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If you count the 2½ hours of tracking down lost luggage through two separate terminals at Heathrow (compliments of Kenya Airways) then it’s 13 treks. My luggage trek was far less enjoyable and much less successful than any of the primate treks. The bag did show up at my home four days later, dirty laundry intact.



The delayed bag was the only real glitch in a stellar trip.


Itinerary in brief:

Akagera, Akagera Lodge-2 nts

Game drives and 1 boat ride


Kigali, Laico Umubano (formerly Novotel)-1 nt

It is not necessary to overnight in Kigali when going from Akagera to Nyngwe but I did to

(1) allow for a leisurely final morning drive in Akagera that was not followed by 7 hours of driving to Nyungwe.

(2) allow for time in Butare at the museum and other sites enroute to Nyungwe the following day.

(3) permit others to join easily up with me in Kigali after Akagera if anybody wanted to participate in the remainder of my trip. No one ended up joining. But you can't say I didn't ask!




Nyungwe, ORTPN Guesthouse-4 nts

3 colobus monkey visits, 2 chimp visits, 1 forest walk for primates/waterfall


Volcanoes National Park, Kinigi Guesthouse-5 nts

4 gorilla visits, 1 golden monkey visit


Kigali, Laico Umubano (formerly Novotel)-1 nt

Flight to Entebbe, Windsor Lake Victoria Hotel-1 nt


Murchison Falls, Paraa lodge-3 nts

Ziwa white rhino sanctuary enroute to Murchison Falls, Game drives, 2 boat rides, 1 walk to the top of the falls, 1 Padabi Forest chimp visit


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Getting to Kigali, Rwanda:

Not a lot of options. One flight even stopped in Kigali enroute to Nairobi, but getting off in Kigali cost a lot more than flying on to Nairobi.


So I flew to Chicago-London-Nairobi on British Air, which allowed a delightful morning visit to Nairobi National Park with plenty of time to make my 12:30 pm Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to Kigali.


The link to the Nairobi National Park excursion, which also has no photos at this time, is:



Even though I was in Kenya over 24 hours, collected my luggage, went through customs, left the airport, checked into the Panari Hotel, and spent 3 hours in Nairobi National Park, I still needed only a $10 transit visa.


If you want to retrieve your checked bags in Nairobi so you have them overnight at the hotel, you must specifically request to the airline agent at your initial check-in to tag them to NBO. Otherwise, they’ll automatically tag the bags to the final destination, meaning they’ll be sitting around at the airport in Kigali for a day before you get there.


The lunch served on the 90-minute Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to Kigali meant I could head out of the airport to Akagera without further delay, which was good because it took one hour for the bags to begin to be offloaded from the plane.

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Accolades to my entourage of agents and guides:

In 2004 I went to Rwanda with Primate Tours, booked through The Africa Adventure Company and had Theogene as my guide. I had wanted to use him again for this trip, but to my disappointment, it did not work out.


During the planning stages of this trip when I was in contact with both Volcanoes Safaris and The Africa Adventure Co, they decided to team up with me being the guinea pig (or in this case, bush pig) client for their joint venture—a successful one indeed.


Even though he was not going to be my guide, Theo asked for my itinerary and emailed that he would meet me at the airport in Kigali. He wanted to be there just in case I had a problem when I arrived so that he could offer assistance. How impressive is that?! Later in the trip I would have the pleasure of his company again.



Between his offer to come to the airport and my arrival, I informed him my guide would somebody named Kirenga from Volcanoes. Theo told me that any concerns he had disappeared when he saw that name. They are good friends and founding members and President and Vice President of the Rwanda Safari Guides Association.


So Theo and Kirenga were there to meet me when I arrived for a reunion/introduction/get together or maybe an executive board meeting of the Rwanda Safari Guides Association before I got there.


The $1,000 permit is apparently just a rumor:

And one I have been guilty of perpetuating. The PNV guides did not know where such a rumor originated but stated there is no truth to it. I’ll stop mentioning it.



No sightings of the elusive Type J adapter plug in Rwanda:

It is also known as the “Swiss adapter plug” or the “grounded European adapter plug used in more modern construction.” The adapter/electrical outlet websites all state the 3-pronged Type J adapter plug along with the 2-pronged Type C adapter plug (aka European plug) are found throughout Rwanda. I was fine with just the 2-pronged Type C adapter for Rwanda and never saw an outlet requiring the 3-pronged J plug, nor did Kirenga know anything about that type of plug. An entirely different type of adapter is needed in Uganda and Kenya.

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Health and Beauty Issues:


-Insects, Mosquitoes, Malaria Pills

I saw lots of lovely butterflies and even took some pictures; one pair of mating bugs in Padabi Forest that I don’t know the name of; a total of about 25 tse tses in Akagera and Murchsion Falls combined, from which I suffered 2 bites; maybe 8 mosquitoes, half of them squashed by me on the walls of my PNV guesthouse; and some large “night wasps,” one of which I was unable to manage because it was the size of a hummingbird and chased me around the room until I solicited the help of a security guard to remove it. It flies no more. I was able to regain my dignity and catch and release two other smaller “night wasps” without assistance on subsequent nights. Those may still be flying.


I dutifully took my Malarone pills because they were prescribed for my well being, but don’t really think I needed them with only 8 mosquitoes, 4 of them squashed before they could do harm.


Every safari accommodation had netting over the beds at night and I used it despite little evidence of mosquitoes.


As for mosquitoes in the wet season in Volcanoes National Park, Kirenga said they were not a problem because the soil composition is not conducive to standing water where mosquitoes breed. The altitude is a deterrent as well.


-Feet first


With all the strenuous hiking I knew I’d be undertaking, orthotics were just one aspect of my comprehensive foot care. Even though boots may be well broken in over decades, the stress and friction on your feet caused by traversing the steep, vine-covered hills of Rwanda and Uganda may irritate parts of your feet that normally feel fine. I’ve learned that from past hikes.


So I brought a variety of insoles, hiking socks, wicking socks, liner socks, mole skin with mini scissors to cut it, (toe)nail clippers, Dr. Sholes callous and corn pads, and anti-fungal/anti-athlete’s foot spray. I took two pairs of boots in case something happened to one pair and to have the luxury of switching between pairs from day to day. In case of the dreaded turned ankle, I brought two kinds of supportive ankle wraps, which I fortunately brought home unused. If you are doing more than one or two hikes, I’d recommend overcompensating on foot care products to make the most of your investment in the $500 permits.


When I think back to my first gorilla visits in 1995 when the porters were barefoot, the above seems ridiculous.


-Staying well for the gorillas

I decided to gargle daily with salt water as an added prevention against a sore throat that might hinder my gorilla visits. I packed numerous little restaurant packets of salt. (I would not recommend dumping salt in a ziplock as it could be mistaken for something else.) I also packed more than the usual in the way of upper respiratory medications such as a chapstick-size Vick’s inhaler, saline nose drops, and decongestant, all because if you are blowing your nose and coughing you may be denied a visit to the gorillas. None of it was needed.


-Gorilla garb

The gorillas were all decked out in black, with silver accents for the elder males, and let me tell you--they looked marvelous! For the guests visiting the gorillas, I saw everything including blue jeans and bright colors, but no shorts. Some people wore rain gear when it was not raining, just in case. I put mine in my backpack, which was carried by a porter.


About 25% of the people had “Gators” or some kind of ankle guards. The prize went to a group of six who had tucked their pants into their socks and used orange duct tape to tape the top of their socks and parts of their shoes where dirt could enter. Everybody was taking pictures of their feet.


I asked Kirenga about the ankle guards, especially in the wet season. He remarked that they are useful to keep out dirt and mud but that tucking in socks is sufficient for deterring insects.


The stinging nettles are not that big of a deal. I wore quick drying, light fabrics to stay cool and got about 6 pokes through the material in 4 visits, none of which were that uncomfortable or distracting. In the many gorilla visits I have made in the past in both Uganda and Rwanda, I’ve found the nettles are not a worry if you don’t grab at the vegetation. And if you do get stung, it lasts about 30 minutes and is nothing like the pain of a bee or wasp sting. There even were times at a sighting where I made the conscious decision to kneel on a patch of stinging nettles in order to see better. Sometimes I paid the price, sometimes not.


