Our first view of the Parc National Des Volcans, Rwanda. Home of the Mountain Gorillas.
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Rwanda Trip Journal from December 30, 2007 to January 02, 2008

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Country: Rwanda
Duration: Dec. 30, 2007 to Jan. 02, 2008
Distance Traveled in the Country: Approx. 440km on the motorcycles.
Most Memorable Impressions:
Rwanda reminded us of Ethiopia, people, people and more people walking on the road.  The only difference was that instead of using donkeys to carry stuff, in Rwanda everyone is on a bicycle.  Rwanda is very mountainous and being this close to the equator very green and lush.  Our most memorable moment of course is trekking the mountain gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans.  Standing face to face with a Silverback Mountain Gorillas is something neither of us will ever forget.
Our Favourite:
- Unforgettable encounter with the mountain gorillas.
Fuel Cost: 770RFr/litre ($1.30CDN/litre) for Unleaded Fuel.
Accommodations: Camped two (2) nights for 6,000 RFr/night ($12.00CDN/night).  One (1) night in Hotel for $40US/night.
Exchange Rate: 550 Rwanda Franc (RFr) = $1.00CDN
Border Formality Costs: Visa = Free for Canadians; Motorcycle Customs = Free with Carnet de Passage

Dec. 30, 2007.  Border Formalities into Rwanda were a breeze; we even received a Happy Holiday's Greeting Card.  We had heard that some tourists coming from Uganda into Rwanda had to sit through interviews performed by a medical person to ensure that one has not been in contact with Ebola.  Prior to entering Rwanda we both had sat down and got our stories right to where we had been in Uganda, as the Ebola outbreak in December was mostly concentrated in the northern parts of Uganda, like Murchison Falls.  We of course choose not to mention that we had visited the Murchison Falls.  Instead of a medical interview, Mike had to fill out a couple of forms and sign his life away.  Prior to entering Uganda we had heard about the Ebola outbreak and researched the disease, which is always deadly and no cure exists.  The only way we would be getting the disease was by being in actual fluid contact with a person who was infected with Ebola.  In Rwanda we switched back to right side of the road driving and added an hour to our watches.  The speed limit is 60km/hr and most roads are paved (good pavement).  The speed limit is actually quite strictly enforced.  The reason for a low speed limited is the narrow roads and all the people walking on them.  Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa.  7.4 million people in 26,338 sq km.  In Ruhengeri we turned and followed well signed directions to the Parc National des Volcans.  Prior to getting accommodations we visited the Park Office and spoke with the Ranger to see if we could get into see the mountain gorillas.  He advised us that there is no guarantee, but to show up every morning at 7am to see if there are cancellations.  And do not forget the $500.00US/person cash.  The Parc National des Volcans has a lot more to offer then only seeing the famous mountain gorillas.  Seven stunning volcanoes line the border between Uganda, Congo and Rwanda.  It is possible to trek to the top of these volcanoes. But it is not cheap. For example to hike up Bisoke (3711m) in a day it is $75US/person or Karisimbi (4507m) can be conquered in two days.  To see the Dian Fossey grave you pay $50.00/person and the near by Chimpanzees $100.00/person. All hiking require the use of a guide. If we could not get in to see the mountain gorillas, we would keep ourselves busy by doing some of the above mentioned activities until two (2) spots would be available.  Only 200m from the Park Headquarter is the Kinigi Rest House/Camp and we tented in the yard for 6,000 RFr/night ($12.00CDN/night).

Dec. 31, 2007.  We are unable to sleep a lot during the night as we are both excited of the possibility to trek mountain gorillas.  Again we try not to get our hopes up.  Like two eager kids we are at the Park Headquarters  by 6:45am. Tourists and more tourists are streaming in and our hopes diminish. If we would not get into see the gorillas today, we would hike Bisoke Volcano we decided.  By 7:30am our names are called and we grouped with another 6 tourists.  We are in, but first we had to pay the $1000.00US in cash to the Ranger and get an official receipt.  The $1000.00US will get us one (1) hour with the mountain gorillas. As we are quite late already, we pile in with two (2) Germans into their vehicle and head toward Bisoke Mountain to start the trekking. Trekking gorillas is actually not that simple and encompasses a lot more.  It all starts with the tracker. The tracker gets up at 5am every morning and makes its way into the forest to locate the target group of gorillas.  Gorillas do not travel in the night and by night fall, they have already chosen their camping ground where they build nests for their slumber.  The tracker follows the gorillas tracks through the forest, sniffing for their droppings until he catches up with them.  Then he radios in the gorillas location to the guide.  That is were we as tourists come into place.  The guide will lead us to the location.  As each group of gorillas is on the move every day, locating and hiking to the gorillas can take from one (1) hour to five (5) hours. Here are some more interesting facts about mountain gorillas:

In 2005, 30 babies were born, 2006, 13 babies and in 2007 23 babies.  120 gorillas are allocated for tourism, which means that tourists are guided every day to see them.  The time spent with each group is limited to one (1) hour.  101 gorillas are specific for research.  221 gorillas are on the Rwanda side, through a census will be completed in 2008 and the number is estimated closer to 250 gorillas on the Rwanda side.  Between Rwanda, Congo and Uganda it is estimated just under 800 mountain gorillas exist.  140,008 visitors from 89 countries have visited the gorillas in Rwanda since 1975.  Sigourney Weaver played Dian Fossey in the movie called "Gorilla's in the Mist".  Dian Fossey came to an untimely brutal death in 1985 and is now buried beside Digit on the mountain.  Her life achievements and work is an inspiration to all of us. 

