Selena's and Mine Gorilla Adventure

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 30, 2006

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Selena did get to Kigali...eventually. I had been expecting her on Saturday night but when she never called me I expected that there had been some change of plans. Indeed there had been which I discovered with a quick check of my e-mail on Sunday afternoon. She was delayed a day in Kampala and would come in Sunday evening.

That left me free to spend the rest of the afternoon with Valerie visiting some of his friends in Nyamirambo and buying some CD's with Valerie's suggestions. I had been told that Nyamirambo was the "California" of Rwanda. They tell me this is because it is a part of town that is "constantly moving and making noise," like California (or at least parts of it, because I tried to explain to them that Palo Alto is allergic to these signs of active life). Even though I was told that this oldest neighborhood in Kigali was proud of its trendy and boisterous reputation, I wasn't really impressed. Sure all the clothing shops were filled with "trendy" western clothes (read jeans and t-shirts) and there were far too many music shops than seemed to be able to support themselves, but the streets weren't any more crowded or busy than any other part of town. Perhaps this is because it was a Sunday, but I suspect that it might be that even in this most populous area of Kigali there just isn't any feeling that you are in a city let alone capital. It is just one more district of the sprawling, but pleasant suburb that is Kigali.

We finally headed back to Kiyovu where I met Selena around 6pm. It was great to see her. Having company in Kigali was a welcome respite from my daily routine. After settling in I took her to Cactus restaurant - somewhere I've eaten several times too many, but still so good! We ended up staying up way too late as we talked about random subjects.

I was up at 7am on Monday to try to make French toast for my roommates and Selena, but I woke up to find out that the bread I had bought was claimed by a colony of ants. I left to go buy some more at a nearby store, but that meant my roommates were out of luck since they had to go to work. Selena, and I however were able to enjoy a good pre-travel breakfast of French toast with honey and passion fruit.

We grabbed a 10am bus from Kigali to Ruhengeri to start our gorilla trekking tour. The ride was fine and lasted only an hour and a half. We got to Ruhengeri around noon and got lunch there. The town was extremely small. It was made up of no more than 4 main streets and was entirely walkable in about 15minutes. We did not stay long. After lunch we began looking for transport to a nearby lake to do some sightseeing and then to our guesthouse in Kinigi. After what was 15 minutes of stressful haggling with several drivers we ended up agreeing on 20,000Frw for the entire trip. I wish I had seen the truck before I had agreed on that price because when they opened the back of this small jeep we found two small bench seats with a clearance of about 4 feet from the floor to the ceiling. Thank goodness that both Selena and I are short, because even at our height we were hunched over and trying to keep our heads from hitting the ceiling after every violent bump (of which there were many on the dirt roads we were on)!

After 45 minutes of uncomfortable driving we reached Lake Buera. It was very much secluded and apparently not visited by many "muzungus". This became apparent when a small group of young children were following us and whispering. Our guide told us that they were asking if Selena and I were there to eat them. We had to laugh, and then had our guide explain to them that they were in no way endangered by our presence as we were not cannibals! We spent about 40 min. at the lake walking along its edge and taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. Then we headed back to the car...

The road to the lake was bad, but the road from the lake to Kinigi was worse. Selena and I were rattling around for about 30 minutes until our truck broke down. It was around 5pm and we were in the middle of nowhere backwater Rwanda. It didn't take long for a group of children to surround the car while our driver attempted to fix the problem with the clutch. Unfortunately, he did not have the required tools for the job and we would have to wait for a mechanic to come from Ruhengeri. While we waited for the mechanic we got out of the car to stretch out. We noticed lots of whispering again and asked our guide if these children also thought that we were going to eat them. Our guide told us that these children did not think that we were cannibals, but that we were the first "muzungus" that they had ever seen. It wasn't hard to imagine why, given the state of the road and remoteness of the area. After amusing the children with my small repertoire of Kinyarwanda phrases and explaining to them that we could not pay their school fees because we ourselves were students with our own fees for about an hour the mechanic finally arrived and fixed the problem in about 10 minutes. We were on our way to Kinigi again by 6:30pm. I must say the rest of the 30min. drive was much more harrowing by night!

We arrived safe if not a little bruised to the guesthouse by 7pm. We checked in and made arrangements with our driver to accompany us for the next day to take us to the mountain to go gorilla tracking. It ended up being another $50...this was not a cheap trip. We were starving, and luckily the restaurant was good and provided quick service. We were exhausted from the ordeal and our late night the previous night, so we retired early.