I only used gloves after the gorillas had been located. That’s when you dropped your walking stick, put your camera (in my case two of them) around your neck and walked about 5-10 minutes to get to them. The lack of walking stick, the march to the gorillas through thick bushes and vines without a trail, and the awkwardness of the swinging camera(s), made using my hands for balance more necessary. The gloves prevented me from accidentally grabbing any stinging nettles.


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Kigali Airport to Akagera Lodge = 2.5 hours. The park ranger station is a couple of minutes away from the lodge.


This huge park is only 1/3 its original size. When the refugees returned after the genocide in 1994, 2/3 of the park was used for their resettlement. What remains has tremendous potential with plenty of water.


On our late afternoon arrival we saw baboons frolicking in the road and I was too exhausted from jetlag to search out anything else.


Morning drive—6:30-10:45:

We stopped by the ranger station to pick up our ranger to accompany us.


We immediately saw a crested snake eagle on a far tree. Kirenga told me when he was a little boy, whenever a crested eagle was spotted, the tradition was to ask of it, “Oh crested eagle, will I survive or not?” If the eagle flipped its crest forward in response to the question, the was yes. If the crest flipped back, the answer was no.


“What if there is no movement of the crest?” I inquired.


“Then you must ask again.”


I thought how capricious and fickle that, according to this tradition, a matter as grave as life or death could be determined by the casual toss of a head. Then I contemplated the many Rwandan lives lost or spared based on equally arbitrary and unpredictable circumstances. The eagle flew off with its crest obscured.


Sightings: Zebra, Maasai Giraffe, Buffalo herd of over 100, impala (mother with twins was a highlight), vervets, bushbuck, hippos, duiker, baboons.


Lake Ihema in Akagera is the second biggest lake in Rwanda, next to Lake Kivu. One small fishing company is allowed to operate on the lake in the park. We stopped there to see a fisherman proudly displaying his catch for the camera. Marabou storks were very interested in any scraps remaining in his boat and the baboons expressed interest in the area as well.




We stopped at Lake Shakani, the one place in the park that allows sport fishing. The lake got its name because local people heard French speakers state that they came to the lake “every year” to fish. “Chaque année.” Shakani.


Because I had asked Kirenga if he could try to find a shoebill stork, we drove along roads lined by thick, riverine vegetation (and not much else) in search of this stork’s favorite haunts. The first location, well off the road, was empty of shoebill. As we bumped along off-road, heading to the second spot, we had not even stopped when Kirenga announced, “I see the shoebill.” I thought he was joking as I managed to locate only a squacco heron. But there it was across the water of Lake Birengero. Though visible to the naked eye, binocs were needed to fully appreciate it. I took some photos, and so did Kirenga with my camera, but they need to be enlarged to see it. Still, it was my first shoebill and I was thrilled.


When I checked out where we had gone on the map back at the lodge, I was sure we had ventured from the southern end of the park, where the lodge is located, to the northernmost reaches. The map proved otherwise. We had gone about 1/10th of the distance north. This is a big park at around 350 square miles.

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Afternoon drive to/from boat ride on Lake Ihema:

The round trip drive to our motorboat launch produced some interesting birdwatching, especially a couple of different jacanas and chicks.



We found a small croc with hippos nearby and some Defassa waterbuck that were definitely much darker in color than most, almost a subspecies.


But the 2-hour boat ride was the afternoon’s highlight. The motorboat captain, the ranger, and a ranger in training all joined me in donning a life jacket and off we sped.



Sightings included: nesting cormorants and African darters; a fish eagle drying its wings cormorant-style; other birds listed below; baboons and vervets; hippos; 3 water monitors; and a variety of crocs.


It was exciting to watch these massive Nile crocs shoot into the water from the shaded protecton of their island retreats. From our perspective in the boat, we were below the crocs looking up, and we had good views of their bellies and short but powerful legs. I recalled some scenes from Tarzan movies, but in those he ended up wrestling the crocs underwater, while we merely observed from the comfort of our motorboat.


Final 2.5 hour morning drive:

We picked up our ranger.


Sightings included: topi, giraffe, a very relaxed hammerkop couple; baboons, vervets; the only warthog I saw in the park; a herd of 10 reedbuck.


Other bird sightings, beyond those specifically mentioned:


woodland flycatcher

African harrier hawk

lizard buzzard (such a pretty bird for a rather unattractive name)

black headed gonolek (bush shrike)

longtoed plover

common bittern

swamp flycatcher

Marico sunbird

white faced whistling ducks in very attractive flocks

spur-winged geese

red necked spurfowl


Other birdwatcher sightings:

Ian Sinclair

He was investigating the differences between the ring necked francolin in Akagera and in Cameroon (I think), going so far as to take DNA samples. He spent some time chatting with my guide, Kirenga, who is very knowledgeable about birds and wants to make Rwanda a better known birdwatching destination. Kirenga offered Ian Sinclair some advice on finding prize birds such as the papyrus gonolek.


Akagera Lodge: (that is a baboon atop the roof)


Improvements were being made that included new guest rooms and a patio. My room was very nice and views were beautiful, though a bit hazy as is the case in the dry season. This is the only lodge inside the park so the location is ideal.


Items on the menu changed daily. The food was great with several vegetarian options. I should have ordered some African tea here because the chef was nicknamed African Tea on account of making such good African tea that President Kagame requested his African tea be made by African Tea whenever African Tea was overseeing food and beverages at political meetings. I found out too late about African Tea and his African tea to enjoy his president pleasing version of it.


How long should you stay?:

~~1 night. I ran into a couple of groups of people working or volunteering near Kigali and their plan was a one night getaway. Those who had already gone for a night were satisfied with getting to see the park.


~~2 nights. That’s what I did and found it to be a good amount of time since I was able to do 3 outings, one by boat, and two drives. If one of your drives focuses on trying to see a shoebill, then I think 2 nights is definitely needed. It is not possible to see the whole park in 2 nights, though.


~~3 nights. Serious birdwatchers would want additional time. Also if you were in search of elephants, taking a lunch box and heading out for an all day trip to the north would be a good plan.

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Thanks Lynn, I wish I'd had the resources and 'get up and go' to travel with you, but I'd didn't so couldn't.


I read the report you posted on F, but would assume that it is the same here so won't re-read it. Wonderful though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Hope the swine has left you and you are feeling better now! :lol:

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I'm swine free. Just flu. The safaritalk report has any typos corrected. We can do that over here.

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On the drive back to Kigali, we stopped at a small community where a variety of wading birds roost in the trees along the road. We got out of the car to observe the birds and the community members came out to observe us. It’s worth a stop here if you like roosting birds. gallery_108_208_30460.jpg

Back in Kigali, we went to an African Trade Fair with products from Rwanda and neighboring countries. I was hoping that something unusual like this might fit into my extra time in Kigali. This fair is a festive annual tradition for the country. The president arrived just before we did, which resulted in a long delay due to security.


There were thousands of Rwandans waiting to get into exhibition area and for a while Kirenga and I joined the massive crowds in the street, then later we retreated to the vehicle parked nearby. It was so impressive watching the behavior of those in the crowd. No pushing or shoving, nobody getting annoyed and angry with the wait, no misbehaving kids even after standing around for a couple of hours. The noise level was not even loud despite there being people as far as the eye could see.


Eventually, the doors opened again to the public and through Kirenga’s connections, we were able to drive through the midst of the crowd to enter the trade fair while the dignitaries from the president’s visit were still milling around in their tuxedos and evening gowns. I was wearing zip-offs from a second hand store and a T-shirt, carrying my backpack. Kirenga was not dressed up either. Others who came in after us were dressed casually, thank goodness.


There were endless rows of exhibits and items for sale from locally made clothing to jewelry to pottery to irrigation devices and electric buses to cheese. There were even charitable organizations such as the One Dollar Campaign that provides shelter for victims and orphans of the genocide. We spent about 90 minutes wandering the interesting exhibits and were walking past the carnival rides, beer, and dancing (none of which we participated in) when Kirenga saw his brother and stopped to visit. What a nice surprise.


