Ruhengeri, Rwanda

Trip Start Oct 06, 2008
Trip End Dec 22, 2008

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Friday, October 24, 2008

October 22/23-We had to make our way to Ruhengeri, 2 hours northwest of Kigali.  Ruhengeri is a very small town that serves as the base for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda.  We walked from our hotel to an area in central Kigali where all the private bus companies are based.  We found a bus and within an hour, we were on our way.  A very scenic drive through small farming villages that spread across the terraced hills.  Arriving in Ruhengeri, we were expecting a rush of taxi touts hoping to secure us for the trip up to the Volcanoes National Park, which pays them a relative huge sum of $80 USD.  Surprising to us, there was no "taxi, taxi," upon our exit from the bus, just greeted with curious stares and calls of "Muzungu" officially meaning white, but common name for all foreigners.  No bother to us, we had given ourselves an extra day in Ruhengeri before seeing the gorillas, as we thought it might be full of foreigners and all the services to cater to us like cafes/internet, etc.  There are approx. 50 permits available each day to see the gorillas, so we were expecting 50 pink skins to be roaming the streets.  There were none.  We were it.  As it turns out (and we should of realized), most Gorilla trekkers are here on high-end package holidays, staying at luxury lodges in the mountains.  Nevertheless, we are here and fine.  Now, we must find a cheap hotel.  We asked around without much luck until we bumped into a couple guys who escorted us to the hotel of our choosing.  It was not good, but did not see any other budget options, so we got a room for the night.  We asked Aaron and Achille, our unofficial guides if they would like a drink, which turned into a fun conversation in broken English/French over several beers.  Nice guys who work at a higher-end hotel in town.  Next day, we found a much better cheapie room, and set out to arrange a 4x4 and driver for our trek the next day.   Through several stops and bad French, we found a young woman who spoke English well and helped us find a driver.   So that was taken care, we just hoped this unnamed driver would arrive at 6am on Friday morning
October 24th - Gorilla Trekking
 Patrick, our now named driver arrived at our hotel right at 6am.  Tranferred us to the park headquarters about half-hour out of town.  Here, we got assigned the family of gorillas who we would visit, and were teamed with 6 other foreigners...and upper class lot all staying at a 300USD/night lodge nearby.  Francoise and Ignatio were our guides.  Francoise gave our group an overview of the "Uwumbano" family and its nine members that we were assigned.  We all set off in a caravan of 4x4 Toyotas about an hour away from the park office to the trail head.  The road was very muddy and rough, filled with local kids waving at the daily passing of the "muzungu".  It was not raining today so we were lucky.  However, it had rain the night before, so the pathways were ankle-deep of mud.  We trekked for about an hour when we met up with the trackers.  These trackers set out at first light to discover the whereabouts of the gorillas and radio back the location.  Shortly after meeting up, we began to hear the "popping" sound of gorillas, we were close.  Around a bend and we caught a glimpse of black through the thick vegetation.  Moments later, a large male gorilla emerged and made himself known.  He charged towards us, grunting and groaning.  The guides simply stood between us and the gorilla, yelling at him like a pet owner, and the gorilla retreated.  No big deal to the guides, but this huge animal was within 5 feet of us...very cool.  This gorilla moved on and we followed to discover a couple young gorillas playing around on a large fallen limb.  We watched the youngest, about 2 years old, playing around like a child...a furry little human.  We ventured on, in hopes of seeing the big man, the dominant male Silverback.   We found him sprawled out with his feet up, like a big man stretched out on the couch after a big meal.  Not concerned with us at all.  We circled around him to get a good look, within 10 feet of this 500lb. giant.  It seemed like just another day of being stared at, in the middle of his living room, not a care at all....a truly priceless and unique experience
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