Mountain Gorillas

Trip Start Sep 15, 2009
Trip End Nov 21, 2009

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Where I stayed
Catholic Convent

Flag of Rwanda  , Ruhengeri,
Sunday, September 27, 2009

We drove a few hours into the border for Rwanda and did the passport/visa thing. Everyone but the Aussies had a free way into the country.  Except for I think the Dutch woman.  She had a visa before-hand.  The Aussies paid $60 US for an entry visa.  Not sure why they weren't liked but I was.  And I was glad not to pay the fee.  We entered Rwanda and I noticed the difference in roads immediately. There man sized potholes in quite a few places.  And we weren’t traveling in remote places.  These were the major roads into anywhere and they were bad.  Not surprising at all!  The road would also change from paved roads to dirtish/clayish roads which meant even more potholes.  It’s kind of annoying but if you think about it, it’s all these people have got.  Most of the people are walking from point A-B and a lot of times are carrying items on their heads.  I’ve seen everything from boulders, to plates full of fruits, and even whole pieces of sheet metal.  There is nothing these people can’t carry on their heads.  I know they have probably been doing it for thousands of years and it is a part of their culture,  but with all the aid organizations teaching in all the different country’s, you would think they would teach a different method to transport things.  But I guess if they don’t have things like carts, bikes, or even vehicles, so it makes it hard to move things from here to there.  It is kind of cool to see something new on their heads.  Another thing that you notice while driving through the country is that all the hills/mountains have been wiped almost completely clear and replaced with fields.  It is kind of neat to see the rows and rows of fields building up along the mountains, but it makes you think of the environmental damage they are doing to their own country.  But you did see a few places where they have replanted some pockets of trees.  After a few hours of driving into Rwanda, we entered the capital of Kibale.  We were only there for a bit so I didn’t see too much of the city but it didn’t look that bad.  We went into the capital to see the Genocide Museum and eat some lunch.  Ironically enough, the meal was after the museum visit.  We arrived and the group received a little intro talk about the place and what happened.  We were shown the outside grounds and the mass graves they have there.  At the site we were at, there were 258,000 people buried there.  And on top were these huge slab of concrete blocks.  There was also a wall with some names on it but it was no where near the total number of people there.  After our talk outside, we were led inside and given free rein on it.  The usual you would expect from the museum; reading, videos, and artifacts from that period.  A brief about what happened:  The country was divided up into two groups based on social classes.  Those with 10 cows were called Tutsi(15% minority), and those with less than 10 cows - Hutu(85% majority).  They were all given identity cards showing which group you belonged to.  The Tutsi’s had power for a while until the Hutu Revolution in the 60’s.  Then a few decades of build up then in 1994, the Hutu’s started wiping out the Tutsi’s en masse.  They used every kind of weapon imaginable.  Guns, clubs, machetes, and any other weapon they could find.  Anybody that was sympathetic to the Tutsi people or were married to one was automatically killed.  There was a request to the UN to send in a peace keeping force but the UN Secretary General denied it citing some kind of reason.  Prior to the mass genocide, I guess the French armed the Rwandan army with all kind of weapons and ammunition with a multi-billion dollar loan which they backed.  When the war was over and all the dust settled, there was over 1 million people killed in about 100 days.  The war had left thousands without parents and a country in pieces.  Millions had also fled into the neighboring countries of Uganda, Congo, and Tanzania.  After the war, dead bodies were found strewn all over the place including latrine holes and mass graves.  Thousands of people also had mangled bodies and missing limbs.  The museum told you all this and also had a lot of videos of personal accounts of people who were almost killed or who had friends or family members killed.  There was even one room that was just filled with glass cases of probably about 100 skulls and lots of piles of bones.  A lot of skulls had pieces missing which meant they were hit over the head with something.  In all, we learned a lot about what had happened in their country and that is the way the Rwandi’s want it.  If more people are educated about the horrors of genocide, then the less likely it will happen.  I’m just wondering where and when it will happen next?  After the somber day at the museum, we drove for a few more hours into the country and settled at our hotel/camp for the next three nights.  We were staying at a Catholic Convent that apparently likes to make a little cash.  It looked like a full on hotel to me.  Complete with a bar, restaurant, dorm rooms, and private rooms.  When we first arrived, there was one of those music stages on a truck that was in the back jamming down.  Apparently for a beer promo and they were also selling their beer to go along with it.  Some convent huh?  I didn’t see any person that resembled a nun or priest the entire three days of being there. 

