Africa Travel expert Peter tells us everything about his amazing gorilla trekking holiday in Rwanda.
Monday mornings can be tough, especially during our long British winter, however, when I strolled out of Kigali Airport one Monday morning in late November - I knew this one would be different.
The striking thing about Kigali is how clean and well maintained the city is, that and the abundance of Gorilla statues that you see as you drive around. Rwandans are very proud of their country and their unique tourist attractions of the Gorillas who take pride of place wherever you travel.
A day in Kigali was taken up by a brief tour of the city and a trip around the craft markets. The Afternoon was spent at the Genocide Museum where the terrible events of 1994 are remembered. This was an incredibly moving and upsetting tour however, it is a key part of the history of Rwanda that the people don’t shy away from talking about. To think this happened less than two decades ago is truly shocking, but the people of Rwanda have forward, determined never to let such shocking events blight their country again. They are truly remarkable people, so warm and friendly, incredibly proud of their unique and beautiful country – rightly so as well.
Our base for seeing the Gorillas was the Serena Lake Kivu, in the town of Gisenyi, 90 minutes South of the Gorilla trekking HQ in the Volcanoes National Park. We travelled up there and had a relaxing afternoon followed by a boat cruise along the lake, before returning for dinner and an early night in anticipation of the early start the following morning.
The 4:30 wake up call was made more bearable by a cup of delicious Rwandan Coffee before we set off for the trekking base. We made good time and were eagerly awaiting the allocation of the group we would be seeing by the guides. Soon we were taken aside and told we would be seeing the Hirwa Group. Hirwa means “lucky” in the local dialect, as the group had twins, a rare sight amongst the Mountain Gorillas. After a short drive to where we would start the walk, we set off to the rainforest. After 20 minutes we crossed into the rainforest and the gentle walk became a bit more of scramble as we ducked through the bamboo, over streams and rocks, all of which heightened the anticipation. After just 20 minutes, we were called to a halt by our guides and asked to leave bags behind and proceed with just our cameras – a sure sign the Gorillas were close by.
We scrambled up a short hillside and, being lucky enough to be leading the group, I caught the first sight of them, three young adults rolling around in a clearing, not worried in the slightest by our presence. As more of our group caught up, the rest of the Gorillas descended to join us and we were treated to a wonderful 20 minutes as they relaxed, ate and groomed each other no more than three metres from where we were sitting. The big male Silverback then decided he wanted to move so the rest of the group followed, as did we, a little higher up the hillside where they treated us to some playful chest beating and fighting. I then noticed three of the younger Gorillas making their way up the pathway behind us – the guide signalled us to stay still and put cameras down as they strolled past. The first passed by as if we weren’t there, but the second one took more interest, stopping by us before holding the gloved hand of one of the party looking up at us and then moving on. The third decided we might be in his way too much and gave one of the party a solid shove in the legs to ensure he could get past – despite their proximity it was hard not to laugh at their brazen cheek!
The hour you are allowed with them passed all to quickly – we saw one of the babies fall from a branch he was swinging on high above us and tumble to the floor, some more chest beating and the occasional playful run towards us. What struck me was how relaxed they were throughout, they seemed almost happy to pose for some wonderful photo opportunities and you couldn’t help but feel some of the behaviour was actually them showing off. The walk down seemed to take no time at all, everyone was chatting and desperate to see one another’s photos of this truly magical experience.
A relaxing afternoon at Lake Kivu followed before travelling back to Kigali and then on to Nairobi for the flight home. Arriving into Heathrow in the dark on a Friday morning is never fun, but I passed the tube ride by looking back at my photos and reliving the wonderful hour I spent in the company of the majestic Gorillas – a magical experience and by far the most memorable of all my trips to Africa.
As I ascended the escalator at Holborn Station, a fellow commuter, clearly in a hurry despite the fact it was just after 7:00am shoved me aside to ensure he got to the top before me. My mind was drawn back to a similar incident with the Gorilla – albeit without the charm and the giggles.
If you have any enquiries or are interested in trekking for gorillas in Rwanda yourself please get in contact with Peter as we are sure he'll be happy to share his story and help influence yours - Call 020 7843 3500 or enquire here.
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