More gorilla love….this time in Rwanda

May 6, Virunga Hotel, Musanze, Rwanda

I love gorilla trekking.  I came to Rwanda solo in 2013 and gifted myself a gorilla trek as a 40th birthday present.  I enjoyed it so much, I planned this trip so hubby could get to see them too!.  Watching gorillas play is just delightful!!!.   Things have become more sophisticated since my first visit, and they even have a computer system to check your permit.

Mum, I’m tired, give me a ride

Our guide Frances was lovely, and gave us a proper briefing   The walk was relatively easy, though I felt for some of the tourists with us who had clearly not been out in the bush much and didn’t cope well with the mud. (The non bush friendly tourists were easy to spot at the briefing as they all had hired gators and wore spotless new hiking boots).

Apparently three days earlier the guides had had an American tourist who was too tired to walk after the first couple of minutes, so she paid 9 porters $200 to carry her on a stretcher to see the gorillas.  One of our group (Gemma from the Netherlands) had been with this group, and apparently it took them 2-3 hours to do a 20 minute walk (as the porters and rangers had to hack a path for the stretcher through the jungle), and by the time the group arrived, they only saw the silver back and no other gorillas.  I would have been furious, and Gemma was indeed still furious three days later.

they were checking out the wildlife i.e us

Fortunately, no such issues for us.  We had an easy, albeit muddy, stroll through the bamboo to find our gorilla group in various stages of snoozing and farting.   After watching for a while, they eventually roused themselves and went for a wander through the bamboo, swinging ungracefully through the trees….., and the little baby put on a chest pounding and roly poly demonstration.  The highlight was watching the silver back come muscularly through the forest – he was huge and gorgeous!  Hubby got stuck at one point between three gorillas and the rangers had to help him navigate his way out.  As always the hour passed incredibly quickly!  Sad to leave, we wandered back, enjoying the view of the volcanoes now the clouds had cleared.

hanging out
Onward to Kigali!

On prices – Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is now a pretty sophisticated scale operation with up to 80 people trekking every day.  With permit prices now at USD 750 for one hour – you might think this is expensive and the government is profiteering.  However, in total this is a maximum of $20m revenue p.a for the national park – actually not a huge amount of money to drive research, ensure that the park is protected from poachers, pay rangers and vets, ensure that local farmers don’t encroach on the land etc.   Personally I think it is terrific value for money for a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ and a great way to support gorilla conservation.

Following up on my tipping guidelines form the DRC – In Rwanda we tipped $20 to each of the 2 rangers plus $5 each to the three spotters – so $55 for hubby and I combined.

Whether to gorilla trek in DRC or Rwanda – quite a few people I met in the DRC had come to see the gorillas as they thought it was ‘cheaper’ than Rwanda.   While the permits are cheaper ($400 vs $750), the experience definitely isn’t, once you throw in the $100 for a DRC visa, $30 for the reentry visa to Rwanda (you can’t reliably get to Goma any other way than overland from Kigali), and then of course the transport to and from the gorillas which is c. $100 more expensive than transport in Rwanda.  So, net the cost is more or less the same.    If you have time and money, I would do both!

Gorillas in the mist, rain and thunder

May 1, Bukima Tented Camp, DRC

After a damp cold night at a tented camp at 2400m where hubby and I were the only guests, it was lovely to wake up this morning to a perfect view of Mikeno and Nyiragongo out across the farmlands in the Congo.

View from Bukima

We shared our breakfast with Jacques the mouse catching cat and then headed off for the 8am briefing.  About an hour and a half later, some faffing about the lack of permit documents, a bit of back and forth on what gorilla group we were going to go visit,  the briefing commenced.   5 minutes later we were off, with two rangers (toting the rustiest guns I have ever seen), and two UN workers who have been living in Goma and weren’t exactly the fittest couple we had ever met, so it took us an hour to reach the park boundary.

Mandatory facemasks were donned, and our trusty rangers hacked away lots of the foliage so we could have an amazing 60 minutes hanging out with the gorillas.  The highlight was watching these two little gorillas play energetically, while the rest of the family were snoozing, eating bugs off of each other, and licking their armpits (amazing to think of licking your own armpits).   The hour passes in about 5 minutes, and hubby and I took 300 pictures.   The rain thankfully held off until we had done and then the skies opened up!!!

contemplating life
having a snooze
how delightful to be able to scratch your face with your toes!

After some warming coffee we were treated to a free African massage on the hour long ride from Bukima to Mikeno lodge bouncing up and down in the 4wd.  The national highway in the DRC is a fantastic example of infrastructure development!! (yes this is national highway no.2)

National Highway No. 2

Note – if you come, please tip generously.  Rangers and trackers do a huge amount to support the gorillas and any money you give to them (and indirectly their families and communities) reinforces the value of preserving the gorillas and the national park.   On occasions like this, I tip often.   If in doubt, give more.  As my darling hubby always says, whether we give $10 or $20 makes no difference to us, but makes a huge difference to the recipient.   Being a ranger in the national park is a high risk occupation! see article on  rangers killed! We tipped $25 to each ranger and $25 to each tracker