Our journey began in Boston on July 3rd, 2012. Kigali, Rwanda is not an easy destination; it requires either a long lay-over in London or a quick overnight stay in Nairobi. We opted for a lay-over in London, took the Heathrow Express from London to Paddington (about a half hour ride) and enjoyed the British Museum and a delicious Turkish lunch at Sofra in Covington Gardens. The most notable memory from that day was standing in front of Big Ben at 3pm and watching the sudden appearance of hundreds panda bears – no, we weren’t delirious from lack of sleep – I have video to prove it! People dressed up in panda costumes streamed out of Westminster station and waved their furry little hands, making kids laugh, walking down Westminster Bridge as the clock struck three. Why? We still have no idea!(if you do, please let me know!)
The day of the hike begins very early, 4:30am – the Serena Hotel forgot the pack us a breakfast – no problem, I guess, I’m not even sure what day it is as this point, nevermind knowing if I’m hungry or not (although it is a little concerning – a potentially very long hike with no food in our system), Our drive is 2.5hrs to Volcanoes National Park – the road is paved and in great condition (apparently built in the mid 90′s – it used to be a 4.5 hour drive) We drive by hundreds of locals carrying produce, wood, various other mystery products shrouded in burlap, who, we are told, are walking several miles to the farmers markets today. Most of them started walking several hours ago and they’ll walk all the way back to their villages. This is a country of walkers, walking in “the land of a 1000 hills”. After passing by hundreds of the strongest men, women, and children you’ll ever seen in your life one question begs to be asked; “why don’t they pull their money together and buy a vehicle to transport these goods”? There are no easy answers.
Sunrise gives us our first glimpse at the Virunga Volcanoes, home of the silverbacks
she’ll travel for miles with her baby in tow and a basket on her head
David and in front of the “teeth” – part of the Virunga range – a bit intimidating!
It’s decided we’ll be put into the Hirwa group which is famous for having a set of 1-year-old twins born on Feb. 3, 2011. The birth of twins is very rare for mountain gorillas and even more rare is their survival. There was never any discussions between us and our guide as to what group we’d be put in and the process was a bit like watching floor traders on wall street – turns out we got the perfect group of gorillas! Our “human” group consisted of an Australian man (this was his second trip to Africa), a couple from India who currently live in Nigeria, their daughter and their niece. It was a great mix of ages, personalities, and everyone had a great attitude.
Here is one of the twins – a real super star! I swear he sees me, stands up and smiles right at the camera!
As you can see, we are only inches from the gorillas. Reaching the gorillas took about 2.5 hours and we only got to spend 1 hour with them. The hike itself was extremely challenging and photographing the gorillas was even more challenging! We start the hike at a high altitude and it’s obvious from the start, shortness of breath, little energy (damn it, why didn’t we insist on breakfast!) We’re running around the jungle, following one guy with a machete and another guy with a rifle (incase we come across any mountain elephants or water buffalos) swinging on vines, literally, to get up and down the ravines and thick brush. Don’t forget the stinging nettles too although I didn’t personally get stung by any. I definitely brought the wrong lens as well, a 300 f/4 Nikkor lens and I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera bag with me to change out a lens (the fear is the gorilla’s will steal the bags – they do it all the time) It was difficult shooting conditions with the leaves coming into focus, sun location, thick jungle brush making it dark – ultimately I was disappointed with the photos but the experience more than made up for it! Here is a cool video my husband took with his iphone:
After the hike we visited Lakes Bulera and Ruhondo. As you can see, we made a few friends along the way.
with our porter – most of the porters and trackers used to be poachers – now they are gainfully employed and there hasn’t been a poaching incident since 2004!!
This woman felt very strongly that I maybe feed my husband too much – I couldn’t tell if she was admonishing me or congratulating me!
this young man (who wants to be a doctor someday) actually just emailed David asking him when he’s coming back for a visit!
There is not much else to say about this experience – I’ll end it with a few gorgeous pictures of the sun setting over the Virunga Volcanoes. I should also mention that we used Vintage Africa to book this gorilla safari and we did this trip before doing the Kenya Wildlife Safari tour with Go Ahead Tours. I would highly recommend both companies as Go Ahead Tours made it very easy and cost-effective for us to fly into Kigali before the Kenya Safari tour and Vintage Africa was very organized pre-departure and on the ground as well (disclaimer – I work for Go Ahead Tours)