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Posts Tagged ‘Rwanda’

Along with the gorilla and golden monkey treks, this morning’s walking safari was a special experience.

Godson our armed ranger   P1100641 DY © for jtdytravels

Godson was our armed guide who told us all about the many things we saw, not just the animals, but also about signs left behind by passing animals etc.

Walking with Wild Animals      p1250820 DY © for jtdytravels

It is really very special to be walking in a game reserve where there is a chance of coming across a lion or two, although Godson said that there were only a few in the park and they pretty much kept to themselves.  They had only just returned to the park after having been absent for many years.

Inquisitive Waterbuck   p1250801 DY © DY for jtdytravels

We saw reed and waterbuck, wart hog, zebra, topi, antelope and gazelle.

Prickly African Acacia p1250831 © DY for jtdytravels

Africa, like Australia, has many endemic Acacia species.

Self portrait – holding up a tree p1250839 © DY for jtdytravels

After a bit over two hours of walking through the park it was time to say goodbye to Godson, rejoin the truck and head for Kampala, the capital of Uganda.  We crossed the equator, where we set up our tables and chairs outside some souvenir shops.

It was also where I bought a book on Rwanda for 150,000 Ugandan shillings which is about USD64.  I waited ten minutes to get $5 change, I was owed another one, but rather than wait standing around looking useless, I suggested the girl put the dollar in the tips basket.  The shop was actually a charity place so it possibly went to a good cause.

It rained heavily as we drove into and through Kampala.  We arrived at Jinja at 17h45.

We were met by the very efficient camp manager, Ruth, who told us we were about to experience the hottest showers 24/7 to be found in Uganda and to top that off, the coldest beers in Uganda.  She won all our hearts in one sentence.  She also said that the music in the bar would be turned off at midnight, however there was still plenty of noise emanating from around the camp at 02h30!  Give me a bush camp with long drop toilets, animal noises, the stars and a camp fire any day.  I think I would be happy to give up the hottest shower and coldest beer for the privilege of a bush camp.  But, then… the shower followed by the beer was good!

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“G” day, gorilla day: experiencing a silver back gorilla up close and personal – that was the one thing that brought most of us to Rwanda.

It was an early start from the Central Pastoral Notre Dame De Fatima Lodgings we were staying in.  We didn’t put up tents here; there were dorms with triple decker bunks but some of us upgraded to a room.  The promise of hot and cold running water was too much for me so I opted for a room.  My room was on the third floor, and you guessed it, the water failed to get to the lofty heights.  I was brought a 20 litre plastic container of cold water and told everything would be OK in the morning.  You guessed it again, no such nicety happened so you make do with what you have and splash cold water around or pad down stairs to a communal bathroom where copious quantities of hot water flowed freely.

After an early breakfast we piled into Landrovers or Landcruisers for the around 40 minute drive to the park headquarters.  Here we were placed into groups of six, sometimes with somebody from another tour group, sometimes not.  Whilst all this was going on we were entertained by a singing and dancing cultural group.  All very African and very energetic with many drums and stamping feet beating out the rhythm.  Apart from getting organised into our groups this gave the trackers time to locate the gorilla groups we were to visit.

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Dancing while rangers located the gorillas and guides processed the trekkers     (P1090753  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

There are an estimated 480 mountain gorillas in Rwanda with some 300 in Uganda.  In Rwanda there are 18 groups that have been habituated a process that takes about two years.  Ten of these groups are visited each day by just one group.  A maximum of one hour is spent in contact with the groups.  The remaining groups are solely visited for research purposes.

We were allotted the Ntambara group which has three silver backs as family members.  The alpha male can be expected to live for between 40 and 45 years and is at present 27 years old.  These males can be expected to eat 30kg of food each day and get most of their water from this foliage.

Once the group had been located we piled back into our vehicles for the drive to the road-head where we began our trek.

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We begin our climb     (P1090879  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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The long haul ever upwards     (P1090855  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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Mother and child     (P1090875  © DY of jtdytravels)

This was at an elevation of 2600 metres.  It was a bush bashing trek to get to the 3200 level to get to the spot where the gorillas were resting after their early morning feed.

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The rangers and armed guard      (P1090996  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Eugene was our guide and we were accompanied by two rangers and an armed guard. They came along as there are buffalo in the area and they don’t want to be disturbed at all.  The gun is not to harm or injure the beasts just to scare them away should we stumble across them.  We didn’t see any.

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Patrick, my helper!       (P1090912  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Our first contact was with a sleeping male who was a bit difficult to get to so we bypassed him and left him rest in peace.

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Our first encounter – How good can it get?     (P1100010  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Within metres we came across the rest of the family group who were a little more active, but still resting.