Rwanda 9/28

Today was designated as a free day because we were in Rwanda for the sole purpose to see the endangered Mountain Gorillas.  But since our group was too big, we had to split us up on two different days.  Since most of us were going the second day, we had a free day to do what we wanted which was so nice.  Because everything has been very rushed.  We have woken early most mornings and hit the road for many many hours.  There were a few different activities you could choose from including seeing the Golden Monkeys($130), seeing Dian Fossey’s grave($90), or going to a Pigmy village($10).  I’ve already paid to see enough animals and I didn’t want to pay to see some more.  And I hardly knew who Dian Fossey was before this trip so I had the easy choice of going to the Pigmy village.  The Pigmy people are of a certain tribe that have been displaced dby the government and are having a hard time adjusting to their new way of life.  Aka…they used to live in a National Park and used to hunt there.  The government doesn’t want them to do it obviously because they can make money off the animals through tourism.  There kind of like the Indians in America because the government gave them a very small piece of land to use and have basically been forgotten about.  The tour leader knew a guy who spoke the language and he took us to the village to see them.   We arrived and immediately the whole village came and greeted us.  We were sat down on some benches and they proceeded to do a few songs for us and a dance show.  A few of us were even pulled up front and danced.  Including myself which didn’t help the case that white guys have no rhythm.  But it was all in good fun!  Then the elder(58 yrs old) of the village came over and gave a talk about their people.  Then we walked around the village a bit and saw what they were growing and where they got some of their resources.  Afterward, a lot of the kids came up to us and we started doing the picture taking thing of them and then showing them what they looked like.  Most of the kids were all smiles and were really enjoying themselves.  By the time we finished with it, we had drawn people from a lot of other villages who were interested in seeing us.  We donated some money to the village and to the translator and left.  It was quite the humbling experience for all!  We had a free afternoon to do as we please which was nice.  The Swiss guy and I went walking around town to check it out.  I got a haircut for $4 that lasted about 30 minutes that included a cut, a massage like wash, after-shave, olive oil, and an ear cleaning.  I thought it was pretty good and for some reason like going into different country’s and trying their barber out.  They always do different stuff and it’s pretty cool! 