I spent the night at Laico Umubano (formerly Novotel) and the next morning after an early breakfast I headed to their garden to check out the birds. A lovely pair of crowned cranes put on a little show, plus there were some pied crows, cordon bleus, and lots of sunbirds. I did my best to avoid interfering with the hard working gardener who was busy watering and hoeing. I also did my best to avoid getting too much mud on my shoes.


The Internet is free in their 24 hour business center.


The next morning we made a stop at the Milles Collines Hotel in Kigali because I wanted to see it and because that’s where the Volcanoes Safaris office is located. I got to meet the people behind the email correspondence and we had a very nice chat.




Kigali to the National Museum in Butare = 2.25 hours. This is a good attraction to visit early in the trip because the guides in Nyungwe and PNV made frequent reference to artifacts from the museum. It was nice to be able to remark, “Oh yes, I saw that,” or inquire further about the displays.


Docents are sometimes available but none were around for my museum visit so I toured on my own, which worked fine. English translations were always provided.


There was a big screen TV that showed musicians and a dance troop performing very impressive traditional dancing and drumming. I asked about seeing one of those performances live and learned they can be scheduled at the museum in advance for a cost, usually for a group of visitors. Later in my visit I’d be in luck and get to see a drumming and dancing performance similar to the one at the museum.


From the museum we went to lunch a couple of minutes away at the Ibis Hotel. The eggplant, cheese, and tomato dish was a standout.


Then it was about a half hour drive to a memorial that I’ll describe as staggering in its hideousness and brutality. The guide for the museum tragically suffered the loss of his wife and several children in the genocide. He accompanies guests to rooms containing remains exhumed from a mass grave. The Murambi Genocide Memorial in Nyamagabe District is an overwhelming assault to one’s senses and that is the intention. A visit typically lasts under an hour but makes a lasting impression.












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From Nyamagabe to Nyungwe ORTPN Guesthouse = 2.5 hours. The road to the guesthouse usually provides views of mountain monkeys and other primates, but during our entire trip we never saw any monkeys along the road.


The conditions and time for each trek can vary. In general temps were a low of mid 60s and high of low 80s (Fahrenheit) for my August visit. Except for the first and last trek, which were not too strenuous, I was drenched and my energy level ranged anywhere from tired to exhausted by the end. But always very happy with what I saw.


Morning Chimp Trek to Uwinka to see the Mayebe group:

This group is also referred to as the “close group” because it is close to the ranger station or the “big group” because it has about 65 members.



Depart ORTPN Guesthouse at 5:00 am and arrive at the ranger station at 5:45 am. After another 5 minutes of driving a young woman from the Netherlands and I headed out with our guide, Isaiah, for an easy 45 minute walk to the chimps. We were urged to move quickly to reach the chimps while they were still feeding in the trees and we obliged, so our heart rates were up and we were short of breath by the time we arrived.


Four chimps out of the 65-member troop were continually visible in the trees above us and we viewed them with our naked eye and binoculars and took pictures (yielding about 5 keeper shots) for an hour, as they ate contentedly.


We were wrapping up our successful viewing and the chimps started moving off when the dominant male of the group became angry and began flailing branches wildly. We were told he could tell time and he knew our hour was up (seriously). It was his way of letting us know he had had enough of our presence below.


The rate of success seeing this group is about 50% because the forest is so large, therefore we were quite lucky.


The 2-hour stroll back was leisurely in comparison to our early rush to the chimps and we stopped for birds (listed below) and interesting plants. One such plant was the Cercostacus Scandit. It was also known as elephant plant because elephants love to eat it. The problem was there had been no elephants for over a decade in the park so the species was out of control. We were told in 20 years it might consume Nyungwe Forest and from the looks of a few slopes covered with this aggressive vegetation and not much else, I believed the prediction. The solution was to bring back elephants and there was a plan to relocate some forest elephants from Cameroon in the next couple of years.


The other interesting thing about this light yellow blossoming plant was that it had not bloomed since 1994. The myth was that when it does bloom, there will be tragedy. Guide Isaiah emphasized his lack of belief in that myth.


We heard some accents over Isaiah’s radio that did not sound African. He told us it was the Indian Sikhs and Pakistani peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of Congo. How interesting.


Afternoon Colobus Monkey Trek to see the Gisakura Group:


This group of about 65 colobus is also referred to as the “group near the tea factory” because they live in a forest that has been surrounded by tea farming. If they wish to access the larger intact forests of Nyungwe they must traverse the tea fields. Fortunately the colobus do not eat tea leaves so there is no threat to them from the tea growers.


They are also called the “small group” because they have only around 65 members. (65 members is big for chimps, 65 members is small for colobus)


There are four species of black and white colobus monkeys. The Angolan Colobus are found in Nyungwe and are not the kind with the long, flowing black and white tails. Their thin tails were dark with white tips.


Guide Daniel and I departed the ORTPN Guesthouse and walked along the road, then through tea fields, and finally up and down difficult vine-covered hills in pursuit of the colobus. It took an hour and 15 minutes to catch up with the monkeys because they were on the move through the hills. At one point Daniel told me we were skiing and his description was accurate for the downhill portions.


We finally found a couple of monkeys and watched them hopping from obscured branch to branch. Then the trackers cleared some brush to reveal dozens sitting out in the open eating. (In all three colobus visits I was surprised at both the quantity and quality of on-the-ground sightings I had compared to in-the-trees sightings.)


There even were a couple of mothers with their white infants clasped to their chests. The babies do not turn black and white until they are over a month old. Their tiny size makes them susceptible to eagles swooping down from above, which is why they do not ride on their mother’s back like baboons. This troop had accepted one mona monkey, who joined in the activities and was allowed very near the babies.


Like chimp viewing, colobus viewing is limited to one hour. After 50 minutes the troop disappeared into the forest. We headed back but after about 15 minutes of walking, we encountered almost all 65 members for our remaining 10 minutes of outstanding viewing. How thoughtful of them to reconvene for me. The remaining walk back took 20 minutes.



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Morning Chimp Trek to see the Cyamudongo Group:

Depart ORTPN Guesthouse at 4:30 am and drive 1 hour and 15 minutes on really bumpy roads for the last half of the trip that produced one black backed jackal sighting. This chimp group is also known as the “far group” or the “small group” because it has 28 chimps. To avoid such a very early departure and to further enjoy the local surroundings, accommodations for chimp trackers are in the planning stages at Cyamudongo.


The odds of seeing this group are about 95% because this forest is much smaller.


I asked to have a porter and I got a walking stick. We hiked through extremely difficult terrain in the forest for 2 hours and 15 minutes, during which we had two glimpses of a few of the chimps on the ground and several views of mountain monkeys and mona monkeys in the trees, plus some birds, listed below. The chimps had immediately come out of the trees that morning and were on the move, making it a challenge to locate and follow them.



Eventually, the trackers determined that the chimps would be crossing the road to reach some favorite fruit trees on the other side. Watching them cross the road was going to be my best shot at chimp viewing that day.


The dirt road was undergoing an upgrade thanks to tourism dollars and many of the local residents were employed to work on the road with shovels and picks. The trackers feared that the chimps might be spooked by the construction activity and alter their route, so about 100 workers were asked to halt. They willingly obliged and then the waiting game began.


The residents all stood at the roadside, leaning against their shovels or picks, looking at me. I stood along the roadside looking at where the trackers thought the chimps would pass. And the trackers fanned out and gave hand signals to each other and my Guide Daniel to indicate when and where the crossing might take place and where I should direct my gaze.


I would have been very uncomfortable to be the sole source of the work stoppage if I had not been informed that the community viewed the chimps (and the foreigners like me who came to see them) in a positive light.


After about 15 minutes of waiting and not working on the road, one chimp scampered across, then he was followed by a few more, including a mother with an infant hugging her belly. They flew across the open road and I got to see seven chimps in the open, thanks to the persistence and expertise of my guide and trackers. Road construction resumed.


