Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rwanda, land of a thousand hills

We had our toughest day on June 10th. We hopped on a day bus to Kigali, Rwanda from Kampala, Uganda. The bus ride was much smoother than the previous one... we had paved roads. After about 6 hours, we arrived to the border crossing. For me, it was the best border crossing of them all. I didn't need to pay a single dollar and the guy just stamped my passport. For Laura, it wasn't so easy. With her lost luggage, she had printed out a visa to enter Rwanda. This visa is required for entry. Due to the lost luggage, we didn't have it. So, after 15 minutes of interrogation, they gave her a 18-day visa to enter Rwanda. I was worried our bus would leave without us but luckily, they hung around for her.

Upon arrival to Rwanda, the first thing on the agenda was to collect Laura's bag at Kigali airport. We wheeled and dealed with taxi drivers to get a $15 ride (which actually is really expensive) to the airport. The airport was practically closed when we arrived there (not good). There was a baggage guy there who allowed Laura to search through the lost luggage... nothing to be found. Eventually, he gave us a few more phone numbers (I think we have 10 now) to call the following day. Needless to say, Laura's getting sick of my T-shirts.

The lessons learned:
1) Pack your guide book in your carry on idiot!
2) Split up clothing in both bags so each person has something.
3) If you have the option, lose the man's baggage.

We got back into the taxi we had taken to the airport and they brought us to a hostel we had been recommended. We went in and of course, all rooms were taken. We moved on to the next place (having no guide book makes you really have to rely on the scum taxi drivers). The next place at least had a room and then the taxi driver charged me an extra $10 for "helping me". I was pretty close to going postal at this point and making my first appearance in a Rwandan jail.

The following day started off much better. We first exchanged money, we collected our gorilla permits, we visited Kenya airways and got a phone number of somebody who is actually helping with the baggage. Things were really looking up. After visiting portions of Kigali, we hopped on a bus to Ruhengheri, Rwanda, a beautiful mountain town close to Volcano National Park. Huge 4000 meter volcanos were set in the backgroud of impressive green farmland.

We arrived in Ruhengheri around 5pm and began our march down the main street looking for a place to stay. Along the way, we found a municipal sports park where I dropped my bag and joined some Rwandans for a game of basketball. Ah yes, sports are universal!!! A crowd of 50 to 60 people gathered around the court to watch us play. I think many of them were disappointed that Michael Jordan wasn't there but they got to see a slow white guy run around for 30 minutes! It was really fun for many of the kids to talk to Laura in English. By the way, I think I scored the most points in the game.

Further down the road, we ended up at Hotel Muhabura, named after the largest volcano in the park. This hotel was by far the best place we have stayed in (with the exception of no hot water; cold showers are the norm for 3rd world). Great food, great accomodations, all for $30. That night, we called a driver (we've got a cell phone here because of all our baggage issues) and organized our ride up to Kinigi for 6 am the next morning.

After a restless night of thinking about gorillas, we jumped up at 5 am, ate breakfast, and drove up to kinigi. This was a $50.00 12 kilometer ride... they really ride the tourists on this one. The guide book and people had told us the roads were horrendous to get there and we would need to hire a special driver... even the tourist office told us this. I could have biked up this road. It was in better condition than most any Vermont or Colorado state road. At least the driver was more like a guide telling us about the area and he did wait for us before returning to Ruhengheri.

There were 7 gorilla families available for tourists. The most famous being the Susa family of 39 gorillas that Diane Fossey studied (watch "Gorillas in the Mist" if you haven't already). We visited the Sabiyinho family of 9 gorillas. The impressive things about this family.

1) They have the oldest, largest silverback in the entire park, 220 kilos (440+ pounds), 36 years old.
2) One of the females just had a baby. It was 1 week old.
3) There are 3 females, 1 silverback, 1 adult male, 3 juveniles, and 1 baby.

As we began our 8-person, 2-guide, 2-guards hike to see the gorillas, we all planned on at least a 1 hour hike into the jungle mountains. Turns out that was not the case. About 15 minutes in, before even entering the park, we were stopped on someone's farm land. The guides told us to drop all of our backpacks and get our cameras ready. In rare instances, the gorillas come out of the park to eat sugar from Eucalyptus trees. They peel off the bark and lick a sweet sap from the tree. The gorillas were outside the park on some farm land. As we approached, we almost immediately saw the silverback. He was MASSIVE!!! We got about 10 meters from him and after about 1 minute, he took a full grown Eucalyptus tree and snapped it at the base... took the whole tree down. Very, very impressive.

The family was very active during this time period. It seems that they know they are out in the open and need to eat and go. They moved a lot and we followed them the whole time... always within 10 meters of one of them. At one point, Laura and I were at the end of our group of people. One of the juveniles came up behind us and charged quickly near us. It appeared to us like we were being attacked but what actually was happening was that he wanted to play. He didn't actually touch us because the guides jumped between us and the gorilla but wow, it was really cool. They were totally comfortable with us with the exception of the mother with the baby. She kept her distance and it was very difficult to get a view of her tiny baby.

I can't put this experience in words but that 1 hour was worth every penny, all the heartache, everything. It was fantastic. Here are a couple of our 100+ photos from this experience.

Now, it's time to visit the Rwandan genocide museum and then on to Kampala, Uganda for a trip to Murchison Falls. Ahhh, I'm living the hard life! Hope you're all having fun at work.


Greg said...

What a fantastic adventure, even with the lost luggage. Clothes and Visas have always been overvalued. Just kidding Laura.

I can not imagine a better Gorilla adventure.

Who is the white guys with the bent leg in the photo? Most point ..... careful sounds like Altzheimers. Spurs woon last night.

Have plans to play with Rosanna and Tony this Friday. Your dad is in Rutland this morning. Your mom is knee deep in OES Field Day.

And now from cool but mundane VT
0848 AM EDST

Sasha said...

These photos are amazing! They look like they came out of a wildlife magazine!

Derek and Barb had their baby. I never saw the announcement but I heard that everything went fine. I am at 7 weeks and counting. Feeling pretty huge now, but at least the weather hasn't been too hot yet. Willow is potty trained as of two weeks ago, which is very exciting!

Laura - I think you are just going to have to give up on the lost luggage and buy new stuff! besides, Jeremy's t-shirts are probably getting kind of smelly by now!

Jeff Coburn said...

The pictures are amazing. I'd love to see a side-by-side picture to compare Jeremy to the gorillas...I think we'd see a family resemblance.

Question: if you lost Jeremy's luggage instead of Laura's, does that mean he'd be wearing her clothes all week? Now THAT could make for an interesting trip!