Rwanda Mountain Gorillas 9/29

This was one of the big activities on the trip and the reason most people were on this trip because of the Endangered Mountain Gorillas.  There are only 700 left in the world according to our guide due to poaching, disease, and man claiming more and more of their land for personal use.  B-fast was at the crack of 5:30 and we made it to the ranger station after about 30 minutes.  We were driven by a guy who called himself "DJ Kevin."  He was my age and was a singer.  He played a few of his songs he recorded and sang with them.  He claimed he had the #1 song in Rwanda but it was kind of hard to believe him because he was driving a bunch of tourists around for money.  He was funny as hell and was immediately hitting on one of the Aussie women.  Unlucky for her, she had her other crazy Aussie friends and were egging him and her the whole time.  He was trying to get us to sing to his song and we were basically goofing around with him but I don’t think he was getting the picture that we weren’t going to be singing his song in Rwandi in the course of our car ride.  It was a good time though!  In the groups, we were only allowed to have 8 in a group and I was with 5 Aussies and another American woman ironically enough from DC joined us.  We got the safety brief on what to do.  Stay 7 meters away, don’t point, don’t run away if they charge you, don’t sneeze near them, no eating, and listen at all times.  The seven of us loaded back into the car with Rwanda’s #1 rap song singer and drove 30 minutes to the start of the trail for our gorilla family.  The gorilla family we had had the biggest silverback at 250 kg, and about 7 females with her and one baby.  We headed out on the somewhat trail and were met with two military guys with AK’s and they were in the front and back of us at all times.  Not sure if it was for the poachers or other animals up on the mountain, but they were just about out of sight most of the time.  We also had a lead machete guy chopping stuff down for us along our path.  At first we were walking out through some farmers fields and were getting some of the usual looks that you would expect.  This happens everyday I’m sure so they should be used to it.  We came to a pretty nice stone wall which was the park entrance, and headed over it and in.  We just followed our lead guide and there was pretty much a trail as we went along.  The further up the mountain we went, it got thicker and wetter.  We were taught a few things about gorillas along the way and what not to touch because it hurts.  Easy enough!  After about an hour of a pretty easy hike I thought, we came to a bunch of different guys who were the trackers of our particular family.  I guess the gorillas have somebody watching them 24-hours a day just to make sure nothing goes wrong with them.  At least nothing man-made.  We dropped our daypacks with the military guys and trackers and headed up after the guide.  After about a minute of hiking, we saw our first mound of black fur through a clearing.  Then I saw the gigantic silverback about 20 ft away just sitting there looking like a Jabba-The-Hut with his big belly sticking out.  There were a few other female gorillas up on the hill about 10 ft behind him just relaxing.  I started shooting some video with my smaller camera and after about a minute of nothingness with the gorillas, I turned it off.  Then of course the gorillas started moving around and the two female gorillas on the hill started rolling down the hill like a little kid by just letting the themselves go and let gravity push you down.  It was pretty cute to see but I was kind of pissed I didn’t get it on video.  One of the females started to come towards us and came about 6 ft from us and we moved to a different spot.  As we were moving up the hill, the gorilla could have easily put their massive arm out and swept a leg or something.  I was kind of hoping they would to someone, or even to me.  It would have been funny.  But she didn’t do anything but look at us.  We found a pretty good spot on the top of the hill and the sun was behind us so we could of at least had a chance to get some good pictures.  We were also in a clearing so it was kind of easy too.  In total we spent an hour shooting pictures and just watching them do their thing.  Most of the time they didn’t really do too much but sit there, but it was really cool to see.  The baby gorilla was pretty active and climbed all over all of the adult gorillas.  The baby was even climbing up a bamboo tree and eating the stuff.  The whole time he kept falling off the branch and holding on like a monkey and it was pretty cute.  I got a few pictures that were pretty good but since I kind of suck with my professional camera, I’m sure I blew a ton of possible pictures.  I really wish I would have learned how to use my camera correctly instead of relying on the different scenario settings. From this day on, I WILL LEARN HOW TO CORRECTLY USE MY CAMERA.  I did get a few shots that were pretty good.  We also saw the gorillas play fighting, and even the silverback having sex.  Almost to the minute, the gorillas disappeared within an hour of us watching them.  In all, we all had a wonderful time watching them and were in heaven!    We headed down with our guides and when we got to the bottom the guys with guns quietly disappeared.  Back at the ranger station, we received a gorilla graduation letter which was kind of cool.  We returned at about midday and we again had a half day to do whatever.  I opted to look and play with my pictures and get a workout in before our dinner date.  Since I don’t have any gym handy as I travel around Africa, I have to make due with whatever I find.  I find that push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and deal-lifts pretty much cover your entire body.  The only problem is I need to find a pull-up bar.  I worked out before and found a tree branch to use  but I had to wander the convent to find something out of the way so I didn’t look like some kind of big, rich, show-off westerner.  The best I could do was a strong metal door frame in the corner of the back park but it was kind of in public viewing.  I started to do my thing and quickly noticed a mother and son peeking through an ivy covered fence. I smiled and waived and they were only watching for a few minutes before they went on with their business.  After about 15 minutes of me working out, I turn around and find an African woman sitting on a chair and just watching me workout.  I said hello and smiled.  She returned the wave and said something about how “I look good, I am good,” or something like that.  I said thanks and just asked if she works out.  She asked if I spoke Francais and I said no.  I went back to working out with the woman in the audience because I only have the chance to workout so often and I would hate to cool down.  In between rounds of my sets, I would casually ask a few things because I think it made it less awkward for me.  After doing what I had to do, I told her it was nice to meet her and went to finish a few more exercises elsewhere.  Who doesn’t like to have a woman admire them when they workout(especially me), but I hate giving off that image that I mentioned before.  No-one likes a showoff!  Especially people making peanuts to your gold bricks.   -The group had to meet at 6:30 for a walk to our dinner date.  All of us walked through town in the almost pitch dark(no street lights) to the place where our dinner was.  I think of the 3 weeks I’ve spent in Africa, this is the first time I’ve spent outside the walls of my safe environment at night.  It is certainly a different place.  No lights other than mopeds and cars.  And you can see all the dust and smoke that is kicked up by the vehicles. 20 minutes later we arrived and sat Indian style on some mats in the front yard.  We were given a traditional African dinner which was really awesome!  Some beef, sweet potatoes, bean stuff, cabbage stuff, and some soup.  I really enjoy trying new foods and this was really tasty!  After dinner, the guy who was putting this on came out and talked to us about the history of Rwanda, and the genocide that happened 15 years ago.  It was a pretty sobering experience and kind of felt heavier coming from a native Rwandan.  We left and that was that for the day.
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