As we drove out, the residents working on the road smiled or waved and we returned the warm farewells.


Afternoon Waterfall Walk and Sightings of Unhabituated Gray Cheeked Mangabeys:

This escorted 4-hour round trip walk is not an easy stroll and I used a walking stick. Near the falls, there are two options. The more difficult one takes you right to the falls and the easier one provides more of an overview. The route, as well as the falls themselves, is very picturesque, especially the areas with walls of ferns. Enroute I saw and photographed two managbeys and a toad. When you pass by others returning from the waterfall, the joke is to ask, “Is it still there?”



Morning Colobus Trek to see the Uwinka Group:

This group is also called the “big group” with 400+ members or the “far group” because it is not near the guesthouse.


Depart ORTPN about 6:00 am to ranger station, then drive about 10 minutes. I had a porter and a walking stick and set off with Guide Robert on the most difficult trek yet. We were also hindered by a problem with radio transmissions so it was hard to find the trackers. Whistles and shouts were used instead of modern radio technology. That was kind of neat.


After 2 1/4 grueling hours and hard work by the trackers, we located the troop. Food was not plentiful so the 400 members had dispersed. I saw probably 100 members scattered about, with good views of their varied activities.



The setting was lush and verdant and the only sounds were those of the monkeys—until I heard an ear splitting crack. It sounded like a gun shot. But it was just too many monkeys crowding onto one tree until it buckled under their weight and came crashing down, monkeys leaping off left and right. It appeared all 20 or so monkeys jumped off uninjured. After an hour of great viewing, it took two hours of tough hiking to get back, during which we saw some mountain monkeys and gray cheeked mangabeys.


I had planned to track the habituated troop of gray cheeked mangabeys that afternoon, but the radio problem meant we did not know where they were. So Plan B was to return to the “small troop” of colobus not far from the guest house.


Afternoon Colobus Monkey Trek to see the Gisakura Group (again):

Four other guests and our colobus guide hopped into Kirenga’s vehicle with me for a ride over to the colobus. We had to walk another half hour in sometimes very difficult habitat to find them sitting on a hillside across from us. The mona monkey was with them, the white babies were visible on their mothers’ chests, and we watched the colobus feed leisurely for almost an hour and then take to the trees to find a place to sleep for the night. It was perfect timing for our visit.









As we walked back to the guesthouse, which took 45 minutes, we saw a vehicle bringing about 10 guests to the colobus troop. Unlike chimps, where the limit is 6 observers (I think), there is no limit to the number of guests who can visit the colobus. There is also no limit to how many groups per day can visit, but the one hour time limit is imposed. Since we had seen the colobus retreat to the forest to settle down for the night, we figured these new visitors would not see much and they didn’t. The lesson here is plan to wrap up the colobus visit by 5:00 pm—at least in the month of August.



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On one of our drives back from seeing primates we came upon a truck that had just plummeted over the side of a steep embankment and started to burn. At this remote location, Kirenga could not access his cell phone to summon help, nor could anyone else who had stopped.


When we arrived there was no sign of the truck drivers, but we later learned the two drivers inside had avoided life threatening injuries. Worried that the fire could get out of control, Kirenga instructed me to get back in the vehicle. “We must rush to save the forest!”


We headed back toward the guesthouse and park office next door, at a good clip, but not so fast that we’d end up in the same predicament as the truck.


A few miles down the road we saw a park vehicle and Kirenga signaled for it to stop. We alerted the ranger of the problem. Later that day we found out that the fire occurred in an area without much dry brush and it was quickly extinguished with no serious injuries.

“We must rush to save the forest” is an urgent message that applies to more than one burning truck. Here is what I learned is being done to help save the forests and savannas of Rwanda.





Nyungwe Forest:

- As mentioned above, in 2 years forest elephants from Cameroon will be introduced to bring back more balance to the environment and control the spread of voracious vegetation.


- A corridor with Volcanoes National Park is planned so that species can go between the two. The Nyungwe environment would be suitable for gorillas.


- To encourage tourism, which will help sustain the park, a canopy walk is planned. Also there are two new lodges being built. In addition to primates, Nyungwe has many endemic bird species for birders. There is fantastic hiking for all skill and fitness levels.


-The forest around the inhabited areas that included the tea factory and the ORTPN Guesthouse was an artificial forest, planted so that local residents could cut down the trees for firewood and leave the native forest intact.

Volcanoes National Park:

-The waist high stone buffalo wall was completed in 2005 to help keep buffalo and elephants out of the fields of neighboring farmers and to delineate where the park boundaries begin to discourage encroachment into the protected habitat.


- There are long range plans to relocate some of the farmers and plant bamboo in order to enlarge the gorilla habitat and increase their food sources.


- PNV and the much larger Bwindi in Uganda can support far more gorillas than currently live there. So as the population hopefully continues to increase (which it has done despite wars and terrible human conflicts) there will be a place for them to live.



- In September, 2009 there are plans to erect a fence between the park and the more populated areas to prevent wildlife from leaving the park where it can be shot. This may also help control fires that burnt 1/3 of the park in 2004. Fires are often set to lure animals out of the park to eat the succulent new grass that returns after a fire. Then traps and snares are set to catch them.


- Recently there were some hectares recovered from the 2/3 reduction after resettlement of the refugees and there are plans are to try to recover more in the future.


- Animals that once were plentiful are going to be re-introduced. The variety of habitats and year round sources of water, provide excellent potential for this park.


Despite these initiatives, I’m aware there are great challenges facing the parks. But the above initiatives provide hope.



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Bird sightings:

red warbler

Ruwenzori turacao

regal sunbird (an endemic that was often in the ORTPN Guesthouse Garden)

southern black flycatcher

casqued hornbill

Ruwenzori batis

yellow white eye

Chubb’s cisticola

brown woodland warbler

red faced woodland warbler (a first for Kirenga)

ovambo sparrowhawk


rednecked spurwing

black crowned waxbill

streaky headed seadeater

white eyed slaty flycatcher


ORPTN Guesthouse:


It is very basic, clean, safe, with decent meals provided on the premises, a comfortable bed, and shared toilet, sink, and shower facilities. Service is minimal--sometimes breakfast was late, a sock sent for laundering was lost, a bill took half an hour to arrive. While hot water is available, it may not flow from the spigot of choice at the preferred time.


The grounds were beautiful with lots of flowers to attract sunbirds and the only blue monkey I saw was at the forest edge next to the guest house. Meals were served family style. Special requests such as vegetarian options were not part of the routine; therefore, I can rave about the Spaghetti Bolognese. The avocado salad was really good too.


As to specific rooms, unless being as close as possible to the shared facilities was a priority, I’d avoid House #3. In this house you walk out of your room into a cement hall, facing the bathroom doors. The other houses exit to the garden. Within House #3, Room #3 is the least desirable because it is closest to the kitchen and to the area where people may sit around and socialize at night. There also is a hall light, that if not turned off, shines through the space above #3’s door and onto the bed. None of House 3-Room #3’s faults were sufficient for me to request a room change, maybe because I had unpacked everything right away and didn’t want to repack or maybe because the little time that I spent in #3, I was unconscious.


ORTPN Guesthouse a good place to stay if you follow Kirenga’s philosophy of “non-performing issues.” That was his phrase for not dwelling on less than perfect conditions that do not directly affect the real purpose and focus of the trip. I agree with him completely and would categorize any shortcomings of ORTPN Guesthouse as non-performing issues. It’s a good deal for the price of around $50/night. I’d definitely go back at that rate, though very soon there will be other options, as two new lodges are being constructed nearby. Still, I’ll gladly pack a sacrificial sock to save hundreds of dollars per night.


The “non-performing issues” philosophy did not mean that Kirenga just dismissed as inconsequential anything that was subpar. Quite the contrary. In fact he told me his hobby was making things work well and providing good service. Then he corrected himself to state it was not just his hobby, but his whole purpose in life to be sure Rwanda tourism was providing good service and making things go smoothly. It was obvious to me that he pursued this mission of his with a passion.