By 5:30 Tuesday morning we were up to get ready to go. Breakfast was served at 6am at the guesthouse and then we met our driver and guide around 6:30. They took us to the tourism office just down the street where we were to meet our tracking guides. We were the first people there, but by 7am the place was full with fellow tourists. Selena started talking to an older Australian female nurse. She was in Rwanda giving a lecture at the Kigali Institute of Health and was seeing the gorillas before she left again. She was very friendly and talked about her university years in British Columbia and Colorado. It was good work on Selena's part for having befriended a senior citizen, because when they began to separate us into groups to see the 8 different gorilla groups we got one of the closest, thinking that we were together with the older woman who would not be able to hike up to 6 hours to see the farthest group. By contrast, we had to hike a mere 40 minutes to see Group 13!

I have never been in the jungle. It was an amazing experience to be hiking through forests that were choked with plants. Most of the time I was walking on thick layers of vines and other plants without being able to see the dirt beneath. Walking through one of the last undisturbed patches of African jungle made me feel privileged, and was probably just as exciting as seeing the gorillas. It just took about 15min. after entering the forest to run into the gorillas. Just before we reached them, the guide stopped us to let us know we had reached the group. Then with a few more steps the sound of snapping bamboo and the rusting of foliage ahead of us confirmed what the guide had just told us. It was a mother and her child. She sat there completely undisturbed by our entrance into her patch of forest. She kept munching on the bamboo as she pulled one after the other down. The little one looked at us with large brown eyes. He wasn't really bothered with us, but seemed to want to pose for the cameras and put on a performance as he tumbled down the hill. We were a mere 5 feet or so from the two gorillas. After several minutes the two got up and continued to anther patch of forest where we met with the rest of the group, including the male silverback. There were a total of about 19 gorillas in the group - one male silverback, 10 females, and 8 or so juveniles. The entire group seemed completely unimpressed by our presence and just kept on busily eating or playing as the youngest ones where want to do. Even the silverback maintained his stoic expression as we were less than 5 feet from him. He was very large and well built, he easily could have weighed more than 400lbs., double that of the smaller females. Yet he never moved quickly and concentrated on filling his appetite with large quantities of plant matter. I was impressed that gorillas could reach such imposing size on a vegetarian diet. You just don't see to many vegetarian guys of this size pumping iron in the gym. We spent an hour following the gorillas as if we were part of the troupe. It seemed to be a long time, but yet I was still disappointed when the guides told us our hour was up and we'd have to return.

The pictures of have of the experience just won't capture the experience of being among the gorillas. It was certainly worth the pricey cost of the trip to see the gorillas in their natural environment.

The decent down the mountain was a little trickier than the accent, but I made it through just fine without any scratches. We got back to the base and took our jeep back to the tourism office to get a certificate (we got a certificate to prove that we had indeed seen the gorillas...cute, huh?). Then we grabbed a quick lunch at the guesthouse where Selena probably addicted me to Suduko, after which we promptly checked out of our room. We had the driver take us back to Ruhengeri, where we spent the night. The room there was much cheaper than in Kinigi and just as nice, but Ruhengeri is small as I said before so we didn't really do much. We just rested off our exhaustion and talked about our time with the gorillas and other topics over an early dinner, before heading to bed. I was glad to be heading back to Kigali by 9am the next morning (Wednesday).

We pulled into Kigali around 11am, just in time to eat lunch and then give Selena the quick 6 hour tour of Kigali. We went to the Genocide Memorial, which I had been at on Saturday. Then we walked through the center of town toward Nyamirambo and back, so that we built up an appetite for dinner. We tried Indian Khazana, which had a really nice atmosphere. Even the Rwandese waiters and waitresses were wearing traditional Indian dress, which was a little disorienting. But the food was good, thank God for the Indians bringing spices to Rwanda! Then for a special treat on Selena's last night in Rwanda we went to the Intercontinental to get some milkshakes. We stayed there for a long time exhausting whatever topics we hadn't yet covered. It wasn't until midnight that we were back at the house.

This morning I saw Selena off at 7:00. I then took a long time to get ready and head to the office. I'll be planning the rest of the interviews that I need to plan for my last week next week.
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joshing16 on

Re: Wow
All I know is that I'm excited to get back to Cali myself. You'll have to see the pictures though...curse this slow internet...of the gorillas that is. I hope all is well and you're not too bored!

joshing16 on

Re: pictures
Don't worry, I'll invite you over sometime while I'm home and I can bore you with pictures of gorillas and whatever else I happened to have captured in my lens.

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