Zim Girl

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Zim Girl last won the day on November 16 2016

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  1. Next we were introduced to Lambert, the chief guide. Lambert featured in a BBC documentary made a couple years ago called The Gorilla Family and Me with wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan. They followed the Chimanuka family and Gordon was also asked to help with the habituation of the Mpungwe family. Lambert told us he had been tracking the gorillas of KBNP for 30 years and that today he wanted us to see Chimanuka’s group. Lambert’s English was excellent, he had a cracking sense of humour and we were to be very impressed with his skills as a guide. The Chimanuka group originally had 37 members but subsequent interactions with other groups led by Mpungwe and Bonane (Chimanuka’s son) has meant this has now been reduced to 22. The Chimanuka and Mpungwe groups had been followed for quite some time by ICCN rangers and researchers and because of the interaction with Bonane (pronounced Bon-an-nay) a new group formed, ready habituated, as Bonane and the 4 females who joined him came from already habituated groups. Bonane is now a group of 6 members as one of the females has just given birth. Mpungwe is a group of 20 with one Blackback along with the females and youngsters. We waited with Lambert until he received word that the trackers had found the trail of the Chimanuka group and then we were driven with himself and the rangers about 10 minutes up the forest road until we reached the start of the trail into the bamboo forest. The forest was very dense but the temperature was perfect for trekking, probably around 18 degrees or so. We were following a trail for around 3 hours when it became clear during several radio cons between Lambert and the trackers that the trail they had thought was Chimanuka’s actually belonged to Mpungwe. However, we were unable to visit this group as it was already being observed by researchers. We could tell Lambert was a touch unhappy as he explained that at this time of year when the groups are moving on the ground a lot more it can happen that trails are crossed and become confused. We all took a break and waited for Lambert to ‘make a plan’. Picture of one of the rangers taken while we were waiting. We were just discussing with the German couple the possibility of not finding any gorillas today when Lambert stood up and announced that ‘we would just have to go and see Bonane instead’. We were relieved as we didn’t mind which group we saw but it turned out that Lambert was disappointed because the Germans had seen that group yesterday and he was most upset they would see the same group twice. They assured him they were fine about it. So off we went and within about 20 minutes we spotted our first gorilla. Now normal practice with gorilla trekking in DRC is for everybody to wear masks. Unfortunately we had been told at the HQ they had just run out, so today’s trek would have to be an exception to this rule. We were watching one of the females and then Lambert spotted Bonane so he pulled us into a good position for watching him. Here goes picture overload on our first Eastern Lowland (Grauer's) Gorillas. (A thank you to @Jochen at this point for his tutorial a couple of months ago, I manually overrode the camera ISO settings to 800 & 1000 for these pictures,not something I would have thought to do before reading it) Female Going back to the differences between Eastern Lowland and Mountain gorillas. Eastern Lowland gorillas are larger, have a longer head with a slimmer nose and mouth, slightly longer arms and shorter finer hair on their bodies. Mountain gorillas have longer more dense hair. Silverback Bonane Lambert took our camera to do a spot of filming. Then Lambert got very excited and told us to watch the female coming into view. This was Siri, the mother of the new born. The baby is around 7-10 days old and as yet they have been unable to determine the sex. More of Bonane A different female - note the damaged right eye Below a couple of Lamberts efforts with the filming. This one shows the female walking in with the baby, although too far away to actually see it on film After our hour was up we made our way back through the forest and onto the initial trail that took us back to the forest road where the vehicle was waiting to take us back to the Park HQ. Finding our way back to the trail. We got back to HQ at around 4pm and after a quick and interesting chat to one of the reseachers working in the Park on behalf of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Martin took us back to the Orchids Hotel.