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Who is looking at whom with more wonderment?    (P1100063  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The rangers cut some brush away from around the animals to give us all a better view.  One last cut was too much for our dozing mate who sprang up and charged towards the ranger grabbing him and appearing to bite his side.  The rangers know what to do so he took a totally submissive posture, lying on the ground in the foetal position.  The gorilla was happy, he was still boss so returned to his snoozing position.  Now the excitement for me was that I didn’t expect this reaction – I guess the rangers have encounted this before.  And, where did I happen to be, but standing right next to the ranger.  This silver back was only a foot away from me, but took no notice of me, much to my relief.  I wasn’t overly perturbed as the other rangers didn’t interfere and certainly the gun was not fired!  That would have provoked a nasty situation.  Once everything settled down the females and a baby went about their playing and resting.  One of the females pounded her chest a number of times as she went from place to place.  The ground shook when she performed.  It was awe inspiring.

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This is how close we actually got!     (P1100076  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Our hour with these magnificent animals was up all too quickly but we knew we had to leave them in peace and quiet to go about the daily business unbothered by us.  The gorillas will be visited by another group of tourists tomorrow – I hope they have a wonderful time – just like us.

Walking back down to the drop-off point     (P1090822 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The trek back down the mountain was so much quicker than the hard slog up. We wanted to meet up with the other groups and tell them our stories. Of course, they had stories much like ours and we all agreed that it was worth the USD500 the permit had cost us.  In fact, I reckon I’d happily pay twice as much, climb twice as high and expend twice or more effort for the experience!  Words like, unique, surreal, emotional and spiritual were heard being bandied around.

From our drop-off point we had walked through some fields which we hardly gave a glance at as we were all marching upwards to our goal for the day.  On the way back down more time was allowed to survey the scenery.  A white daisy was being cultivated and everything fell into place when we came across a long building with racks in it.

Pyrethrum daisy – the source of an organic herbicide     (P1090819 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Small plots produce the pyrethrum flowers      (P1090785   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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Lady drying pyrethrum flowers      (P1090890   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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USAID sponsored drying shed      (P1090842  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The sign on the building proclaimed it was a USAID initiative to grow pyrethrum daisies for the production of organic herbicides.  The flowers were picked and dried on the racks before being sent away for further processing.  A nice little good news story – a project that actually gives the villagers another source of income to augment their normal subsistence farming.

The striking green & purple foliage of a forest plant      (P1090899   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

I did have time to find a couple more interesting plants and flowers while trekking.

Small unidentified flower      (P1090902   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

On the drive back to our accommodation we stopped off to collect a certificate to proclaim our achievement.

What a day!

And one that made all the rough dusty roads, cold showers (if there was water at all) and difficulty of the whole trip well worthwhile.

Can anything beat this?  D

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It was another early start for our run to the Rwandan border – apparently one is never quite sure how long the formalities will take at this border.

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The truck is ready for an early start – are we?    (P1090681  DY of jtdytravels)

It was only a half hour drive from last night’s campsite to the Rwandan border.  During this half hour the fog came down and it got quite cold.  Leaving Uganda took no time at all but getting into Rwanda took over an hour for us all and the truck to get clearance.

In Rwanda, one drives on the right hand side of the road and this change over is only, I’m told, one of three places where this occurs at a land crossing.  For interest only, this also occurs in the Euro Tunnel and somewhere in Europe/China where the two continents adjoin each other.

There is a marked difference in the reaction of kids on the street and in the fields to our passing. In Kenya their young faces light up with large toothy grins as they wave at us enthusiastically.  Such spontaneity is a little less obvious in Uganda and quite noticeably different in Rwanda.  I don’t know why this is but it could be partly to do with the trauma the country went through just twenty years ago when the genocide was at its height.  It seems that an ‘I don’t trust anybody’ mentality prevails.  I can well understand this after visiting the Genocide Museum in Kigali.

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Kigali Genocide Museum      (P1090689  DY of jtdytravels)

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The Wall of Names     (P1090699  DY of jtdytravels)

The really sad thing about this museum is that it not only portrays the Rwandan genocide but touches on other genocides of relatively recent times.  We must be reminded of these atrocities, but unfortunately, mankind has not learnt from the previous insane killings.  We haven’t learnt and regrettably there will be other cases in the future where these killings will occur again to meet some despots power struggle or grab for territory and riches.  Can I add oil to the list? …and as the world population grows, water may well be something fought over in time to come.

Helmet wearing is compulsory for motor bike riders and just one passenger plus the driver is strictly adhered to.  There are some quite modern buildings in Kigali, the capital.

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Kigali city      (P1090688  DY of jtdytravels)

Even traffic lights are obeyed.  There are overpasses and planted traffic islands.

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Well maintained traffic islands      (P1090706  DY of jtdytravels)

There are rubbish bins dotted here and there with ‘Keep Kigali Clean’ painted on them.  There are some very steep hills in town but the roads are in good repair, with edges strong and continuous enough to have a white a line painted along them.

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Good roads with edges!      (P1090712  DY of jtdytravels)

There are around 600 Rwandan francs to the USD.

 

More anon David

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