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Gorillas in the .......snow?


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Okay, so it wasn’t exactly snow but as close as you get. Massive rain storm then enough sleet that about a cm collected on the ground. But more on that adventure in a bit.

I am way behind on trip reports so I thought I would start with Rwanda since it will be short. This was the long awaited trip to Rwanda in hopes of seeing gorillas before all of my joints rise up in protest. It was originally planned for December 2021 but postponed to the following year. We were allowed to move the permit fee provided we scheduled the trek within the following year.  I went with another couple, a colleague (J) and her husband (D) who have never been anywhere in Africa. Our plan was leave on Christmas Eve, spend the night in Kigali, visit Kigali the next morning then onward to Volcanoes National Park for the gorilla trek the following day. Then golden monkeys the day after that. Have an afternoon free then travel back to Kigali and take a Coastal Aviation flight to the Serengeti. That did not work out. The dreaded airline text at 11 pm on December 23 saying our puddle jumper flight  with American airlines to Chicago was cancelled. This meant we were not going to make our Delta flight to Amsterdam and on to Kigali. I spent many hours on the phone with an incredibly nice Delta Airlines rep who tried just about everything. All options out of all cities close to us (and even some not close to us) with Delta sold out for the next 2 days. We came very close with some business class tickets (we were willing to pay anything at this point) out of a small town 60 miles away from us connecting through Atlanta, but there were only 2 seats available. We finally arranged to fly out of Kansas City on Christmas Day on Ethiopian Air, and fortunately it arrived early enough on the 26th that we could skip the stay in Kigali and arrive that afternoon at Volcanoes National Park for our trek the next day.  A covid test at the airport in Kigali was still required. We made it through that and met our driver from Umubano Tours and drove directly to our hotel near the park. Checked into the Ingagi Park View lodge and had a significant amount of Oh My God we made it wine.

Up early for transport to the meeting area for trekking with Herbert Gato from Umubano Tours. This was the company @BonitaApplebum, @michael-ibkand @SafariChick and maybe others have used and I can highly recommend them. I will use them again on a return trip for a 8 days in Rwanda this May.

So. Gorilla trek. I have to say the organization level at the meeting place where guides and groups are assigned is amazing. Extremely well done. Given that I was only 6 months out from the second knee replacement and not in the greatest of shape yet, we opted for the hopefully shorter hike.  My companions are almost 30 years younger and both could have easily done a strenuous hike. Herbert looked out for us and got us with a guide he knew well who’s name escapes me now unfortunately. Edward maybe? We were going to see the Susa family. The guide got in our car with us and the other 5 people were with another guide who was following us. At one point, for a reason unbeknownst to us, they passed our car. When we arrived at the starting point they were nowhere to be found and had gotten lost. Then once Edward got in touch with them and redirected the guide they got stuck. Ultimately we were delayed nearly an hour. Herbert was annoyed. Once they arrived Edward made a point of telling the other guide that everything was behind because he thought it was a good idea to strike out on his own and he owed everyone an apology. I felt kind of sorry for him. Sort of.  So off we go. We hired 3 porters. My friends certainly didn’t need them but believed that it was important to provide the porters a job. None of the other 5 hired one and there were more than a few disappointed porters. I know it has been mentioned here before, but these porters are not paid by the park. What clients pay them is their income.


Our starting point


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what a stressful start!  @kilopascalhope your knee replacements are holding out (mine are about 30 years old and still touch wood doing fine) in 2005 the guides took one look at me and alloted us to the easist group!

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Phew, not exactly ready sailing for your start. But surely the Gorillas made up for that. Looking forward to seeing more. Glad to hear Umubano are still in business. 

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4 hours ago, Towlersonsafari said:

in 2005 the guides took one look at me and alloted us to the easist group

:D Herbert did the same with me, politely suggesting a shorter walk might be good.

3 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Glad to hear Umubano are still in business

Yes. I'm sure that the years of tourist restriction were very difficult and I'm happy they survived. I like being able to support a completely local company.

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I had expected to be placed in front as the slowest, but to my amazement after about 20 minutes we were lined up with me not in front, but a gentleman who was struggling a bit. Yay for me! It was modestly steep for the first 30 minutes and of course the altitude has an effect as well. It started to rain after about 20 minutes. Then rain harder. Then pour with rain. At one point everyone is lined up under some trees to get a bit of protection and we look down and the river of water coming down the hill is at the top of our boots and eventually we need to straddle each side of this to prevent water flowing into our boots. At this point people just start laughing because what else can you do. It slows a bit and we proceed but the rain now turns to sleet. And it is more than a little cold! We have all donned our rain gear. ‘D’ just had a shorter rain coat and his porter actually took off his rain pants and gave them to him. Big gratuity was coming that guys way. After about 90 minutes we are told there were 2 gorillas so to put our things down and we will proceed. We spend about 10 minutes there with some gorillas looking cold and miserable and not doing much.  Edward then stopped the clock, saying we would go find the remainder and restart the clock.


This only took about 10-15 minutes and fortunately the rain/sleet had almost stopped. It was still cold and there were a lot of sad looking gorillas.  One mother just trying her best to protect a very young infant from the weather.

After another 20 minutes the sun was out and it was getting warmer and there was a bit more activity with a couple of juveniles starting to get busy. As did one member in our group. Edward had his hands full with one gentleman who liked to wander energetically about on his own. Edward was polite but ultimately had to get firm about not doing this.