Choosing and Scheduling Your Activities in Nyungwe:

The chimp visits must be done in the morning because the goal is to reach the chimps before they come down from the trees and disappear into the forest. The Uwinka colobus troop of 400-some members must be visited in the morning because it can take many hours to reach them (and then return) and you want to complete the trip in daylight. The Gisakura colobus monkeys near the tea factory, which is close to the ORTPN Guesthouse, can be visited in the afternoon because it does not take long to reach them. One of my visits to the Gisakura colobus group was scheduled before leaving home and I added another at the last minute—both were done after lunch. The waterfall walk was also added at the last minute, in the afternoon, but can be done anytime.


There are also troops of gray-cheeked managbeys and (I think but am not sure) blue monkeys that can be visited. I’d like to see them some day.


Two activities a day is reasonable assuming you find the primates that you track in the morning in time and you are in good enough shape. I did two activities a day for a total of 6 outings in a 4-night, 3-day stay.


In general the dry season means the primates are more scattered as they search out food, so treks are often longer and the primate groups are smaller. But, different trees bear fruit throughout the year, so their feeding patterns are also dictated by the success of each type of fruit-bearing tree. Recent weather patterns make any sort of predictions harder. Who knows what the rain, the weather, and the fruit trees will decide to do, but the constant you can count on is the guiding and tracking, which I found to be excellent.


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From the Nyungwe ORTPN Guesthouse to Butare = 2 hours and 40 minutes. Butare to Kigali, where we had lunch in the city, = 2 hours and 20 minutes. From Kigali to Kinigi Guesthouse = 2 hours 20 minutes.


Two thousand nine is “Year of the Gorilla” but I think that fact was brought up only once during my entire trip, maybe even by me.



The conditions and time for each trek can vary. In general temps were a low of about 60 when we gathered at the ranger station each morning at 7:00 am and highs were in the low to mid-80s (Fahrenheit) for my August visit. Kirenga said August is one of the hottest times of the year and that the current conditions were hotter than what he recalled from the past. But the first two treks had relatively cool weather and they were easy so I never broke a sweat. The weather heated up for the remaining treks but the terrain was still easy enough not to be tiring.


Every one of my gorilla visits had the maximum 8 participants and each day guests who showed up hoping for a permit were turned away. Even in an economic crisis and with 7 gorilla groups available for tracking, the high season was completely booked. People who tried to get permits several months in advance had been unsuccessful. The park staff told me the past March and April, walk-ins were easily accommodated and some days only a couple of the 7 groups were visited. Not so in July-Sept, with one exception I know of-- a guy who hung around about a week finally scored one permit.



There are many eloquent, moving descriptions of the emotional and riveting hour spent with the gorillas. Each of my visits confirmed these sentiments and then some.


I must give Kirenga credit for securing a permit to my first choice group on every outing and for offering suggestions when I was undecided.


1st Gorilla trek = Suza, which means stinging nettles

Drive- 1 hour 15 minutes on fairly bumpy roads.

Walk-1 hour 45 minutes to the gorillas and 1 hour 20 minutes return, very easy. Not typical for Suza.


I had wanted to return to Suza to try to see at least one of the twins that were 7 weeks old when I visited last time. Suza is now over 40 members with 6 silverbacks, the youngest only 13. I saw the male twin near a silverback and was told his sister was fine and that the mother had left when they were about 4 years old for another group.


As in past visits, the Suza group put on a spectacular show of non-stop activity and around every thicket was a stage with a different facet of gorilla life. My second incident of a falling tree occurred when a silverback climbed a sapling to heights well above our heads and allowed his weight to snap the tree and deposit him in front of us with a thump. We got the message. He was a macho man.






Normally Suza is the most challenging group to reach and can take all day. That was certainly the case five years ago for me, but oddly not this time.




Theo & tea:

That evening Theogene, my guide from five years ago, stopped by Kinigi Guesthouse and we visited over Africa tea. I enjoyed hearing about his job and family and things that happened in the past five years. I was very honored he would make the effort while on the job to spend a little time with me. What a great person!

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2nd Gorilla trek = 13, which was the original size of the group

Drive-30 minutes on fairly bumpy roads.

Walk-2 hours to the gorillas and 1 ½ hours return. Rather easy terrain with some difficult parts, but overall another easy jaunt.


The group is about double its name now. I wanted this group because there are many babies and we did get to see several plus the silverback, who lived up to his amiable reputation. We were all thrilled with the visit and the post-viewing celebration even included a chorus of Happy Birthday for a woman turning 64 that day.


Golden Monkey trek

Drive- 30 minutes over fairly bumpy roads

Walk – 45 minutes easy walk there and back, much of it through beautiful bamboo forest. The hotter temperatures today were noticeable.


The first leg of the hike passed by a hedge of bitter apples, vegetation favored by chameleons. Our guides found two, which was very exciting.


I think the golden monkey visits have some quality control issues at times, such as on my visit. Unlike the gorillas, with 8 visitors max, there is no limit to the number of visitors to the golden monkeys. We had 18 the day I went. These could be people who had booked in advance, as I had done, or those who could not get a gorilla permit and opted for golden monkeys instead.


There are two separate troops of golden monkeys so splitting the group of visitors and sending half to one troop of monkeys and half to the other could have been an option. But one golden monkey troop lives in terrain that is hard to navigate so the authorities are hesitant to send people to this group and all 18 of us went to the easy-to-visit troop.


There were two very competent and friendly guides with us, but when we found the monkeys, it was not feasible to split up in two groups, so we all meandered around the general vicinity of the monkeys.


Fortunately there were lots of monkeys and I probably saw about 30, including young ones and a large dominant male. But compared to my golden monkey visit 5 years ago, when there were just 2 of us on the trek, the monkeys seemed much more skittish and did not linger in one place for very long. Plus, it was hard to maneuver through a dozen or more people for a view or photo when one did decide to sit still a moment. If I had not done a golden monkey visit previously with so few guests, I probably would have no complaint, but by comparison, 18 visitors was not ideal.


In the future, if the goal of the golden monkey visit was to join a small number of other guests and have the best opportunities for viewing and photography, I’d request the harder group to track at the outset when I bought the permit. I think that would help reduce the risk of being part of a large group tracking the golden monkeys.




School visit:

I was happy the school supplies and donation I had brought would find a home today. We stopped at a nearby elementary school. The principal and vice principal (not certain of their titles) were kind enough to receive me as a visitor in their office for a brief chat. They escorted me to one of the classes that held approximately 40 girls and boys. Kirenga translated and I said a few words to the class and they asked questions, the first being, “How old are you?”


The students sang a song and in my final remarks I commended them on their fine behavior and character. It was indeed fine. That prompted the principal to tell the class they all deserved a reward and some of the supplies would be distributed to them. Everybody got a pencil and had the opportunity to use one of the sharpeners that was in the donation bag. They were beaming with excitement over receiving their own pencil. A pencil. I could have cried. We took several class pictures and I got the address to send copies back.

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Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village:





I asked about doing something cultural while in Kinigi and Kirenga suggested Iby’Iwacu. This project offers an opportunity to local people who may not directly benefit from Volcanoes National Park and who may have been involved in poaching. It also allows young Rwandans a way to learn about their own culture in the process of sharing it with visitors.


A guide for the village escorted me to various stations to meet a traditional healer and learn about his herbs, to see how millet was ground and give it a go, to watch a bow and arrow demo and take a shot, and to visit the king’s palace. It was under construction by numerous skilled workmen but some of the interior rooms had been completed and I was given a tour and explanation of those.


There were items for sale spread out on a blanket but no vendors were present and no need for bargaining. I bought a basket.


The gentleman who oversaw the the bow and arrow shooting was extremely enthused about his demonstration as well as the upcoming drumming and dancing. He added his own animated narration to the explanations of the village guide. Later he got to play the part of the gorilla in the final interpretive dance. It was worth going to the village just to give him the opportunity to participate in the activities and have such a good time.


When I got home and reviewed the video Kirenga had shot and narrated of some of the events at the village, I learned this enthusiastic archer and gorilla portrayer used to be one of the most successful poachers in the area.