The road to the Bisoke Mountain was brutal.  We were really glad we did not bring the motorcycles.  It took us almost 1 hour in the 4x4 to get to the trekking start point.  As each group is limited to 8 tourists, we were two (2) Australian, four (4) Germans and two (2) Canadians, plus the guide, a mechadi guy to clear the path, a helper and two (2) armed military personnel. Our guide is continuously in contact with the tracker and our gorilla group, the Shinda group has been located. The Shinda group, is part of the research groups and only visited by tourists during very busy periods.  After a couple of hours of walking along a well defined path we reach a direction sign indicating "To Dian Fossey Grave".  Here we leave our backpacks and gear up in our rain clothes.  The gorillas are close by and within minutes we see our first Silverback mountain gorilla.  The rule is that you have to stay 7m from the gorillas.  That rule does not apply to the gorillas, who can close the distance with you in a second.  In one instance the Silverback suddenly got up and moved into our path.  I pretty much almost jumped on top of Mike.  We were able to get close to three (3) Silverbacks and saw numerous females with their young. The time flew by and we were all disappointed when the guide gave us 5 minutes to go.  We have not met anyone who was not as taken as we all were with the experience.  A lot of money well spent.  The entrance fee goes to the up keep of the park and protection of the mountain gorillas. When we returned to the camp we were fortunate to meet by accident the veterinarian for the gorillas in the park.  Polish in descent, she only recently had transferred from Tanzania, where she was the veterinarian for the Chimpanzee groups. We told her that we had seen the Shinda group, which surprised her as not a lot of tourists get to see the research groups.  She asked if we heard one of the Silverbacks cough.  It seemed that at her last visit one of them had gotten a cold.  She was very excited about her new job working with the mountain gorillas.  She stressed the importance that people with a cold should not visit gorillas or chimpanzees, because their DNA is very similar to ours, they can catch our cold and can die from it.  In the evening we sat around the fire waiting for midnight to arrive, but in the end we were too tired and set the alarm.  We rung in the New Years in our tent in Rwanda with a cup of Coca Cola.

Jan. 01, 2008.  At last minute we decide to ride to Gisenyi, a small "resort" town at the shores of Lake Kivu.  The road from Ruhengeri to Gisenyi passes over a pretty mountain range on a paved road.  It is New Year's day, but for the locals it is just another day. Everyone still goes on with their day to day activities.  In Gisenyi we check into a nice hotel for $40.00US/night.  The room had a huge balcony.  After cleaning up we walked along the shore line of Lake Kivu and ran into the only other white people, a couple from Germany, who we had been Gorilla trekking with.  As we sat in the sand, locals would pass and touch my hair.  I had it open and it was still quite red from dying it at a campground in Kenya. Our hotel was only 400m from the Congo border and the town of Goma, which was destroyed by the eruption of the Volcano Nyiragongo in 2002.

Jan. 02, 2008.  It was time to make a mile again and head into Tanzania. We back tracked to Ruhengeri and took the twisty paved road to the capital, Kigali.  The town is perched on top of a hill, and has a sleepy feel about it.  In desperate need of some cash we stop at the town center and by chance a shopping mall.  The system was down in the first bank I tired.  Every country has some different procedure of how to withdraw or change money.  Here I was asked into a small office, where they took the visa and withdrew a 100Euro, then changed it into the local currency.  Of course it was not that simple, as one person swipes the card, another person take down the passport information, another counter has to count the money and then after half an hour we walk out with cash.  We had hamburger and fries at the mall in the food court, which consisted of one fast food restaurant.  The shopping centre in all consisted of a bank, a grocery store and a couple of little touristy shops.  In the grocery store I was able to restock on shampoo, conditioner and some other items.  Again Rwanda is a very garbage clean country, very much like Ethiopia.  This is mainly due to glass bottles for sodas and the non existing plastic bags.  All garbage is biodegradable and burnt on the side of the road.  Even this grocery store had paper bags for placing the groceries in.  We hope that plastic will never be introduced to these countries.  After a couple of hours in Kigali we pass over Kayonza, Kibungo to the Rwanda/Tanzania Border Crossing at Rusumo.  A very small border post and all border formalities are completed in no time.  A bridge directly over the Rusumo Waterfall separates the Rwanda and Tanzania border posts.  We change our left over Rwanda Franc with some local touts into Tanzanian Shilling and are free and clear to proceed to the Tanzanian border post.

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