  2. Wednesday 13th September We had breakfast at 6.30am and Martin arranged to meet us at 7.00am for the drive to Kahuzi-Biega NP. So we were back out into the dusty chaos of Bukavu. We drove along a road that roughly follows the shore of Lake Kivu. The journey to Tshivanga where the NP headquarters are based takes around one and a quarter hours as the road is very badly pot-holed. There is one short section that is in fairly good condition closer to the Park and that requires a toll to be paid to use it. All along the sides of the road there was plenty of activity with people selling fruit and vegetables and other produce. Further along there were many more people, young and old, sat next to big piles of rocks breaking them down into small pieces for use in building houses. On Lake Kivu we also saw the unusual fishing boats with their long extensions at either end. They sail three abreast with their nets attached between the boats. These pictures of the fishing boats were taken from our room the evening before. The road eventually moves away from the lake side and travels inland. We go through a small but very busy village called Miti and then on to the toll road and Kahuzi-Biega which is now about 7km away. The Park is named after two extinct volcanoes, Mt Kahuzi, which means ‘windy’ in the local language and Mt Biega, which means ‘rocky’. The Park started life in 1937 as the Zoological Reserve of Kahuzi and was created by the then Belgian Colonial government for the protection of the Eastern Lowland Gorilla (now actually more correctly called Grauer’s Gorilla). In 1970 the Park was established in it’s current form as Kahuzi-Biega NP and was co-founded by a Belgian called Adrien Deschryver who had begun habituating the gorillas there in the 1960s. In 1980 the Park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site but sadly in 1997 was put on, and currently is still on, their sites in danger list. During our briefing at the Park HQ we were told this is something they are hoping will change soon. When we arrived we were met very enthusiastically by the Tourism Manager, Juvenal, who encouraged us to wander around and take as many photos as we wanted. The area around the HQ had a very relaxed feel to it and everybody was very friendly. The ICCN guys were practising their marching skills. Various primate and antelope skulls displayed outside the main tourist building. The grave of Adrien Deschryver who died of a heart attack in 1989. The only other tourists with us there for trekking today were a German couple on a mainly Rwandan itinerary. After a short while we were invited to sit in the large tourist office for tea and coffee and a briefing on the history of the Park and it’s gorillas. Juvenal started with a very heartfelt speech about how much our visit to KBNP was appreciated and valued, and I have to say we really did feel very glad we had come. So, back to Adrien Deschryver and gorilla habituation techniques. At around the same time Dian Fossey was in the process of habituating Mountain Gorillas on the Rwandan side of the Virungas, Deschryver was doing the same in KBNP. His first gorilla group and Silverback was called Casimir (named after the first tourist to see him who was Austrian). There are a couple of important differences between the methods of habituation by Deschryver and Fossey which affects how to behave in front of the gorillas. Deschryver always stood up in front of the silverback Casimir. Fossey always knelt down in front of the silverback Digit. Deschryver always looked Casimir in the eyes. Fossey always looked aside to avoid face to face contact with Digit. So, we were told when we are viewing the group, should the silverback charge or come towards you, you had to stand your ground, stay upright and look him in the eyes. This differs from the advice given when viewing Mountain gorillas which is to stay low and avoid looking at the silverback. Both techniques by Deschryver and Fossey resulted in successful habituation of each sub-species of Eastern gorilla. Then Juvenal went on to talk about the gorilla groups in the Park. KBNP is split between a large lowland area to the west and a smaller highland area to the east. There are 12 gorilla groups in the highland area, 3 of which are habituated to tourists, Chimanuka, Mpungwe and Bonane, all named after the dominant silverback in each group. Eastern gorilla groups differ from Mountain gorillas groups in that there is usually only one silverback in each group. More about the groups when we meet them. There are 3 eating periods in KBNP. ‘leaves’ – mid December to mid June – this helps to fatten up the gorillas ‘fruits’ - mid June to mid September – gorillas stay up in the trees more and can travel long distances ‘bamboo’ - mid September to mid December – gorillas stay closer to the ground eating the new shoots. We were told the best time to view the gorillas are between now and November as the groups are easier to find because they are generally down on the ground more and not moving around so much. Mid September to mid December is the 'short rains' time but we found it rained mainly for short bursts in the afternoons so our treks weren't affected. The other seasons are 'short dry' - mid December to mid March, 'long rains' - mid March to mid May, 'long dry' - mid May to mid September. First gorilla trek up next.
  3. Thank you so much everybody for your comments and kind words. It has been a fairly crappy couple of weeks but Ben had a great life and we had a really good last day with him so trying to be positive. So now getting back into this trip report. Next section, bit heavy on text and light on pics but trying to include lots of info on Kahuzi-Biega NP as not as well visited as the other 'Gorilla' parks.