The staged activities and demos were interesting, but what I found most fascinating was the traditional drumming and dancing. The participants dressed in traditional costumes, like those I had seen at the National Museum, which included flowing straw lion manes. The performers were very talented and put tremendous energy into their drumming and dancing. Some of the bystanders even joined in and then I was summoned to participate as well. That was fun and completely optional. I got to drum too. They were outstanding performers and it was a privilege to see them.


At the end there was an opportunity for a donation. Later I found out there was a cost to visit, but Kirenga covered that for me because he likes to support this project. I can recommend supporting it too! Bring your dancing shoes or dancing gorilla tracking boots.

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“We must rush to save the forest” is an urgent message that applies to more than one burning truck. Here is what I learned is being done to help save the forests and savannas of Rwanda.


I didn't realise that I'd missed a section so I'm back to read the middle part. I love the above quote and the details of positive things being done in Rwanda.

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3rd Gorilla trek = Kwitonda, which means humble one

Drive- 25 minutes over very bumpy roads.

Walk – 1.5 hours minutes ascending walk and 1 hour and 15 minutes back down.


Three of the approximately 16 members in this group are silverbacks and all three were visible and ready to have their picture taken.


Lunch at the Very Lovely Virunga Lodge, Potty Talk, Exploding Seedpods, and More:

In 2004 I visited Virunga Lodge just as it was being completed so I wanted to go back and see the finished product. I joined a nice couple and had an excellent lunch of kabaobs with yogurt dipping sauce in cucumber boat. We all enjoyed the fine cuisine and the beautiful lake views from our lunch table.



When I discovered they had foregone their third gorilla visit to relax and enjoy the special ambience of the lodge, I felt slightly guilty for being plopped down at their table and intruding. But they were most gracious in making me feel welcome and had some interesting tales to share with me.


They loved the lodge and were probably typical in their opinion of the eco-toilets that used a scoop of dirt to cover organic matter. “It’s a novelty for a day, but after that I want to flush.” That’s why the eco-toilets are being replaced with flushers. It’s too bad, but it’s what the market wants. There were construction crews putting in big septic tanks, placed inconspicuously, while I was there.


Of course I flushed daily at Kinigi Guesthouse. In fact, they asked me if I scooped or flushed and when I replied, “flush” they let out a wistful “must be nice” sigh in unison. I tried to explain that flushing wasn’t everything and that my accommodations could not compare with the exquisite paradise around us. But I couldn’t convince them that I was not simply being modest in not flaunting my flushing abilities.


The Virunga staff members provided excellent service--from the manager who met me upon arrival and sent me off at the end of my visit, to the restaurant wait staff, to anybody I happened to encounter on the grounds. This beautiful place is truly a first class operation. And I had not even taken advantage of the massage. Guests receive a complimentary massage after each gorilla trek. If anyone was concerned about their muscles tightening up or getting sore, I think a massage could make the difference between going for a second gorilla visit or not.


After lunch, I spent over an hour wandering around the lovely grounds, taking pictures, bird watching, looking at agama lizards, petting the resident cat, and enjoying lake views from all angles. I also spent time observing and listening to one of the methods of seed dispersal. Wind, animals, and water will disperse seeds, but those methods are not as interesting as the seedpod explosions that were going on all around me. It was like a shooting gallery. I was truly fascinated but the cat was unimpressed and slept through it all. Of course, there was no threat to bystanders; it’s not like the seeds were dangerous projectiles or anything. For anyone booked at Virunga Lodge, there were lots of interesting verandas and patios with comfy furniture where one could quietly repose, away from the staccato blasts of the exploding seed pods.


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Inspirational tale of the lawyer-nurse who went missing at Heathrow due to (chemo) fog and ended up on CNN with the gorillas, in advance of relocating to Rwanda:

While waiting at the ranger station for my final gorilla trek, a woman sat down next to me and we started visiting. The visit was more like the unfolding of an epiphany, all in a matter of about 15 minutes.


She told me she had wanted to see the gorillas for 35 years and was finally here on her first trip out of the United States. A client of hers who regularly volunteered in Rwanda had bought her an airline ticket as a thank you for the fine legal services she had provided. The lawyer-nurse had just finished chemo treatments for breast cancer a week before the departure so she was not at her best mentally. Heathrow can be confusing and intimidating, especially if it is your first time in an international airport. The end result was the lawyer-nurse accidentally exited the airport and security would not let her re-enter. Two hours plus many frantic pleas and tears later she got back in, was reunited with her client/travel partner and made it to Rwanda.


She was so moved by the Rwandans at the clinic where she had been volunteering for the past week, that she decided to devote the rest of her life to that cause. She had found her calling and believed she was uniquely qualified with both her nursing skills and legal background. She was explaining to me how she planned to leave Ohio for Rwanda when we had to part company because the gorilla groups were being formed. Her group was Kwitonda, the one I saw the previous day, and Kirenga had secured Hirwa for me.


The last I saw of her, she was surrounded by a camera crew from CNN, who were doing a story on gorilla tracking, and she was giving them an animated interview. It was certainly Year of the Gorilla for her.



4th and final Gorilla trek = Hirwa, which means lucky

Drive- 15 minutes on very bumpy roads, the last part we drove backwards because there was no place to turn the vehicle around.

Walk – 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back, much of it through picturesque bamboo and none of it difficult.


The silverback of this group is considered lucky because normally it can take weeks or months to form a group. This guy recruited females from two other groups all in one day. I’m sure the silverback would confidently claim, “Luck had nothing to do with it.” He’s up to about 11 members now.


Luck did have something to do with the grand finale put on by an outgoing 2-year old member of the group.


The guide for this group was Francis and it was nice to end with him because he had been my guide five years ago for Suza. I was able to tell him that I was back in Rwanda because of the good marketing skills he and his fellow guides had displayed. At the end of each gorilla visit five years ago, they opened up a map and pointed out the other places to visit in Rwanda such as Akagera and Nyungawe and explained what was there. I was impressed with their promotion and that got the seed planted for a return. He remembered the map routine and when I showed him a picture I had taken of the Suza twins at 7 weeks he recalled their early days as well.


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Cultural Reminder and Biggest Laugh of the Trip:

Kirenga invited two of the gorilla guides back to Kinigi for lunch. When the meals arrived for the four of us, I was starving and wanted to dive right into the French fries/chips. I watched the others to see if it was ok to use my fingers instead of a fork for the fries and saw by their actions that fingers were fine. A moment later I was chuckling to myself because this congenial group of Rwandans who graciously included me at their table was eating in the traditional manner to which they were accustomed—with their fingers. They were eating everything, not just the fries, with their fingers and only I had any silverware.


Soon my private chuckle would turn into a hearty laugh along with the rest of the table. Kirenga translated the comments of one of the guides who noted that young women often wear a lot of makeup, especially around the eyes. “They put the Nike swoosh on their eyebrows.” We all found this insightful observation to be hilarious.


Ride Seekers:

People who come to PNV by bus will routinely ask the visitors who have come by vehicle for a ride to the start of the gorilla trek. The advice I received was to direct the inquiry to the guide who would say no. Here’s why. A local driver from Ruhengeri could be hired for the day to take these people to their respective gorilla groups. As of Aug 2009, the estimated cost was around $30 for the day. Bumming rides off of other guests takes work away from Rwandans trying to make a living in the tourism sector. Plus it could be seen as trying to take advantage of visitors who paid for the necessary transport.


Several people could even share one driver from Ruhengeri and split the $30 cost. Even if all those who came with one driver ended up in different gorilla groups, it would work, because as long as you came with a vehicle and could offer one for transport to the start of one of the treks, it didn’t matter which vehicle took you to the start. It could be your own or you could go in someone else’s. The aversion to giving rides was not to prevent any outsider from entering your vehicle, it was to encourage those who had made no plans for their transportation to make plans and make jobs.


Too bad another alternative couldn’t be offered in which anyone arriving without a vehicle could pay to join those with a vehicle (providing the occupants agreed) and that payment could be used as a donation to a local cause. In fact, a nice couple I had met at Nyungwe asked a day in advance to join my vehicle in PNV and offered me $40 for the privilege. Kirenga agreed and I was happy to let them know the school I was visiting later that day would be receiving their donation.




