My dear husband just got back from his trip to the jungles of Africa and he has agreed to do a guest post for my blog and here is his travelogue in three parts. This is Part 1 of 3.
An unlikely group
My father-in-law (who loves to travel) and his brother-in-law (who loves to trek) had been planning a mountain gorilla trek for the last several years. I will refer to them henceforth as AM and RNS respectively. They finally decided in late 2015 that they wanted to do it after all in 2016. So RNS sent out a call for “adventure” to all his friends and relatives – me and my wife included. Since we had two little ones who were far below the minimum age of 15 years, my wife suggested that I go alone if I was interested. As it turned out, it was only me who responded and so it was just the three of us which was the final group – a group of “in-laws” as I kept explaining to other people we met on the way!
Where do we go to see the Mountain Gorillas?
There is a mountain range in East-Central Africa which is the only place in the world where mountain gorillas live. This range spans three countries and the range is called differently in each – Virunga National Park (Congo), Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda) and Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda).
RNS said that he can only get 5 days away from his duties as a Dean in a US university so he could only go in Rwanda where it’s a shorter time required to do the trek compared to Uganda. That suited me fine as I had similar constraints with my leave from work.
The Final Itinerary
AM in his usual fashion did a tonne of research on Google on things to do in Rwanda and suggested we add Akagera National Park to our itinerary.
So the final itinerary was:
- Day 1 – Depart from our various home countries (AM from India, RNS from the US and me from Singapore).
- Day 2 – Land in Kigali, Rwanda.
- Day 3 – Go to Akagera National Park and stay the night there.
- Day 4 – Do a game drive in Akagera and then proceed to Kinigi near Ruhengiri and stay the night.
- Day 5 – Start early morning for Volcanoes National Park and do the Mountain Gorilla tracking.
- Day 6 – Start early morning for Volcanoes National Park and do the Golden Monkey Trek; RNS wanted to do another day of gorilla tracking.
- Day 7 – come back to Kigali.
- Day 8 – Depart from Kigali.
- Day 9 – Back home.
We were initially speaking to a US based travel operator for booking the whole trip but it seemed to us that the cost was too high. So we checked on Tripadvisor and basis user reviews, we got in touch with a Ugandan travel operator – Gorilla Trek Africa, who we were very happy with and I would recommend. Naturally they were much cheaper than the US based operator and suited everyone’s budget. We paid them a lump-sum per person for trekking permits, accommodation, food, drinking water, guide cum driver and transport all included. I have written a detailed review on Gorilla Trek Africa on Tripadvisor which can be found here.
We did the trip in the 2nd week of August 2016 which is in the middle of the long dry season (May to Oct) and peak period for gorilla tracking.
Akagera National Park
Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills – a beautiful green rolling landscape of hills and valleys, but on its eastern border with Tanzania it has more plains than elsewhere and this is the Akagera National Park. It is 1200 sq. km of savannah, mountains, lakes and swamps, making it one of the most diverse national parks in Africa.
Due to the re-entry of refugees in late 90s after end of Rwandan Civil War, much of the animal population was lost to hunting and land encroachment. The government has done a good job of conservation and now the park has more animals than before – but far lower concentrations than in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. On the bright side that also means very few tourists.
We did a 1 hour boat ride the first day in Lake Ihema where we sighted hippos, a crocodile and many many birds. We stayed the night in Ruzizi Tented Eco-Lodge by the side of the lake where supposedly hippos come to visit the tents at night but unfortunately none did.
We started out at 6:30am next day for the game drive – we had never done an African safari before and it was a lovely experience even with the small numbers of the “large” animals. We saw many many baboons, zebras, water buffaloes, antelopes of various kinds, warthogs, some giraffes and elephants although the elephants were nearly 1.5km away in one “sighting” and at least 1km away in another. So a good binocular is recommended. The elephants’ poop though was much closer – right in the middle of the driving track in a lot of places.
Towards the end of our 100km drive – from the South entrance of the park to the North entrance, our ranger brought us upon a huge plain bordered by low mountains. Here we saw a number of animals – zebras, antelopes, buffaloes and giraffes. I was struck by the silence in the place. There was nobody else and it seemed like the whole park was there only for us to see. We enjoyed some packed sandwiches at this place after a tough 6 hour long “African massage” – that’s the lingo for an exceptionally bumpy drive in an open top 4WD Land Cruiser on non-existent roads.
From Akagera it was a long 5-6 hour drive to Kinigi, which is near the entrance of the Volcanoes National Park, through Kigali. We stayed the night in Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge.
This post is already quite long, so I will post about the Mountain Gorilla Trek in Part 2 which will be posted on Wednesday, 19th October 2016.