if we would “like to touch?”  Needing no further encouragement we knelt down and stroked and cuddled her, not that she took any notice of us as she was ready to go to work.  He took the plastic seal off the top of a water bottle and asked his colleague to rub it in his hands, this was put in a plastic bag.  He then ran off to go and hide somewhere. When he called in to say he was ready the handler put the plastic bag over the dogs muzzle for a couple of seconds and gave her the command to find.

She was off.  The handler had her on a long line and we all followed.  She seemed to pick up the scent trail immediately, criss-crossing the lane ahead. A couple of times she stopped and smelt the air then off she went again.  After a few hundred yards she veered off the lane and into the forest.  We had to be quick to keep up in here as she was moving fast and obviously knew she was close.  Then she stopped and started jumping at a tree, we looked up and there was the other handler hanging on and grinning.  He had a tube of treat paste ready for her as a reward.

 

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On the walk back to the compound the handler explained how that was quite a difficult search for the dog as his colleague’s scent would be all over this area as he works here and the reason she stopped a few times during the chase was because she was trying to detect his most recent scent to follow. 

The dogs are used for tracking poachers within the national park, which they are having a good deal of success with.  However, their main issue at the moment is that the Congohounds rangers only have jurisdiction in the Park.  If a poacher makes his way into one of the villages the rangers cannot follow without waiting for the police to accompany them, by which time the poacher will have disappeared.  So at present the Park management is trying to come to some arrangement with the police to allow them access into the villages and the power to arrest poachers.

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Zim Girl

Wednesday 20th September

 

So we were now coming to the end of our Congo adventure.

We left Mikeno Lodge at 7.45am for the drive to Goma, where we would be crossing at the new one stop border into Gisenyi, Rwanda.

We reached Goma at 9.30am.  Martin needed to sort out some paperwork at the Virunga NP office so he asked if we wanted to have a wander around while he was in there. We said that was fine and we agreed to meet him back at the vehicle in half an hour.

We walked down the main street to a big roundabout and managed to dodge the traffic well enough to cross around it and back down the other side. The street was very busy with people but nobody took any notice of us.  We spotted a statue at the bottom of the road and headed towards it.  

This is a monument erected by Joseph Kabila in 2009 to represent the ‘Chukudu’.

 

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The Chukudu is a wooden scooter that is seen everywhere in this part of Eastern Congo. It is used to transport produce and can be seen piled high with potatoes and bananas etc in the villages and along the roads.

 

We took a couple of quick pictures and then made our way back to meet Martin.

 

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Signs like this were up all over Goma to relay warnings about possible eruptions of Mt Nyiragongo

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We drove to the border crossing which was in complete contrast to the rustic, ramshackle huts at Cyangugu. We had our passports exit stamped and then we walked over to the large, very modern building that is the Rwandan border point.  We had our bags searched by dogs and also by hand before being allowed to enter. Inside the queues were not too long and it perhaps took about half an hour to purchase the entry visas and go through.

 

On the other side, driving from the border point and into Gisenyi was like entering a different world.  The difference between the black, dusty lava strewn streets of Goma with it’s huts and never-ending rolls of razor wire and the green, clean, paved streets and quite impressive houses of Gisenyi with front lawns and drives was hard to believe.

In fact, Martin pulled into a car wash to get his vehicle cleaned. He said he would be stopped by the police for driving such a dirty car!

 

We were now on the long drive back to Kigali.  On the way Martin took a call from the owner of the ground agent he worked for.  He was in the area guiding clients and wondered if he could meet us for a chat.  We agreed and we stopped off at a café in Musanze (formerly Ruhengeri).  We had a packed lunch from Mikeno Lodge and ate it there while chatting to Marcel, the owner.  He just wanted to know if we had had a good trip and was there anything they could have done to improve it.  We told him we were very happy with how things had gone and how well Martin had looked after us.

 

We arrived in Kigali at around 2.45pm with just enough time to visit the Genocide Memorial. We hadn’t had time to come here when we were last in Rwanda so were very keen to see it now. 

I know many people have visited it so I don’t need to say too much other than it is a very well presented and thought provoking place to be.  We stayed until closing time then met Martin for the last drive to the airport.

