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Found 13 results

  1. I am about to do something very impetuous and extremely foolish. I am going to try doing two trip reports at once. With Costa Rica underway, I’m now going to jump off the cliff and start with Rwanda, even though there are still some photos from the trip that I haven’t even looked at yet. But I am so far behind on my trip reports, I fear if I don’t start now, I’ll still be talking about it this time next year and be even further behind. (And after these two are done, I’ve still got Brazil from July 2016). Now, how quickly can I get all this done? That’s another story. Anyway, as they say, “Crazy is as crazy does.” Here goes nothing…… _________________________ I am still bemused by the looks of horror from friends and acquaintances when I tell them that we spent our last vacation in Rwanda. In their defense, most people only know of Rwanda from newscasts covering the savage genocide that occurred there over the course of roughly 100 days in 1994 when nearly 1,000,000 people were brutally slaughtered by their own countrymen, a tragedy later memorialized in the popular and award-winning film Hotel Rwanda. Why, they ask, would I want to go there, of all places? “That’s easy,” I reply. “Gorillas in the Mist,” recalling yet another well-known movie, this one about the late Dian Fossey and her groundbreaking research on the lives of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Then, when they hear of the expense and the trouble necessary to live out this adventure, some of them become incredulous. “I’d just go to the zoo,” they say, teasingly in most instances. But that one yields an easy response, too, because all of the gorillas seen in zoos are lowland gorillas. Their larger cousins, the mountain gorillas, have never successfully been able to live in captivity. There are less than 1,000 mountain gorillas in existence, and they can only be found in a very limited range – the Virunga Mountains straddling the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. For a variety of reasons, I chose to base ourselves in Rwanda for this experience, and Rwanda delivered. To kick things off, here are portraits of the lead silverbacks from the three family groups we saw: Isabukuru Group: Umubano Group: Ntambara Group:
  2. “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
  3. September National Geographic magazine. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/09/gorillas-dian-fossey-saved-rwanda/
  4. This is a fantastic interview of Emmanuel de Merode, head manager of Virunga National Park. The article is fantastic and explain in details the goals the park has fixed in the mid term, the challenges for the park administration and management, and the main achievement in the current context of 20 years of civil war in Eastern Congo. It is one of the best managed parks of Africa if you consider the huge risks it is facing to. They are working to re-control back again The Central and Northern sectors. Lulimbi camp is already offered by some TO and will shortly open to tourism. http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2017/05/12/interview-with-emmanuel-de-merode-director-of-virunga-national-park/ Additional information here: https://virunga.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/VA_ENG-BOOKLET_PRINT.pdf
  5. The 10 Coolest Places to Go in 2017 According to Forbes, two are in Africa: http://www3.forbes.com/business/the-10-coolest-places-to-go-in-2017/7/ My friends are so cool!!
  6. Here is a Nat Geo articule about Virunga National Park, DRC. The older national park of Africa is facing huge challenges to conserve its unique biodiversity. This articles describes the efforts done by the park. Interesting is that they decided to build small hydroelectric plants within the park boundaries to bring electricity to the neighbor communities. By 2018, Virunga hopes to be sustainable by selling electricity up to 100 MW to communities around the park. Quite nice considering the park anual budget is of 8 MUSD. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/07/virunga-national-parks-africa-congo-rangers/
  7. Terrible news: two rangers have been killed in Virunga National Park, and a third one is missing. According to a press release from Virunga.org - the official site for the Virunga National Park: See https://virunga.org/news/rangers-killed-mai-mai-attack-virungas-central-sector/ from which this quote was taken for more of the story.
  8. Trip Report for Virunga National Park, DRC Dec 25th through Dec 30th 2015 Booking Agent: Inspired Journeys **I've attached a file containing the report but with photos. Virunga, DRC: There were very few people that thought that my visiting this country was a good idea. My husband worried about the gorillas and the other guerrillas and my colleagues were worried that I would come back with Monkey Pox, or worse. My friends were convinced that I would become the latest reluctant member of a rebel group. Well, here I am back in the US - happy and healthy. I did see some gorillas just not the kind my husband and friends feared. I didn’t contract monkey pox or any other exotic disease but I did cross paths with few colobus and blue monkeys. On a serious note, not one time during my 5 day trip did I feel unsafe or unwelcome. There existed a genuine appreciation for our visit and a sincere concern for our happiness and well-being by the entire staff at Mikeno as well as the park rangers and gorilla trekking guides. Reaching Virunga - We flew into Kigali and overnighted at the Grand Legacy Hotel; which is about 15 minutes from the KGL airport. The next morning we were picked up at 7:30 am in the morning by our ground driver from Inspired Journeys for the 3.5 hour drive to the border crossing at Goma. We arrived at the border around 11:00 and were met by another driver from Virunga and a rep from Inspired who helped us through immigration and customs. The crossing is simple as long as you have your paperwork in order - Visa and Yellow Fever card. After crossing the border we load our bags in Virunga's Land Cruiser and make our way to the lodge. Along the way we stop to pick up an armed ranger for safety. The drive to the lodge is a jarring ride on roads that are paved with lava