Bird sightings in PNV and Kigali:

scarlet tufted malachite sunbird

crested fly catcher

masked weaver

lots of pied crows

speckled mousebird

white browed robin chat

creasted snake eagle

golden palm weafer

yellowbilled ducks

common moorehen

black headed weaver

tropical bulbul

knob billed ducks (females)

white faced whistling ducks


Kinigi Guesthouse:

It’s a 7 minute walk or a 90 second drive to the Ranger Station from Kinigi. The guesthouse has dorm rooms for four with shared facilities in a nearby building. There are also private rooms with your own facilities and that’s what my Room 9 was. I think Rooms 8, 9, 10 have the nicest location. Inside it is quite basic, but there is a TV with CNN and some other channels. One hint I’d give is to use your bag to block the inch or so of open space under the door because when it’s dark outside, the lights inside attract a lot of insects that can enter through that open space. The grounds are filled with flowering trees and many plants for great bird watching that even impressed Kirenga.



The restaurant served food throughout the day with breakfast starting at 6:15 am. Breakfast was always eggs, sometimes prepared to order and sometimes as omlettes on a serving tray. Most mornings there was also a toaster and bread available and there was always a bunch of little bananas.


My meals in the Kinigi restaurant were delicious and included the fruit salad, listed under desserts, with every order at both lunch and supper. It was an outstanding addition to any meal when there was pineapple to mix with the wild tomatoes and bananas, and it was good as a two-ingredient fruit salad when they ran out of pineapple.


For anyone doing numerous treks where costly accommodations in PNV can add up fast , Kinigi Guesthouse is a nice option. I’d return and ask for #9.

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The 2.5 hour drive back to Kigali after my last gorilla trek was a little sad because it signaled the culmination of the Rwanda part of the trip. I enjoyed Kirenga’s company on this final leg of the journey, just as I had for the entire trip, and I appreciated his willingness to share his lifetime of experiences as a Rwandan, during our time together.


I checked into the Laico Umubano Hotel in Kigali and this time recognized that a gorilla group bore the same name. It means cooperation. Rain prevented any roaming around in the garden that night or the next morning.



Kirenga arrived for our last outing to the Never Again Memorial, which was originally scheduled for a previous block of time in Kigali. I had agreed to delay the memorial visit to take advantage of the unique opportunity the trade show had presented. I made that decision knowing there was a small risk of something happening in the interim that might derail the memorial plans if I didn’t go as planned. Since I had been to the memorial on my previous visit and a second visit was not a huge priority, it was a risk I was willing to take.


Turns out the Never Again Memorial was closed on the day I planned to visit until 11:00 am. The reason for the change in schedule was explained to me as: “Today is a Catholic day where either you carry palms or Mary goes to Heaven.” August 15 was Assumption Day.


An 11:00 am tour would be too late for my flight, so I had to forego a return visit to this memorial. Kirenga suggested a visit to the craft markets and I had a look around. As a result, I can recommend this stop as an excellent way to complete all of your souvenir shopping in one place. It’s a great way for local people to have a market to sell their wares as well.


We decided to cap off our morning by driving to a pond in Kigali and looking at birds. It’s one of the places Kirenga takes serious birdwatchers to try to tick off another few species. It was a delightful spot that may not remain delightful for long because we saw heavy farm equipment cultivating a good chunk of the land. With Kirenga’s keen interest in birds, this was a fitting final activity to a fantastic trip. As we were leaving, I spotted a large bird of prey in a distant tree. Binoculars confirmed it was a crested snake eagle. I didn’t make any inquiries of it.


Except for the strike that cancelled my Kenya Airways flight and almost left me stranded, everything went smoothly in transit to Uganda, thanks to Guide Kirenga getting me on Rwandair Express in his final act of taking good care of me, and thanks to Guide Abraham rushing to the airport in Entebbe upon suddenly discovering I’d be arriving many hours early.


When Abraham learned I had visited Uganda several times before, he suggested I had returned because the two of us had so far missed out on the pleasure of meeting. At that moment and throughout my stay I enjoyed Abraham’s serene and thoughtful demeanor that was evidenced by such a lovely greeting.


The last rays of light provided just enough illumination to count four tortoises in the courtyard of Entebbe’s Windsor Lake Victoria Hotel, and to take a photo of one tucked under a flowering hedge.


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Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary Enroute:

From Entebbe to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary = 3.75 hours with a couple of brief stops

From the gate of the sanctuary to the office where you check in, pick up your ranger, and join any other guests who will be tracking = 30 minutes.


Then it depends on where the rhinos are as to how long it takes. There are trackers carrying radios who remain with the rhinos 24 hours a day, so seeing rhinos is just about guaranteed. We drove another 15 minutes, walked as a group of 4 on easy trails 15 more minutes (but it could be a couple of hours) and spent about 15 minutes with 4 white rhinos at a distance of around 12-15 meters. Then it was a 15 minute walk back to the vehicle.


We were fortunate to see 4 of the 7 white rhinos at Ziwa. A mother and her calf that was born 6 weeks ago were not receiving visitors yet. But we saw the father, a male from Kenya. The mother was donated from the US, so the baby’s name is Obama. This is the first rhino born in Uganda in 27 years.


You can stay overnight on the premises too, which would allow earlier morning and later afternoon visits when the rhinos would likely be more active. Stopping at Ziwa enroute to Murchison Falls is included in most itineraries and I’m very glad I went too.


We stopped for lunch in Malindi.


Ziwa entrance to southern gate of Murchison Falls National Park = 2 hours 10 minutes


Southern gate of Murchison Falls National Park to Murchsion Falls Waterfall = 1.5 hours. The only wildlife spotted was baboons scurrying across the road and such sparse sightings are the norm.


We walked to the top of the falls and wandered around for 30 minutes admiring the view. A late afternoon arrival is perfect for the lighting and position of the sun.


Falls to the ferry that crosses the Nile = 45 minutes. We stopped to watch some buffalo and warthogs wallow in the mud for about 5 minutes out of the 45.


The ferry across the Nile takes about 10 minutes and then the drive to Paraa Lodge, on the northern side of the park, takes less than 5 minutes. The ferry leaves every one or two hours, but the posted times on the big sign were wrong. Lots of baboon activity around the ferry waiting area.


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The Various Water Activities at Murchison Falls:

1. The walk to the top of the falls. As mentioned above, it is best in the afternoon and you drive to it from the south side of the Nile. It is also possible to do this as part of the boat ride to the bottom of the falls. You’d get out of the boat when it nears the bottom of the falls and walk for an hour or two up a trail to the top of the falls. I saw others do this, but did not do it myself.


2. Boat ride to the bottom of the falls. Afternoon is the best time for this, too, for the nicest light and our trip departed at 2:00 pm. Depending on the boat, the round trip takes about 2.5 hours with a slow wildlife watching trip to the falls and a faster one back. Paraa has its own boats for the guests’ enjoyment, which are included in the cost of the stay. One is a double-decker boat that holds about 40 people and the upper deck is uncovered. Another is a long covered motorboat that holds about 12.


When boarding from the front of the boat and walking to the rear, the right side is closer to shore so you see more and that’s where I sat. There were about 40 passengers, most of whom were staying elsewhere, the day I went. Some of them came from a lodge on the southern side of the river and those people got picked up first. I think the idea was not to inconvenience the Paraa guests and have them board early just to do a pick up run. But that meant these other folks got first pick of the seats. There were not that many who boarded from across the river, but there might have been, and if you were very particular with where you sat or had lots of camera gear, it might be worth your while to board early, grab your seat, and resign yourself to making the pickup run.


When it was our turn to board at 2:00 pm, near where the ferry stopped, there was somewhat of a mob. I give Abraham credit for hustling me onto the boat so I could choose a good seat. There were too many people for him to go too.


I don’t think there are always that many people, just luck of the draw. I also saw other smaller boats that seemed to be able to maneuver to the sides of the river better. They were swifter and reached the areas where the crocs were sunning themselves before we did. Often the crocs were still in the water by the time we arrived after the quick boats. Wild Frontiers was one company I noticed in case you wanted to book your own smaller 12-passenger (or so) boat. But some days Paraa might use their smaller boat if there were fewer passengers.