 

 

So with lots of hugs and goodbyes we walked into the terminal and there ends our wonderful adventure to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Botswanadreams

@Zim Girl Thank you so much for cheering your DRC adventure with us. I have to reread it again for getting more details. This part of Africa is for many years in my head but would like to combine it with Rwanda and Burundi. I hope that one day Burundi will be save again and a visit will be possible.   

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michael-ibk

Thanks again Angie for showing us Congo. I´m sure many of us had (or still have) some doubts if it´s really a good idea going there because of safety issues, but you have shown very clearly it is an excellent idea. I´m very happy your trip was such a success for the both of you.

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optig

Thank you so much for this fabulous trip report. I can't wait to visit there myself. The gorilla trek looks far better than in Rwanda,as well as far cheaper.

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Alexander33

Thanks for a fascinating report. I'd love to see the Grauer's Gorillas to balance out our experience with the Mountains Gorillas in Rwanda, plus there are those active volcanoes that would be very cool to see. So, you've got me thinking, "If they could do it, maybe we could, too......".  :)  Thanks again. 

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jeremie

Amazing journey @Zim Girl!

 

I am really impressed by this report, Steppes Travel developed a wonderful gorilla tour.

The Grauer's gorilla are very different compared to the Mountain gorillas. Western lowland gorillas are also more brownish.

 

Thanks a lot for sharing your pics here. Hope this will help people to travel more and more to Virunga and more especially Kahuzi Biega.

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Zim Girl

Thank you @jeremie, @michael-ibk, @Botswanadreams, @optig, @Alexander33

 

I really do hope that this has inspired people to go to DRC.  Obviously it has many issues including security, however on the ground Virunga National Parks management takes the safety of it's visitors very seriously hence the armed escorts, as do the ICCN rangers in Kahuzi-Biega.

Also we used an experienced tour operator in Steppes Travel.  They regularly arrange trips to countries like DRC and only use trusted ground operators. We can certainly vouch for them and how well we were looked after while we were there, Martin was an absolute star.

 

I encourage anyone thinking of going to also make the effort to combine both Parks.  It was extremely interesting to be able to compare both species of gorilla and we fell a little bit in love with the people at Kahuzi-Biega NP as well as dusty, chaos filled Bukavu.

 

Thanks everybody for reading along and for all your comments and likes.

 

 

 

 

 

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offshorebirder
6 hours ago, Zim Girl said:

I really do hope that this has inspired people to go to DRC.

 

It certainly has!

 

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TonyQ

Thank you for an excellent report with beautiful photos. It sounds like a superb trip - and you obviously have people interested in this little visited country 

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Sangeeta

Thanks @Zim Girl - sounds like a wonderful trip, any which way you look at it! Thank you for sharing in such good detail!

Edited by Sangeeta

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xelas

Late finish to your extraordinary adventure ... very much different to hiking in Julian Alps! Fantastic trip report about a country less travelled. Thank you for taking me there, @Zim Girl.

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lmSA84

@Zim Girl - thank you for sharing this wonderful inspiring story. It's heartening to hear that despite it's challenges there are still soo many great things happening in this part of the DRC. I would love to one day visit, trying to combine it with a visit to Nyiragongo. 

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Kr888

Just wondering who was the local ground agent in DRC and/or Rwanda who supported the trip. Sounds like they were extremely efficient!

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Atravelynn

First of all, sorry about your buddy Ben.  I'm sure he had a great life.  The Congo dogs were fascinating working so hard for treat paste.

 

All of your gorilla visits were outstanding and afforded you so many great closeup shots.  Interesting about the masks and some of the gorillas being unaccustomed to them. They are so smart and notice those things.  Not so at the Senkwekwe Sanctuary where you had to also be disinfected!

 

The different orphan species shot is very touching.

 

CONGO! is an adventure.  Good for you that you took it.

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Zim Girl
8 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

CONGO! is an adventure.  Good for you that you took it.

 

Thank you @Atravelynn, It certainly was and we are extremely pleased we took the amazing opportunity to go there.

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