rock and dotted with massive potholes. After 2 hours we arrive at Mikeno where we were warmly welcomed by Julie and Patience, the lodge managers who went out of there way to make sure we were comfortable and at “home.” We had lunch on the deck overlooking the massive forest plain and soon any stress or tiredness of the past 2 days of traveling were replaced with the beauty of the lodge and the forest. After lunch we were taken to our cottage where we have a fireplace, electricity, full bath with shower and very comfortable beds. In the afternoon we site on our patio drinking coffee while taking in the sights and sounds of all the monkeys and birds that surround our cottage. The lodge is surrounded by dense forest where everything seems to be on steroids - towering trees, bats the size of a small dogs, millipedes that look like snakes, and hundreds of blue monkeys and black and white colobus monkeys that effortlessly flew through the trees above our heads. In addition, the bird, plant and insect life is incredible - thousands of different species inhabit the surrounding forest. There’s even have a family of chimpanzees that visited the lodge during our stay. We were extremely fortunate to be able to watch them in their natural habitat at a relatively close distance. It’s also home to the world's only refuge for Mountain Gorillas that have been orphaned by poachers or traffickers. Currently, there are 4 young gorillas who are cared for by the staff at Virunga. At sunrise the next day we take off for Bukima in the park’s Land Rover with 2 other guests, where our gorilla trek began. After about a 90 minute journey we arrived at Bukima. There were 9 trekkers on this day and we were split up in 2 groups. In my group there were 3 of us and we hiked to see the Humba family, which consists of six individuals - 1 silverback, 2 juveniles and 2 females, and 1 baby. After a briefing in French about wearing a mask around the gorillas, staying 8 meters away, not making eye contact, and crouching down if we feel threatened, we start making our way through dense the forest. Up steep inclines, through marshes, around elephant watering holes and over huge fallen trees. The gorillas we were tracking kept moving higher up in the forest, and after 2.5 hours we were still climbing with them. But soon thereafter, we met up with the three rangers who left earlier that morning, who tell us to put our masks on. We follow them deeper into the forest when one motions for us to crouch down. One of the other guards whacks open the dense forest curtain and right before us is an amazing sight- a huge silverback. He stares back at us, lays down and poses for us. We just stare back in silence and amazement. That 8 meter rule seems to have become more of a suggestion than a rule. The rangers all appear calm. One motions for us to takes photos, so I pull up my camera frantically start shooting. Then, without any warning the silverback gets up, beats his chests, makes a loud noise and charges through the forest to the other family members. We try to move back but the forest behind us is like a concrete barrier, we crouch and stare at the ground and taking in what we just witnessed. The guards assure us that everything is ok and motion for us to follow behind the silverback. With adrenaline pumping and some caution we follow the silverback to rest of the family. There’s a juvenile and a baby wrestling and with the other members nearby eating the vegetation. We move in a bit closer to get a better view of the wrestling match and the baby locks eyes with me. His big black eyes stare into mine for what could be three seconds or an hour. Our stalemate ends when he takes a few steps toward us and play charges me. Awkwardly, I back into the heavy brush, and I fall into a hole where the ranger had just used his machete to whack open clearing for us. As my trekking mates and the ranger help me out of the hole the two adult females begin to squabble. The two young gorillas stop wrestling and look seriously worried. The Silverback moves in and the the females take the argument behind some brush. The whole forest is filled with these incredibly intense, loud primal screams. The brush is moving violently and the screams continue. We sit quietly and wonder if we’re going to be charged and how do we escape? The gorillas are in front and on each side. As my heart rate begins to increase the guards begin grunting “Ahh hrrmmm” reassurances to the gorillas . The screams continue for a few more moments and then calm breaks among the family. All is well again. The baby and juvenile resume the wrestling match. Transfixed, we crouch in silence. Even without being told to use our indoor voice near the gorillas, every instinct we have have is to be quiet. The baby is once again play charges me again and one of the guards lays his machete on the ground to act as a barrier between us. The baby seems to understand and the play charging stops. The silverback watches from a short distance away while one of the females sits next to him. The other female makes her way toward us and sits down directly in front of us. She stares at us while the guards grunt reassurances and she seems to understand as she grunts back. You can literally see the trust the gorillas have in the guards - it’s remarkable and quite special. The rangers chopped away a clearing behind us so we started to slowly move back watching in awe at her agility as she begins to climb a a very tiny tree to the right of us. After an hour, it's time to leave and we begin our hike back down the mountain. The following day I was up at sunrise for another trek to see the gorillas. This time there were a total of 4 hikers and we trekked together in the same group to see a family of 2 silverbacks, 4 babies, 2 juvs, and 3 females. We hiked through rolling hills, and fertile farmland alongside the lush and emerald green forest. The almost dormant volcanoes were clear that day making for stunning scenery. After about a hour of hiking we entered the forest where we continued trekking for another 15 minutes or so before we located the guards who took us to the family a short distance away. On this day, the majority of the family were huddled together in a lounging and grooming session. Two babies were playing with