Jan 30-Feb 01, 2023
Rwanda! All I can say is overly impressed.
What has transpired since the genocide of 1994 is nothing short of amazing. A complete “Rebirth” of a nation! My wife Lori and I were in for a treat!
This trip was something we had planned to do with my best friend, David Wilhelm, for the last 5 years. Traveling with our wives was something we cherished, and he and “Suze” made it so easy. Completing this and Everest Base Camp was fulfilling some of the dreams we shared to accomplish together. I am certain he saw them before we did.
First, the country is clean, well-organized, great roads, friendly and inviting. I have traveled to many African countries, and they are at the top. The government even pays many of the people (mostly older women that I saw) to keep the roads and byways clean from all trash and leaves, etc… They take the last Saturday in each month, stop what they are doing, and everyone cleans from 800am-1200pm! Truly amazing.
We arrived at 1230am on Monday January 30th to a very nice international airport in the capital of Kigali. Met by Alex at Akangera Aviation who whisked us thru immigration and customs. We were spoiled as we waited in the lounge while he picked up our baggage. (Lori went to sleep in 2 mins) After exiting the airport, we met Saddy. He and his Black Toyota Prado would be our driver and guide for the next 5 days.
Radisson Blue hotel and conference center was our home for an entire 8 hours. Nice rest, shower and we were on our way to Musanze and the Five Volcanoes National Park. It is about a 2-hour drive. The drive is splendid with amazing views of the terrace farming and small villages along the way. We arrived at The Bishops House around 300pm to a beautiful eight room boutique hotel in the town. The service and accommodations here would prove to be 5-Star. I mean how many places have you sit down after a day of hiking to personally take off your boots and slide you into a pair of slippers. (then they cleaned your boots for the next day)
Tuesday January 31st. We trek.
We started out with a 20–25-minute ride to the national park. After a security check and briefing from our assigned guide, we drove again for 10 mins to begin the trek. We had a porter to carry our pack. This was more of a gesture to assist the local community as our backpack was less than 10 lbs. As we understood, these were former “poachers” who were now shown a legal way to live. We had six on our group (the other four were late 60’s, early 70’s…we were the “babies”) We had two guides and hiked in to meet the ”trackers” for the Kwisanga Family of mountain Gorillas. Our assigned family for the permit. (BTW, permits are $1,500 per person. 10% of that goes to the local farmers to assist with production and education of kids)
Within an hour we had made our way thru local farms and a small community and encountered our first Gorillas. A few females and juveniles, and one big “Black Back”. Then a turn of events. What we thought was an easy hike, found our way thru unchartered “jungle like” land that our trackers hacked their way thru thick brush with a machete to make the path. The brush was dense, hiking difficult, and the “old folks” did have trouble keeping up. We saw multiple babies within 3-4 feet of us, and a few females even came up behind us. (we gladly “gave way” for them to pass, one even tapping Lori on the leg as she came by). We spotted one of the Silver Backs. We made our way closer, but the area was too difficult to maintain footing. I needed my “mountain goat” feet! At one point, one of the older gentleman in the group actually fell down the hill about 20 feet, making two somersaults as he went! YIKES, guessing he was sore the next day.
Then the biggie. One of the trackers headed straight up the hill. I and Lori followed. Grabbing the roots of the thick underbrush(and wondering if they had snacks there), slipping and sliding on wet leaves, we huffed and puffed (over 8,000 ft elevation…and we came from Sea level at the Seychelles) and found ourselves staring into the eyes of a 600 lb. Silver Back Gorilla.
He paid little to no attention to us as we stared in awe at this creature God made. He was amazing. We snapped pics and video as he casually munched on his smorgasbord of leaves and vines. We could see the unique lines on his face and the mammoth hands and feet. After 10 mins or so, we had hit our limit of 60 minutes with the Kwisanga Family. Down we went. (easier going down for sure)
February 01 we re-traced our steps to the National Park. This time we visited the Golden Monkeys. They were fabulous, funny and playful as they frolicked and ate in the Bamboo Forest they inhabited. But held no candle to the Mountain Gorillas!
We stayed one more night at The Bishops House. Donated a cow to a widow woman on Day 3 (see that story by clicking here). Had great meals and relaxing time. We drove back to Kigal on February 02 and visited the Genocide Memorial. No words can explain the One Million lives lost during those 100 days in 1994. You must visit when in Kigali.
We spent the last night of our trip at The Heaven Retreat. Wonderful, eco-friendly hotel and restaurant begun by an American couple some 20 years ago. Worth a stay.
20 days, 10 flights, 8 countries, 10 beds, and 30,000+ Miles flown.
We flew to Nairobi, then to Doha and on to Dallas. What a great trip! Busy, but fun and educational.