The boat’s motor was never shut off, and along with the current, it made photos a bit of a challenge, but I still got some great open mouthed hippos. Be sure to bring water and binoculars. A lot of the people did not and were complaining. Some thought you could buy soft drinks on the boat. You couldn’t. No bathrooms either as I recall (but I could be wrong) and we made no stops.



The scenery was beautiful and we had some dramatic skies, a few raindrops, and a rainbow. There was a spotter/guide on the boat which helped a lot. The rare red throated bee eaters were common sightings. We also saw a colobus monkey, fish eagles, crocs, waterbuck, Goliath herons, thicknees, saddlebilled storks, crocs, pied kingfisher, hippos, buffalo, single elephants, and a distant herd. Do not expect to see the shoebill stork on this trip. As you get closer to the falls, big gobs of froth start covering the river. The falls themselves were beautiful. We approached no closer than about two city blocks.


Just about everybody who visits Murchison Falls does this trip as a highlight of their visit.


3. Boat ride to the delta. You need a 3-night stay to fit this approximately 5-hour cruise in, unless you opted for no game drives and spent all your time in a boat, which would be a mistake. A morning departure is best to see the most animals. We departed 7:00 am and enjoyed lots of wildlife activity early in the ride and then it got very quiet by about 10:00 am, which is to be expected. I was on the covered 12-passenger boat along with the captain, Ranger George, and Abraham for a lucky private tour. There were lots of life jackets visible.


As you face forward and look out across the bow of the boat straight ahead, the right side was the best because it was closest to the shore. With just me as a passenger, I moved around sometimes, though.


The wildlife in the river and on the side of the river, the papyrus, and the general scenery was fantastic. The captain quieted the motor for sightings like big crocs sunning, but I don’t think he liked to turn it off and on a lot. The smaller boat was shakier than the big one.


We made two pit stops and on one of them met a ranger who had quite a tale. He had encountered a mother leopard and three 6-month old cubs while in the river filling his jerry can. Mother Leopard was not pleased and the ranger had to make himself appear formidable by wielding his jerry can as a force of deterrence. The ranger and his jerry can prevailed. We knew the family he was talking about, having seen the cubs at a distance on a previous drive.


The re-entry to the boat after the pit stop was tricky without a dock and I required some hoisting of my ballast to get me over the steep sides. If I had encountered the leopards, I probably could have managed alone.


We saw bushbuck, waterbuck, warthogs, single elephants, buffalo, hippo, crocs, a purple heron, Goliath herons, baboons, a black crake, a malachite kingfisher, fish eagles, pied kingfishers, and a giant kingfisher (a highlight). And we heard the elusive papyrus gonolek. I’m enough of a birder to be happy we heard it, but not so much of a one to be upset that we didn’t see it. Odds of seeing a shoebill are higher on this trip than the ride to the falls but the best bet is to drive in a vehicle on land to the delta region and search.



4. Fishing. I didn’t but you can and some people plan longer stays to fish.


For anyone with investments in 600 mm lenses, an investment in your own launch on a small boat that can zip around and turn its engine off and on is a good idea for these water excursions to maximize photo ops. For the rest of us, the standard setup is just fine.


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The Georges of Murchison Falls:

Abraham wisely sought out Ranger George to accompany us on our first drive and the delta boat ride. George oozed enthusiasm and provided a fantastic several hour lion hunt that required a good measure of skill as well as his enthusiasm. On another drive we had George from UK. He was not British—the UK stood for Uganda Kitgum, a region in the northern part of Uganda. Now you are in on that joke, if you go. He was the most senior ranger with a huge sense of humor and some unbelievable and harrowing experiences that he was willing to share. I was well served by these diverse Georges. The constant company of Georges prompted Abraham to ask if I knew of another George—George Jefferson.


“The guy from the TV show?” I asked in surprise.


“Yes,” he responded and launched into a verbatim recitation of one of George’s rants/monologues to wife. ‘Weezy.


We both expressed our amusement with George Jefferson’s swaggering walk.


Another unpredictable safari moment.



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The Drives:

I’m accustomed to lots of brown and beige, traveling only in the dry season, but there was green as far as the eye could see, and several shades. The landscape was truly captivating.


Murchison Falls does not allow off road driving, so some sightings were viewed from a distance, but there were still plenty of photo ops and too many Murchison Falls photos to sort through when I got home.


We did all of our game drives on the north side of the Nile, where Paraa is located and where the wildlife viewing is by far the best. That’s an advantage for Paraa. Visitors are already on the correct side for wildlife viewing and don’t have to wait for the ferry.


At times there were two or three vehicles driving along the same road and going the same route. At most three vehicles at a sighting. The majority of the time we saw no other vehicles.

First morning drive 7:00 am to 1:15 pm

That’s not a typo, we were out 6 ¼ hours and there was lots of excitement. It started with herds of 100 Rothschild’s giraffes. Then Ranger George (who oozed with enthusiasm) demonstrated his fine skills when we heard a kob whistle. We stopped and let a couple of vehicles pass and concentrated on where the kob was looking, which was at a lion. For over an hour we followed the young male and his female companion with our binoculars and with the vehicle as they trotted across the terrain, stirring up antelope and also causing some herds to practically surround them for observation. We all marveled at the close proximity of the lions to the kob. I appreciated how both George and Abraham got up on the top of the vehicle to keep track of the moving cats.



Eventually we proceeded on from the lions and then noticed another herd of kob, all very intent on something. More lions--this time three of them, resting in the shade of a bush, finishing a kill.


We drove to the delta region where George spotted a highly visible shoebill stork in a picturesque setting across the water. We watched it present both left and right profiles to us for about 20 minutes. Very exciting. Since shoebills are apt to remain on the same spot for an entire day, we told other vehicles about the location and they too enjoyed views of this elusive bird.


Not long after we left the shoebill, George announced we had entered leopard territory and then promptly spotted one. “Wow,” he announced and we focused our binoculars on a 6 month old cub draped across a branch “Wow,” he said again, He had seen another one and we checked out that leopard on the branch next door. “Wow.” This was getting ridiculous. He found a third one in a neighboring tree. As we were enjoying the sighting, we heard a growl on the ground below the trees with the cubs and surmised it was the mom frightening off intruders, such as hyenas.


I included one silhouette photo of a young leopard just to document this amazing sighting, but the distance prevented good shots. Not only were we forbidden from driving off road, but the thick shrubs between us and the leopard tree would not have allowed passage for better views or photos.


A troop of agitated mongoose stood outside their burrow with a martial eagle looking on. The eagle made no move toward the troop members, which indicated it may have been more interested in the mongoose babies hidden nearby. The commotion at the burrow by the adults was a distraction to protect their young. We departed without knowing the fate of any concealed young or whether the martial eagle would fill its stomach with mongoose.


In addition to these sights, we saw warthogs, 1 reedbuck, duiker, many very attractive Jackson’s haretebeest, loads of oribi, waterbuck, bushbuck, 2 elephants, and the patas monkey. Birds included a black bellied bustard, carmine bee eaters, several southern red bishops (a favorite), a pintailed whyda, a yellow montane widowbird, eastern plaintain eaters, and a jacana with only one foot.


Nobody that day had seen 5 lions, 3 leopards, a shoebill, and a 1-footed jacana!


Last afternoon drive 4:00-7:30, it got dark at 7:00

This was a Rothschild’s giraffe hunt per my request and we found them. We also saw a patas monkey again, a duiker, some buffalo, and a photogenic pregnant lioness that George from UK gave some comforting words of assurance. George from UK spotted a small croc under heavy brush in the distance that was nothing special, nor a photo op, but it was a testament to his tremendous spotting abilities. Watching the guides/rangers in action and what they are able to produce is entertainment in itself.


We spent time observing vultures on a hippo that had been killed in battle the day before until the smell overcame us. In the background was a herd of elephant and I wondered if they were sucking that awful scent up through their trunks.


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