George Van Der Merwe

Rwanda Trip (18 to 24 December 2014)
The purpose of me writing this document is to provide insight for travellers wanting to travel to Rwanda.

The program was as follows and tailored to our needs which for us are great……Desire always manages to cater for our needs!!!!!

Day 1: Arrive in Kigali and travel to the Gorilla Mountain Lodge
Day 2: Visit the Gorillas
Day 3: Visit the Gorillas an travel to Nyungwe Forest Lodge
Day 4: Chimpanzees and Forest Canopy walk/Orchids
Day 5: Colobus monkeys and travel back to Kigali
Day 6: Kigali, flying back home

Day 1:
• We stayed in Joburg so that we can catch the plane to Kigali in the morning. We used Rwandair which is a reasonable airline
• Our tickets were booked via SAA and it seems like SAA is not the most reliable airline as they had to transfer/organise with Rwandair to book us on the plane. So there was some confusion and discussions but that was sorted and we got on the plane to Rwanda
• The plane was half an hour late but it seems like that is the standard flying into Africa as we had other experiences in Africa
• Arriving at Kigali airport I was surprised by the efficient way the passport control operates. We must however understand that this is not Europe. The passport control compared to some of the other African countries was good. We did not have any issues, paid for our visas and collected our luggage
• We were then handed a scissors to remove the wrapping from our luggage, to realise that it’s illegal to have plastic bags in the country. This was immediately evident when we left the airport as Rwanda is one of the cleanest countries in Africa….no plastic bags as decoration on the vegetation or in the streets, which is awesome
• The driver/guide Gaston collected us at the airport with a friendly smile which was great to see. We had a decent 4X4 vehicle which was spacious and comfortable
• We were then transferred by road to the mountain gorilla lodge. Travelling in Rwanda is an experience. The paved roads are in a very good conditions but the country is called the land with a thousand hills…rather thinks it’s a million hills. Travelling on these roads one would be lucky to travel 20kilometers in an hour because the roads are winding and everyone is using these roads. There are a lot of people on the roads which at least is something to look at. And yet again no plastic bags!!!!
• We arrived at the Gorilla Mountain Lodge late afternoon and was greeted by friendly staff and with some ginger tea….for me Rwanda coffee is must better than any some or other fancy tea….so I had my coffee
• The rooms at the Lodge were spacious and very comfortable with no concerns.
• The food was buffet and it was tasteful and enjoyed the food. To be honest the whole trip we just had good food…..
• Gaston then provided us with the program for the next day. We actually had a discussion each afternoon and decide how and when everything would happen.
• Gaston also arranged all our accommodation, we only had to provide our passports.
• That evening we had some of the local kids providing some traditional dancing entertainment…and obviously we had to test our skills…to see if we got the rhythm of the African drum and I was the rhythm master…although my family would not totally agree!!!!

Our late afternoon entertainment…and yes its not raining!!!!

Day 2:
• Today was the purpose of the whole trip, to see the Gorillas.
• To see the Gorillas one need to leave the lodge at 06:40…and yes I still can remember the exact time…trekking for Gorillas is not a lazy event where you have breakfast at 10 and the go looking for the gorillas
• The road to meeting point for the Gorillas was a dirt road which I would call a typical African road.
• There are 10 Gorilla groups which are visited every day for one hour. Every group consisted of a maximum of 8 people. There are more Gorilla groups but these 10 groups are used to people.
• It seems like they divide the groups into…let’s call it fitness levels and age…..and then the trackers will then identify which Gorilla group is where…so some groups will hike half an hour while others will hike 3 hours…
• We were briefed by our guides and they explained to us what group we will be visiting. The group we visited consisted of 13 members with a sliver back. There were several sub adults and females within this group.
• Luckily for us we had a short trip…people must realise that you will be hiking in the forest and if you are lucky there will be some sort of a path. There are separate guides and porters available. We decided to use a porter which I think is a must as the trekking terrain can be demanding. Guides and porters use machetes to cut a path in the forest….
• Everyone was talking about the stinging nettles and some people were protected from toes to ears…..we decided a good pair of waterproof hiking boots will do….proper thick hiking socks…long sleeve shirt, pair of jeans and most important a rain jacket…it always rains in Rwanda…the difference between wet and dry season is just the time of day it rains…..
• And yes there will be mud…and yes you will fall a couple of times in the mud…and on your bum and some lucky ones will be covered in mud…..
• So off we went on looking for the Gorillas. We trekked through some local farmlands and then the climb really started.
• I had my first encounter with the stinging nettles…..I slipped and landed in one of those famous plants…it burns for a while but then it disappears…for me the story of how these things burn and you require all sorts of chemicals to reduce the stinging was somewhat overrated……The one thing I would recommend for some gloves…because as you fall you tend to grab on something to prevent you fall and you would most likely grab a stinging nettle…so I did not have gloves so alternatively when I was falling I just took it in my stride without grabbing anything…which is amusing at best of times……
• After around 45 minutes we reached the group of Gorillas……the rule is that there must be a 7 meter gap between you and the Gorilla…so we try to keep this gap but it’s not possible….if the gorilla decides to walk then there is not enough time to move out the way…so close encounters with gorillas happens regularly
• I was sitting on the ground….and not in a stinging nettle….when a sub adult brushed passed me and actually touched me when she passed….it was an amazing experience
• We then followed the group as they continued with their daily routine….I was interested in meeting the big boss of the group…the silver back…he was an estimated 220kg….and a huge gorilla…a boss that needs to be respected!!!!
• And then…….it rained!!!!! The Gorillas went to hide in the bushes and we had to stand in the rain….and boy did it rain…..and it never stopped!!!!
• We spent less than an hour with the gorillas as when it rains they all just sit under the vegetation and wait for the rain to stop….