  4. The road from the border crossing leads straight into Bukavu. Bukavu is the capital city of South Kivu province. It sits along the southern coastline of Lake Kivu with it’s five peninsulas jutting out into the lake. The buildings of the city are built up from the lakeside and into the surrounding hills. It was obviously once a very beautiful place with it’s many art deco buildings and even now still has bags of character and colour. However, the road infrastructure has disintegrated and is now virtually non-existent with everywhere in a bad state of disrepair. Traffic is very busy and driving here is definitely not for the faint-hearted – imagine Delhi at rush hour but without any roads or pavements. Horns are blaring constantly and the motorbike is king. In order to make any headway Martin just drove into gaps that weren’t there and then you would find that a motorbike had followed in next to you. I have no idea how we didn’t become one big pile up of vehicles. It was quite an experience – and actually great fun (for us at least)! After a while we trundled down a little side street, through some metal gates and into the oasis of calm and greenery that is the Orchids Safari Club. We were in room 1 which was at one end of a line of ground floor rooms with terraces that look directly out onto the lake. There is just a small strip of grass between the end of the tiled terrace and the steep slope down to the lake and great views across to part of the city and the next peninsula. Here are some pictures showing the hotel room and gardens. Whoops, just noticed me in the mirror. The lake at the end of our terrace. The lovely hotel gardens. View of a lake jetty and Bukavu.
  5. Thank you for all your comments, I want to try and do justice to DRC and this trip report, but I am afraid there will be just a few days break before I can post again. In the last couple of days we have had to make the very sad and hard decision to put our beloved and beautiful dog Ben to sleep. So we are now spending our last weekend with him and trying to enjoy the time as best we can and celebrate the wonderful 11 years we have had with him. The next post had already been prepared so I will put this up and get back as soon as I can.
  6. @Chakra Funny enough, that book was on the reading shelf at Mikeno Lodge and Mr ZG read it while we were there. Nyiragongo would have been a great addition to the holiday and it was mainly time and budget constraints that meant we left it out.
  7. Monday 11th September Arrived in Kigali at 8.15pm and was met by Martin who was to be our driver and guide for the duration of our trip. He took us straight to the Hotel des Mille Collines for our overnight stay. Kigali at night from our hotel room. Tuesday 12th September Breakfast on the terrace at the Mille Collines lived up to it’s reputation and we had a very relaxing time and some very good food before being picked up by Martin at 7.45am for the start of our Congo adventure. Martin is Congolese and lives in Goma and knows this part of Congo like the back of his hand. The terrace at the Mille Collines We followed the main RN1 road south west of Kigali passing the many crop fields of sweet potato, sugar cane, bananas, rice and farmed fish ponds. Rice fields at Gitarama. The terraced crop fields that Rwanda is famous for. As we approached Nyungwe Forest the big tea plantations started to appear. Driving through the forest we were hit by a massive rainstorm, so heavy that Martin decided to stop driving for a while and we waited for it to ease off. This slowed us down a bit so we only reached the border with DRC at 1.30pm. In better conditions this drive can probably be done in 4-4.5 hrs. View of Bukavu, DRC from the road to the border crossing. DRC has 2 main border points with Rwanda. A ‘dry’ one at the new One-Stop border post at Goma and a ‘wet’ one here at Cyangugu, (as explained by Martin). If you are wondering about the ‘wet’ bit, the crossing into DRC is actually a bridge over the river running from Lake Kivu. This is a picture of the nice new blue steel bridge. This, however, is a very sneaky phone shot (no pictures allowed at the border) of the extremely rickety wooden bridge next to it that is used instead!! The vertical slats you can see have been nailed to the horizontal ones for a bit of extra support – comforting to know or possibly not when you also find out that this is the main entry point for all commercial traffic, ie. Big, heavy trucks, into South Kivu from Rwanda. Martin’s theory is that they will start using the new bridge when the wooden one finally gives way! Not wanting to be the straw on that camel’s back we whizzed across quick. Back to the border formalities. Everywhere was busy and fairly chaotic looking as is usual at an African land border but this was actually a very easy crossing. First we queued at the small building on the Rwandan side to get our exit stamps, this only took about 20 mins. Then on the other side of that bridge we parked up and Martin took us to a much more rustic hut that was the DRC border post. This time Martin took our passports and went into the very small office to handle things for us. Prior to our trip Steppes had organised our visa application forms and Martin had copies of these. The visa for UK tourists is $100 each. We were never asked for our Yellow Fever certs although you are advised that these are required. While we were waiting for him a chap came up to us asking why and where we were visiting, he had thought we were probably aid workers as most white people at the border are, it turns out. He was most pleased we were actually tourists and going to be visiting Kahuzi-Biega. He was a security consultant seeing a few researchers through the border. He has also been involved in security in Kahuzi-Biega and was keen to tell us how good the ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) guys are and how well they are operating the tourist section of the Park. By now, Martin had reappeared with our passports and we were on our way. This didn’t take much more than about 20 mins either.
