It’s Kigali, one of the jewels of Africa. Our flight was Rwanda Express…super easy and landed ahead of schedule. Amos was there to meet us and his smiling face is just one of the many reasons I love this country. The Kigali Serena is another! I got my usual room with a view of the lights sparkling among the hills. The whole group is here and we enjoyed Mongolian stir fry for dinner.
1 There really isn’t anything like the breakfast spread at the Serena. They make a great safari omelet, hot crepes and anything else you would want for a perfect start to the day. Our first outing is to the Genocide Museum that not only tells the history of Rwanda’s genocide, but the dark history of the Balkans, Cambodia, Namibia, the Holocaust, Yugoslavia, and more. The overall story lets you know what a dark time it was 20 years ago and how much has changed to make this country a beacon of forgiveness and hope. Then it was lunch on the way out of town and up country to Volcanoes National Park. We were greeted at our lodge by a traditional dance troop made up of students from a local school who use our donations for books and continuing education. Tonight we get out the trekking gear and the cameras we need for tomorrow’s gorilla adventure. At dinner we had a good chance to talk through exposure theory so we have a chance to get the fur texture and the delicate grays on the gorillas’ faces. It was cool to see the “A-HA” when we pretended a black camera case was the gorillas black fur. My hut is so damn cool! It’s got a small heating unit if you need it, but the fire place does just fine!! Snuggly blankets and perfect pillows made for a real good night’s sleep. BTW No Fanta Passion but DAMN…Fanta Citrus….Not Bad!
Day 2 First gorilla trek! Breakfast at 6 and a drive to the park headquarters for group assignments. We had a lovely Dutch lady join our group. Our guides took us to the Umubano family who’s silverback is named Charles. I was with this family 3 years ago and the head tracker remembered me and Ralph. It was a more rigorous hike to the Buffalo Wall than I have ever had before. It was an hour and forty-five minutes with a couple of tricky rock areas. Penny made it so I was happy. Then the trek began in earnest…we trekked 4 minutes to a glade where the porters handed us our cameras. Holy Moly…we’re here. 14 gorillas including 2 silverbacks, one mom with a 6 week old baby, a couple of knucklehead juveniles, and a couple of black backs are what I remember seeing. There were more climbing in the trees, but the ones we photographed were in open green glades, feeding, playing, and grooming. Charles was in full view as he peeled jade green leaves from the bushes. He called to the mother who walked out of the forest with the baby in her arms. She sat down on a green mound in full view right in from of us. We ended up with an open glade with 7 or 8 gorillas in it. Everyone got their share of great shots but I have high hopes for one of Lynn’s shots. One of the knuckle heads did a slow motion summersault right in front of her! Lunch and a rest before we visit the gorilla vet’s offices. I may stay back and just feel that special glow on my legs from the stinging nettles.
Day 3 trek We got the Sabinyo group. It’s the 3rd or fourth time with this big family. I’ve had great and bad photo experiences with them. Today we had both. We had a 25 minute hike to the Buffalo Wall and then it was bamboo all the way for an hour. When we found them they were buried at the top of the bamboo plants and unviewable. We waited until they moved on and then it was more bamboo followed by more bamboo. Up and down (Still WAY better than Uganda) Until we came to a green valley filled with ferns and nettles. The whole family was there and we had great views of juveniles at play, moms and small babies, but best of all a huge silverback (#2 in the family power structure) walking through the green and eating. In the end we had some really good shots. The way down, oddly enough, wound through the same bamboo stands as when we came up…go figure. If I never see bamboo again it will be too soon. BTW this is the family with Big Ben, the only bald gorilla in the world. On the way out the whole family had circled around in front of us and trooped right through or group and up the path.
Wow, people are getting great shots. We’ve been able to go through the shots in some very productive critique sessions. Tom is very new to the game and had problems with settings on his CoolPix camera. We were able to go in, find the right settings, look at his “Bad” photos and do some rescue in Photoshop. He has some AMAZING stuff and I’m so happy for him that they aren’t lost.
Day 4 Last trek. I can only hope for a few things in life…No bamboo, Kwitonda Family group, and overcast light. Well, we got all three today. It was a bit of a trek at ninety minutes (Plus 40 min to the Buffalo Wall) Penny was our “Pace Car” and took us slow but sure through the Magical forest (Did I mention there was no bamboo?) Brilliant green vegetation, open glades and powerful old growth trees were the habitat for the 23 gorillas that make up the Kwitonda Family. By the time we got there the feeding was done and the silverbacks and adult females were resting. This meant that the inmates were running the asylum! There were babies and juveniles everywhere; wrestling, chasing, grooming, and , best of all, climbing. One of the 3 year olds (We’ll just call him Trouble) ran around giving each sleeping adult a swat on the chest. Then he would climb a set of small trees right in front of us and bounce on the branches till they bent and broke sending him tumbling to the ground. Once he landed right on me!!!The photos are stunning. After each escapade he would stop in front of Penny, as if asking for her approval. We had lots of great shots so we moved to a different spot where a mother was cuddling her 5 month old baby. As soon as we got into position Trouble came bursting through the trees and tackled the baby. The baby got up, pounded his chest and took off after Trouble. The played catch with a wild squash and climbed in some of the small trees. When our hour was up we hiked back to our porters….We kept hearing the gorillas and when we turned around there was Trouble on the path behind us. He stayed with us for a while till the silverback gave a loud call and he scampered off into the bush. It was a quick pack up, lunch, load and off to Kigali through a lightning storm. Very impressive among the hills. We checked into the Serena Hotel, had a fantastic farewell dinner. Tomorrow we can relax, do some Photoshop instruction and head to the airport for our flights home.