The photo above is the big boss eating some vegetation. All Gorillas are vegetarians and not interested in some medium to rare flame grilled rump steak!!!!

• We then hiked back to our vehicles very satisfied with the sightings and to look into a gorilla’s eyes is one experience one will never forget!!!
• We then arrived at a tourist centre where we all got a certificate and where you can buy locals arts and crafts
• We arrived back at the lodge around lunch time where the staff took our hiking boots for a good clean….because yes its mud and more mud!!!
• The afternoon we went for a drive to one of the lakes in the area. We could however not see much as it was pouring with rain…….but it was still worth the drive
• That night we had some good food again…and again a short briefing from Gaston as tomorrow we will be doing another gorilla trek again!!

Day 3:
• We did it all again….mud, rain and stinging nettles!!
• On this day we trekked to find another gorilla family…this family consisted of 23 members….one silver back….a black back or two…females….sub adults and babies
• But……the trekking for today would be slightly longer…..with the same rituals as the previous day
• We trekked for about an hour and a half…it probably felt like 7 hours….up and down the volcano mountains…but it was all worth it
• We saw a month old gorilla baby with its mother…..sub adults playing and of course the silver back eating some mushrooms
• This was by far the highlight of the trip….to see the gorillas
• We spent an hour with this group and luckily it did not rain
• At about lunch time we left the gorilla lodge and drove to Nyungwe Forest Lodge. This was a very long drive…about 7 hours and we only arrived at the lodge around 8pm.
• This lodge was by far the best lodge of the trip. It was stylish and enjoyed every minute of it
• That night Gaston told us we need to get up at around 4am to be in time for the Chimpanzee trekking…it was then that we decided we would rather skip that…have a late breakfast and go for the canopy walk in the forest.
• The rooms are exceptional at the lodge and we were all tired of the long trip from the gorilla lodge

Mother with one month old baby

Sub adults having a bit of fun

Day 4:
• Nyungwe Forest Lodge is within an existing tea plantation and on the edge of the forest.
• We had a late breakfast and sitting outside to relax was another highlight
• At around 10am Gaston collected us for the Canopy walk. There are suspended bridges where you walk with the guide and for the fainthearted the guides assisted on the bridges….and yes the whole family made it walking on the bridge
• The view of the forest was spectacular and there are several different hiking routes within the forest.
• We returned around lunch time and juts sat at the lodge for the rest of the afternoon which was great and relaxing…enjoying the tranquillity and the spectacular view

One of the hanging bridges over the forest canopy
Day 5:
• Today we went for a walk around the lodge and look for the colobus monkeys. We were lucky as they were on the edge of the forest next to the tea plantation.
• We spent walking around the tea plantation learning more about how to grow tea and picking the tea leaves…..what a job that is!!!!
• We then had lunch and travelled back to Kigali.
• It was another 5 hour drive

A view from the lodge
Day 6:
• Today the plan is to visit the genocide museum and tour of Kigali. One my agenda was coffee and the genocide museum
• The genocide museum was a sad flashback of the past when more than a million people was killed. We spent more than 2 hours at the museum
• Then Gaston took me to a coffee factory and I bought beans…lots of it as it was cheap direct from the factory and fresh
• Then we also had to buy some local tea which was more for the family…
• Late afternoon we departed from Kigali…again the plane was 30 minutes late…due to rain….and a late arrival of a connecting flight
• I would change the US dollars at the airport for Rwanda francs. When I did research they suggested we pay is US dollars but not a good idea…as most places just make up the exchange rate. Lodges will generally give you around 650 francs for 1 dollar (official rate is around 700). Other places go as low as 500 or even lower
• Rwanda is safe and we had no issues with crime
• Like I said previously it’s a clean country and they heavily depend on tourism and agriculture
• People are friendly and walking around the country side was a pleasure
• Would I go again… (we only had a short time in the country and wanted to see a lot). I would organise a hike in the morning and rest the afternoon. It gives you more time to enjoy the lodges and the surrounding areas
• For me personally when I go back I would like to focus more on the various plants/flowers as I enjoy taking photos…there’s an abundant of fascinating plant species and flowers
• I would also go to Dian Fossey’s place in the mountains where she did the studies on the Gorillas. She is buried with other gorillas in a cemetery she made. Without her work it would have not been possible to see gorillas!
• I would strongly recommend going on at least two gorilla treks…if you can afford it. The permits are expensive but believe me every group you visit is unique and you have different experiences
• If you enjoy wildlife that is a must!!!!!