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The silver back presented himself but was quite amusing in his reluctance to have his photo taken. Simply shifting his position to always present his back. Almost like it was a game for him. Perhaps he considered that his best side. My favorite was a juvenile who was the character of the group and ultimately fell asleep with a stick of bamboo in his mouth in the middle of everyone.









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Soon the hour was up but not before a final video of a much warmer and relaxed mom.


We walked back to where we had left our belongings and it was here we said good bye to the trackers. I realize it has been mentioned on ST before, but I hadn’t remembered that they spend the entire day with the gorilla group until they nest for the night. This way they have an idea of where to find them the next day. ‘J’ asked Edward if it was appropriate to tip them and he said “absolutely”. Fortunately we had brought extra Rwandan Francs on the hike, “just in case”. Who knows where you might need extra dosh. So we proceeded to each tip them and this prompted one other couple to do the same. So, if you go, maybe keep this in mind. They are the reason that you are able to find the family in a reasonable amount of time.

It had stopped raining and the sun had come out. Warming up rather nicely. Unfortunately this didn’t help the trip down which was like skiing on mud. Interspersed with periods of being trapped in a bog of it. It is to the credit of my porter and a second porter that ‘D’ didn’t need that I got down unscathed. There was at least one persistently complaining member of the group who, I suspect, regretted not hiring one. Shortly before we met back up with Herbert, there was a small stream and the porters helped us wash off the masses of mud from our shoes and gators. From here it was a short stroll back to the car where Herbert had been waiting. Edward joked that Herbert knows to stay close by and sometimes gets to see a gorilla for free.

Here is where we bid the porters farewell and paid them the $10 fee along with a generous tip and ‘D’ gave back his pants. I didn’t note the ending time but the walk up was about two hours. The ski trip back a little less but miserable to be honest.

We dropped Edward off then made a stop at the area where they have the naming ceremonies for new gorillas.


We arrived back at Ingagi Park View Lodge to a warm welcome that included a foot massage, a shower, and a late lunch. I then retired to my room and quickly passed out. ‘D’ and ‘J’ visited the gift shop and spent time up in the lounge talking to the barman, Savieur (no idea how to spell it), who was wonderful company and took very good care of us during the stay. Ingagi Park View lodge is a mid-budget lovely choice with excellent food and service. Including returning boots immaculately clean and lighting a fire in your room each night. When I first tried contacting Umubano tours it was right after Rwanda starting letting tourists back in but Umubano’s website was down. A google search brought Herbert’s name up as the founder and site manager at the lodge and I was able to get in touch with him.


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Miss Biscuit

That's so special and precious of the mama with baby and a great close-up portrait of the silverback! So worth the effort! 

I did a gorilla trek in Mgahinga in Uganda last year and it was wonderful. 

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The next day was the golden monkey tour. To be honest, I was not that excited about this but it turned out to be incredibly fun. It was a fairly easy hike of about  90 minutes 1 way along pretty flat terrain. The head guide was excellent, talking about many of the plants that we passed and had the added plus of a great sense of humor. We had lots of kids trailing along with us wanting to say "Hello, how are you" which was also fun. There were about 20 people, maybe a little more in this tour but the guides did an excellent job splitting up the group once we reached the monkeys and helping us move to spots where we could get the best view. The weather was perfect and the monkeys were very active.




There were several very young infants and some wildly active teenagers. According to the guide, it is when they start leaving mom and are learning to jump from branch to branch that they are at high risk of being picked off by eagles. I was praying this didn't happen while I was there. The video of one is quite short because I couldn't keep up!



The return trip was through a beautiful bamboo forest with monkeys searching the ground for young bamboo shoots.


We finished around noon and went back to the hotel for lunch. Then a short walk down to the Ellen Degeneres center. Interesting but not a must see, for me anyway, and even though the walk down was quite short, we drew a never ending number of followers wanting us to exchange email or What’s Ap numbers which we politely declined. They were persistent and friendly in their tag along but not aggressive and did save us on one occasion from getting smacked by a speeding car coming around a corner.

The next morning was a beautiful drive back to Kigali. Herbert drove us back and is a wealth of information about the country, including the genocide and what has gone on since. Not in any political or taking sides kind of way, although he has his own very dramatic experience during this with he and his brother walking to Uganda to take refuge when he was only 12.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from Rwanda. I had read all the reports on ST and viewed the photos but was stunned by how beautiful it is. Thus the return this year, mid-May.  First to Akagera and then back to Volcanoes for take 2. We had originally included Nyungwe but we will only be there 8 days and it was just too much moving about. So a night in Kigali, 3 nights in Akagera, and 3 nights back at Ingagi Park View lodge.

Well that’s it. What to move to next? Apparently Feb 27 is National Polar Bear Day so maybe Svalbard.

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Thank you for informing me that TODAY is National Polar Bear Day.  I was getting very stressed out just reading the start of your report. Those short hops are notorious for getting cancelled.  I think sometimes if there are not enough people to make it profitable, the flight is cancelled.  Sometimes it's stated as mechanical problems, but I'm not sure I buy that for every time.


But you made it and your gorilla shots show it all turned out well.  Seeing those wet gorillas, I feel a bit sorry for them, but I guess they endure those conditions now and then.  Glad you found the golden monkeys to be enjoyable.  I had to google the Ellen Degeneres Center.  News to me.


You'll be back soon.  How wonderful!


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