another baby twirling around on a near-by vine. The babies continued to play only stopping briefly get a closer look at us. The second Silverback was set off from the family and when we located him he was not in the mood for visitors so he climbed a tree and sit atop a branch until we left - watching him go up this tree and balance himself on a small branch was incredible. The remainder of our time in Virunga was spent exploring the many short hiking trails that surround the lodge, getting to know the staff, watching the orphan gorillas and playing hide and seek with the Congo-hounds The war and conflict that has plagued this country was evident from the moment I crossed the border at Goma. There is extreme poverty and no real infrastructure of any sort. We passed convoys of UN trucks and other aid organizations and countless numbers of rag-tag soldiers along the roadside and in the villages leading to the lodgeEven with this chaos I found the country and the people to be intriguing and beautiful highly recommend visiting Virunga. Tips and observations: 1.) We booked our trip through Inspired Journeys and they did an amazing job however it is possible to book directly through Virunga’s website. Virunga’s website allows you to book and pay for lodging, in-country transportation, trekking activities and Visa. They accept all major credit cards and do not charge any service fees. 2.) The gorilla permits cost 450.00 pp but occasionally they discount them to 1/2 price so check with the lodge. 3.) Transportation from Kigali to Goma is expensive. We arranged for a saloon car instead of 4x4. The RT cost for the saloon car was 700.00 vs 1200.00 for a 4x4. The roads are excellent in Rwanda so there’s really no need for a 4x4 unless you have a large group. There are busses and taxis available that may be cheaper. 4.) The hike to see the gorillas can be very difficult due to the terrain, altitude and the humidity and requires some level of fitness. Even if you are fit but have breathing issues such as asma, copd, etc it may be a problem for you. There was one gentleman who went up in another group who became too fatigued to continue the hike and the rangers and the guides had to help him down. 5.) Language - It’s helpful to know some French and/or Swahili as the guides and rangers speak limited English. At Mikeno, the majority of the staff very good English. 6.) Consider a Porter for the trek. It’s a way to support the local community. If you do, make sure the pack is not too heavy and carry a couple of extra bottles of water for the porter. 7.) Camera equipment - The first hike I took two camera bodies and two lens - a 70-200mm / f2.8; and a 24 - 70 mm/f.8. I used one camera for video and one for stills. I took 2 cameras b/c I didn’t want to waist time switching lens however I soon realized that it was too much equipment and on my second trek I took one body and the 70-200 mm lens; which worked just fine. 8.) Essentials: Hiking Gear - I took one good pair of hiking shoes with excellent traction but I wish I’d taken 2 b/c they got very muddy and I didn’t have time to wash and dry them. I also took a few pairs long socks that I tucked in my pants and a light rain jacket. It got very cold in the mornings when I was there so layering worked well but a puffy jacket would have been nice. First Aid Kit - antihistamine, antibiotic (eg amoxicillin), astringent, topical antibiotic, and anti-diarrhoeal meds. There are poison plants and thorns on the hike and although the guards and rangers do their best to point them out if you brush them by accident you’ll want something to help with the itch. If you get a thorn stuck in you like I did you’ll want the antibiotic to calm the infection. The thorn that landed in my leg got a bit infected and had to be drained. Thankfully, I had amoxicillin with me. 9.) VISAs and Yellow Fever: Yellow fever - You must have a Yellow Fever card to enter the DRC. Make sure you fill out the front of the card and sign it - otherwise the nurses at the border may deem it invalid. DRC VISA - You must purchase your VISA in-advance; which can be done through directly through Virunga or perhaps your booking agent. Rwanda Visas - I purchased my visa when I arrived in the country. It’s worth noting it’s a single entry Visa so you’ll have to purchase one when you first arrive the country and when you re-enter from the DRC. Untitled 2.pdf
  9. Hi, Here are some photos from my recent trip to Virunga National Park. Shannon
  10. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150626-virunga-park-ranger-killed-gorillas-world/ Here's a link to contribute to the Fallen Rangers Fund if you are so inclined, to support the rangers' widows and children. Very very sad. http://virunga.org/projects/fallen-rangers-fund/
  11. Reports www.bbc.com To read the full article click here. Is wildlife conservation and associated tourism enough to trump resources under the ground?
  12. I've just seen this on the BBC Head of oldest African Park shot I keep hoping the one day we might get to hear some good news from the DRC and from Virunga for a change I hope he makes a full recovery, I would also like to say that I hope the perpetrators are brought to justice in some way but I fear with things they way they are in the DRC that that is not very likely
  13. Worrying news from Dr Congo, reported by African Conservation Foundation Carcasses of three elephants stripped of their tusks, probably poisoned, were recently discovered in Virunga National Park in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a local NGO announced on Tuesday. "All the remains of the poached elephants have the same characteristics: they are mutilated and their tusks are removed, but they bear no sign of bullets. Near the elephants fieldworkers of IDPE found 10 bodies of vultures, which had no impact of bullets either. The vultures probably came to feed on the remains of the elephants. This probably means the elephants have been poisoned", said representatives of Innovation for Development and Environmental Protection (IDPE) in a letter to the governor of the province of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, and to the Congolese President Joseph Kabila. click here to read full article

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