  8. @ld1 Blood River is a great book, I read it for a 2nd time before we went away. Also, on the subject of books about the Congo. I can highly recommend 'Congo' - The epic history of a people by David van Reybrouck. An extremely well written and well researched book about the history of DRC but told more from it's peoples perspective.
  9. “It is Hard Work” Now that isn’t a comment on our journey through the Congo, but a quote that came up more than once from our wonderful driver/guide Martin, and sadly pretty much sums up the life of the average Congolese. On a much happier note for us, we have just come back from one of the most amazing trips to Africa we have ever been on. First, the trip itinerary. 11/9 - Day flight to Kigali, Rwanda, with KLM from Manchester via Amsterdam. Overnight in the Hotel des Mille Collines. 12/9 - Road journey to the border with DRC at Cyangugu via Nyungwe Forest. 3 nts in Orchids Safari Club hotel in Bukavu. 13/9 - Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP. 14/9 - Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP. 15/9 - Boat transfer on Lake Kivu to Goma, road journey to Virunga NP. 3 nts Bukima Camp 16/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. 17/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. 18/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. Road transfer to Mikeno Lodge, stay for 2 nts 19/9 - Free day at Mikeno Lodge 20/9 - Road journey back to Goma, cross border and onward to Kigali. Overnight flight back to Manchester with KLM. Steppes Travel based in the UK, arranged this trip for us. They have plenty of experience in arranging travel to the more off the beaten track destinations and as we had used them for several holidays in the past we had every confidence in them. In the DRC they use a trusted and very reliable ground agent and at no point during the holiday did we feel unsafe in any way whatsoever. We particularly wanted to see the Eastern Lowland Gorillas. They can only be found in Eastern DRC and the only habituated groups accessible to tourists are in Kahuzi-Biega NP. It then made sense to combine this with a visit to Virunga NP to see the Mountain Gorillas. We had previously trekked Mountain Gorillas back in 2006 in both Rwanda and Uganda so it would be nice to finally see them in the Congo as well. I will round off this intro with pictures of 2 Silverback gorillas. The first is the Eastern Lowland and the second, the Mountain Gorilla. See the differences? More on that and the different methods of habituation later in the report. Eastern Lowland Gorilla - Bonane, Bonane Group, Kahuzi-Biega NP Mountain Gorilla Silverback - Humba group, Virunga NP
  10. In 4 days time we will be on our way to the Democratic Republic of Congo. 2 treks with the Eastern Lowland Gorillas and 3 treks with the Mountain Gorillas - can't wait !!
  11. @AfricIan Really enjoying this report on Malawi - very interesting. Nice picture of the 3 Sable in post 18 and lovely scenery shots above.
  12. Such a shame this has come to an end. I have really enjoyed reading along, the stories so amusing and well told and the pictures as always are all stunning.
  13. @TonyQ I also really enjoyed this report - lots of incentive to get up there.
  14. @pault Wow, what a story, can only imagine how awful you must have felt during those seconds when the plane hit the bird and waiting to see what happened. Lovely lion pics and cheetah chase sequence
  15. @Dave Williams Funny!! Well I feel much better now about our pictures, we were so pleased to actually see a live one and to get any shot at all, and then I saw yours and was a touch deflated

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