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Rwanda To See The Mountain Gorillas

When did we go….

  • Mar 18 – 20, 2019


Why did we go…

  • Marilyn had never seen the mountain gorillas, which is an amazing experience, and was right next door to Kenya, so we decided to pop over for a few days


How did we get there…

  • flew Kenya Air for one hour from Nairobi, Kenya to Kigali, Rwanda
  • Kigali has a small airport that is very easy to navigate thru
  • our driver/guide (Robert) took us thru Kigali and straight to the lodge in NW Rwanda which was a three-hour drive thru the beautiful hills of Rwanda
  • unfortunately whoever cleaned our safari vehicle from the previous trip had left a few inches of water in the seatback holder and I set my phone in there which was the end of it’s life as even the rice drying trick failed to bring it back to life
  • the final segment off the main highway up the lodge is on a rocky, steep, windy road that is not for the faint of heart but it offers great views of the surrounding countryside and the way the local people live



Where did we stay…

  • Virunga Lodge in NW Rwanda which is close to both the Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo borders
  • I had stayed here back in 2012 with three other family members
  • regarded as the premier gorilla lodge in Rwanda and we would agree (all inclusive facility)
  • perched high on a ridge with stunning views of the Virunga Volcanoes and the Musanze valley to the west and Lake Bulera and Ruhondo to the east
  • we had a huge banda (cottage) with a nice rustic charm (there are only 10 cabins on the property)
  • the personal butler service (chap named Alexis) was unique and almost overbearing at times as it seemed like he popped up everywhere we were on the property
  • the lodge was at 7000 feet and we really noticed our breathing even going short distances up minimal inclines
  • in 2018 they built a beautiful new spa facility with stunning views of the valley where we enjoyed a relaxing couples massage


Where did we eat…

  • all of our meals were at the Virunga Lodge
  • it was interesting that after we finished a meal we had to order our next meal which is sometimes challenging mentally on a full stomach
  • the food and service was excellent along with the tremendous views
  • we enjoyed the communal dinner table to meet other people from around the world (Mexico, US, UK)
  • on the day we were leaving a member of the Chinese embassy had stopped by for lunch



What did we do…

  • on the drive from Kigali, we were able to see how all the mountains are filled with various crops in the valleys and on the steeply terraced hills
  • the afternoon of our arrival we had a lodge guide take us down to a little village with a library, soccer field, houses, shops, and a school
  • the headmaster of the school took us into two classrooms
  • in the first one the grade five kids were eagerly asking us a bunch of random questions, and when I told them that bears were my favorite animal they had never heard of them
  • in a grade one class the kids all belted out two songs with gleeful joy on their faces which was so much fun to watch
  • we trekked the Agashya gorilla family on what was a three-hour journey
  • it was much more challenging than my previous experience as we had some slippery, wet conditions from the prior day’s rain and overgrown bush that required a fair amount of clearing by our guides
  • we started up over a ridge, but the gorillas were on the move, so we had to descend for a bit before ascending a different part of the ridge, into another valley and then another ascent up into the thick, dense brush
  • we got small glimpses of one to three gorillas at a time, but never in big open spaces which was a bit unfortunate
  • a number of our group of eight people struggled for various reasons, but the porters did a great job of moving everyone along, keeping everyone safe, and allowing us some close-up views of the gorillas
  • the family of gorillas that we were tracking had 24 members, including 3 silverbacks, and we were fortunate enough to have close encounters with all three of the big boys (one had a damaged hand from a recent fight with another silverback)
  • one afternoon at the lodge a local group of very talented dancers, singers, and drummers put on an exquisite performance other than the part where they brought us uncoordinated spectators out for some dance lessons
  • on the return voyage, the driver took us thru various parts of Kigali which was interesting to see the dichotomy of living conditions
  • in general Kigali struck us as a city that is making great progress with one example being the large number of new banks being built which shows the growth of the economy
  • we stopped in at the Genocide Museum which is a heart-wrenching experience, but one that was very worthwhile to try to comprehend what the nation has gone thru during that time in 1994 and the 25 years since then
  • there was a group of school kids touring at the same time as us and it was sad to see some of the kids breaking down in tears as they viewed the exhibits
  • I cannot begin to comprehend how one heals from such a tragic event where the rest of the world stood idle



Interesting facts:

  • the current President has been in place since the genocide and seems highly regarded by the people
  • the concern is that there does not appear to be a natural successor
  • the roads out of Kigali towards all the borders are in immaculate condition as the Chinese helped finance and build them to get the natural resources from neighboring countries
  • there were very few vehicles on the roads however it was non stop with people walking and biking to and from the fields and the towns often carrying huge loads of potatoes weighing 100-300 pounds
  • there are numerous taxi motorbikes and the drivers all wear helmets unlike Kenya where virtually nobody wears helmets
  • everyone seemed to be moving with a purpose which was so different than Kenya where many people were just sitting around
  • as our driver said ‘nothing good happens when people are sitting around’
  • not many people have livestock although there are initiatives in place to provide each family with a cow and a goat
  • the government employs people to clean up along the roads which make for an immaculate landscape that they take great pride in
  • the last Saturday of each month everyone, including the President, is out cleaning up their villages
  • the current mountain gorilla population recently surpassed the 1000 mark for the first time in the history of their existence which shows that their conservation initiatives are working



What did we not do that is on the agenda for next time:

  • we did not see the Golden Monkeys, which are in the same area, as we did not think we had enough time, but in retrospect we did
  • follow in Jane Goodall’s footsteps and trek for the chimpanzees in SW Rwanda
  • climb up one, or more, of the volcanoes
  • walk around some of the small villages to get a better feel for how the local people live



Final thoughts:

  • it is amazing to see how far the country has come since the 1994 genocide and it is something for them to be incredibly proud of as a nation
  • seeing the gorillas is a huge bucket list opportunity and one that I would recommend for anyone comfortable with some jungle trekking
  • many thanks to Dian Fossey for her tremendous work in bringing a proper understanding of these amazing animals to the world before her tragic death
  • Rwanda is known as the land of 1000 hills and 1M smiles
  • we loved watching the masses of people walking down the roads and in particular the young kids waving at us with huge smiles on their faces
  • one of the guests at the lodge, who looked like Brian Burke, dressed in a white sarong all three days which was quite funny to witness