If there was one activity that stood out on this trip to me it was the highly-anticipated gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda. Each day, 10 groups of eight are allowed to spend an hour with different gorilla families. Which gorilla group you visit depends on your physical ability and where the gorillas are generally located that day. You go up with a trek guide while two trackers go ahead to find the gorilla family and ensure there are as few surprises as possible.
My group split into two – easy and moderately easy – to visit two different gorilla groups. I joined the moderately easy group; however our trek guide said it ended up being one of the most difficult treks he’s led due to the rain, muddy trails and the gorillas who were moving up the mountain away from us. At times, the trail was pure mud. It was worth it. We saw the Titus gorilla group, the original family named after the silverback Titus that was a part of Dian Fossey’s research at Karisoke. According to volcanoesnationalparkrwanda.com, Titus, as a young gorilla, “lost his family to poachers including his father, uncle and brother and his mother and sister joined other families leaving Titus to be raised by an unrelated male gorillas. According to Dian Fossey, Titus, the infant, seemed ‘underdeveloped and spindly’ and had difficulty breathing, but Titus overcame these difficulties.” Titus eventually became his family’s leader.
The only thing I would do different is pack lighter – I paid for a porter to carry my backpack and to help me up the mountain. That was definitely worth the $20 cost (not counting tip) because I sure needed a hand at some points when my feet got stuck in the mud. It is interesting to note that the men who acted as porters are part of the local community.
Apparently, they have a lottery system to determine which men get to serve as porters for the day. It provides the community with extra income that they otherwise would have made through poaching. This system is one way used to deter poaching in the national park.
We started the day off at the Kigali Genocide Memorial to learn more about the genocide and what the people of Rwanda went through. In April, Rwanda commemorated the 28th anniversary of the 1994 genocide and I’m thinking of my friends in Rwanda.
One term I learned there is ubumuntu or “humanity – goodness, generosity and kindness.” The memorial used it to refer to the people who risked their lives to help those being persecuted. A sign out front reminded visitors that “we can all be champions of humanity by standing against division wherever we live.”
We made our way from Kigali to just outside of the Volcanoes National Park where we were staying at Ingagi Park View Lodge.
After getting settled at the hotel, we visited the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to learn about Dian Fossey’s work to save the gorillas and continuing efforts to protect the endangered gorillas. It was nice to learn about the gorillas since we would be visiting the gorillas the next day at Volcanoes National Park.
Afterward, we went back to the hotel to settle in for the rest of the rainy evening. I enjoyed a hot drink near a window overlooking the front of the hotel. A farmer worked in his field across the road from the hotel, while birds fluttered in the trees nearby. I enjoyed spotting the sunbirds visiting the flowers on my walk back to my room.
Day 9 was again spent in the Sereneti National Park on game drives. We saw large groups of elephants, zebras and lions.
Like the day before, that night was spent at Tanzania Bush Camps. We left March 14 for a second camp site of Tanzania Bush Camps in the Ndutu Areas.
Both sites were more like #glamcamping with bathrooms/showers in each tent. Internet was available in the recreation tent, and you could have hot water if you gave staff time to heat the water. We needed a guide to walk to our tents after dark because of the presence of wildlife, both prey and predators. The first camp site had a camp fire each night, and it was a nice way to unwind with not only my group but other guests.
We spent the entire day in the Ngorongoro Crater. We left early to have breakfast by a lake in the crater, which we circled back to for lunch. The above Serval Cat was one of two we saw. This one ran across the road in front of us as we left, while another walked out of a bush only to be greeted by a table full of us eating. I don’t know which one – us or the cat – was surprised the most.
It was fascinating to see so many different types of wildlife – both prey and predator – living so close together. At one point, there was. lion resting nearby a pack of zebras and wildebeest and none seemed to concerned. We also saw a lot of rhinos, which I thought would be a little harder than it was. Gabi, our tour guide, said numbers have risen over the past few years, although he was still surprised at how easily we found them. Below are a few more of our wildlife sightings for the day.
We witnessed a heck of a stand-off on Day 6 between a mother buffalo and hyenas in the Ngorongoro Crater.
We first noticed the hyenas nosing around a herd of buffalos. It was then we noticed the unmoving small brown mound that the hyenas seemed laser focused on. The baby’s mother alternated between standing guard, charging the hyenas back and then walking away, thus letting the hyenas closer.
At one point, we thought the hyenas would win. The mother was walking off and we saw a hyena bite and pull on the baby. It was heartbreaking until, suddenly, the mother came rushing back with others from the herd. They stood guard and, then, the baby slowly stood. I’ll admit we screamed at that point. It was a happy, but completely unexpected turn of events.
The hyenas were, obviously, not happy and still tried to take the baby. But, other buffalo guided both mother and baby back into the herd and the hyenas slowly moved on.
We slowly made our way from the Tarangire Safari Lodge toward the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
En route, we visited the Mao wa Abu village of about 18,000 people who represent all 120 tribes from Tanzania. A young married couple gave us a tour, including their banana plantation and the youth art project. We had lunch in the village before leaving. It was extremely interesting – I didn’t know there were so many varieties of bananas (the community grows more than 30 varieties) and I bought a painting of Maasai women that I love. However, there were men who approached as we loaded into our vehicles about buying random items from them and they did not like that we said no. They just griped about us and we were able to quickly drive off.
We finally arrived at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO Mixed World Heritage Site. At the entrance, Gabi and James, our tour guides with #RegalAfricanSafaris (previously known as #MaasaiMagicSafaris), gave us a short presentation on the area during a break before entering the conservation area.
The real winners of the break were these naughty monkeys who stole my aunt’s bag of nuts and tauntedly finished them off while staring her down. They jumped into one vehicle, and stole a purse from another vehicle. While entertaining and frustrating at times, the experience reminded us to keep our doors looked and the windows up around these guys.
Then, there were the birds. I have no words about how amazing they are so I’ll just so you a few highlights.
Day 5 began with us preparing to leave Tarangire Safari Lodge where we stayed the last two nights. It was basically glamping and I can definitely say I didn’t expect it to be this wonderful but it was.
It was interesting that electricity was only on for certain hours each day, and we had to have a guide to go back to our cabin after dark due to presence of wild animals. And we definitely had visitors that included monkeys, Dik-diks and giraffes. Can you spot the giraffe in the below picture?
As we finished breakfast, one of the lodge workers asked if we’d seen the African Scops-Owl that sleeps in a tree just outside of the lodge’s front entrance. Naturally, I had to go find it and he was kind enough to point it out.
I previously worked as a news and sports photographer. Recently I have been enjoying wildlife photography. My approach toward bird photos is similar to sports photography. I attempt to capture mostly action and hopefully a unique perspective.