Ethiopia     East Africa Safaris

On the Road to Rwanda's Mountain Gorillas

12/1/06 - 12/12/06

The next big part of our safari was centered around tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Only about 40 people a day are granted permits to visit the families, so permits are arranged weeks to months in advance. Our permits were arranged for a day a little earlier than we had hoped, so we raced across Kenya and Uganda to get into Rwanda in time. We'll spend some more time in Uganda and quite a bit in Kenya afterwards.

Race through Kenya

Our first day in Kenya was interesting. We crossed the border at lunchtime, but couldn't go any further without a military escort that wouldn't leave until the net morning. Our first day in Kenya was spent relaxing and camping in a police compound. We spent a couple days driving on soft dirt roads that managed to mire our truck at one point. Driving near Marsabit, we had our first real game sightings: herds of impalas, gazelle and other animals we just called "deer", a herd of zebras, and three huge giraffes right at the side of the road. We also got to meet our first Imbili warrior, who hitched a ride into town with us. And sold Mary a bracelet...

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Passing through Uganda and Rwanda

This first pass through Uganda was a blur. Our heads and the exchange rates were spinning quickly through the 4 countries we crossed within a week. We'd crossed the equator 3 or 4 times so far, but Uganda was kind enough to put up a little shrine and souvenir stands for us. Both Rwanda and Uganda are strikingly lush with hills covered in a patchwork of fields. We were a bit surprised to see hillsides and valleys of tea in Rwanda.

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Face to Face with the Silverback

The whole reason to tramp across Uganda and into Rwanda was to spend a day hiking into the jungle tracking one of the 10 families that live in Volcanoes National Park. We picked a group with 36 gorillas: four silverbacks, two male blackbacks, ten adult females, a bunch of kids and the 2 year old twins. With our trackers to find the gorillas and four soldiers to protect us from guerillas, we trudged through bamboo, stinging-nettles and lots of mud. We actually heard about a couple who were held up by AK47-toting guerillas just a couple days before our hike in a neighboring park. But once we met our first silverback, nothing else mattered. The gorillas display amazingly human emotion and behavior and can move with incredible grace for their size (up to something like 450 pounds) and strength. We were able to get within about 3 feet of a couple, including the big silverback and yet felt totally comfortable in their presence.

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Return to Uganda

We passed back through Uganda on our return to Kenya and spent time in Jinja and the capital of Kampala. We took a break from our travels in Kampala to catch the new James Bond flick: two thumbs up from us. In Jinja, I went for a cat5 whitewater raft down the Nile right from it's source at Lake Victoria. We spent more time under the raft than in it. Also in Jinja, we spent some time helping to paint a school in a small village outside town.

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