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Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

Auckland Region...
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Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

This is a follow on posting from 2 already posted in the Uganda Forums about our 25 day Safari with Churchill Safaris which began in Uganda on the 18th December. We were at Cyanika border crossing and anxious about getting through Rwanda immigration as all our items in our backpacks are packed into special zippered plastic bags separating shirts, shorts, etc…. great for travelling but Rwanda does not like plastic bags so….. We separated from our driver and crossed the border on foot. Unlike other land borders we have been through there is virtually no signage so you have to ask for help as to what to do. Once we knew the procedure it was just a matter of waiting for our pre-approved visas to be issued. Then our driver appeared and organised for us to change some money from a portable money changer (bank vault in his sock) at a very good rate which we wouldn’t have received had we tried to do it without his help. Then we were back into the vehicle and Emmy, our driver informed us that he had had a little joke with the immigration officer who had just let us through without looking into our bags. They were locked anyway and without us there he wouldn’t have been able to open them but whatever; the problem was over. Other than noticing that we were driving on the other side of the road immediately it was apparent that Rwanda spends more money on its infrastructure than Uganda. Apart from one day all of the roads we travelled on here in the 8 days were of a reasonable paved standard.

We had two full days in the Parc National des Volcans. The first day we were awake very early (Rwanda is an hour behind Uganda) and off to the park HQ. Gorilla tourism is more developed here than anywhere else as is apparent by the park HQ itself. First of all the guides have a brief meeting with the chief wildlife officer who allocates which group you will visit. This is totally different to in Uganda where the group is allocated when you make your booking based on your age. I had problems with altitude in Uganda a few days earlier so our guide requested an easy group to visit. Sometimes they don’t oblige giving the easier groups to those that have other appointments in the afternoon but today they did. So we were off for a short but incredibly rough 20 minute drive to the track head and a walk of only 30 minutes and there was the entire Kwitonda family on display for us to see. If you are in doubt as to whether to get a porter or not it is well worth it as you get to a point where you can’t take your bag beyond and the porter will guard your bag. If it is raining he will wear you bag if it is a daypack under his raincoat so it doesn’t get wet. There is a lot of bending down to get under branches, etc… so having to wear a daypack would be a problem. When you get to the point where you can’t take your bag any further make sure you take any Camera equipment with you as you will not want to return for it. We started off by watching some Silverbacks. We were incredibly close and the ranger took photos of us right next to the biggest Silverback. We would have only been a metre from him. The Gorillas are so habituated here they don’t even seem to mind you. We then moved on to the rest of the group. I looked over a bush and there was a large female looking at me. She came out of the bush, gave me a gentle slap on my leg and moved on. We then watched some cheeky juniors and a baby playing. One of the ranger guides joined in with them and they climbed over his back and were play biting him for a short time. We couldn’t believe our eyes and could have stayed there all day. The rangers here were much more informative than the ones in Uganda and the whole experience was much better.

The next day we went Golden Monkey tracking and even though we saw a huge number of them it was pouring with rain and not that pleasant – the tracks were extremely slippery. They were very golden in colour and some of them much bigger than expected.

The next day we drove on an excellent road to the Lake Kivu Serena where we relaxed for a day. We were meant to do a boat trip here but apparently it was a mistake on our itinerary and after talking to Ether on the phone she offered to re-imburse us for the trip if we were prepared to pay ourselves for it. For US$350 we didn’t consider it worthwhile and opted to relax instead.

We were due to travel on a certain road from Lake Kivu to the Nyungwe forest but our driver learnt of some Safari vehicles being robbed at gun point on this road and the vehicles and their contents being driven into the DRC never to be seen again. We had met a Safari driver from Rwanda that knew a safe road where there was an Army base en route so the road was patrolled so we decided to follow him the next day. This was an absolutely stunning drive following the shores of Lake Kivu most of the way but it was the dustiest road we have ever been on, Both us and our luggage were absolutely covered in dust, you couldn’t even see the zips on our backpacks!! On arrival in the Nyungwe forest we took one look at our scheduled accommodation at the Gisakura Guest house and decided it wasn’t for us. We were freezing cold, very dusty and Gisakura only has communal cold showers. We continued following our Rwandan friend to where his clients were staying at the Nyungwe forest lodge and stayed there for two nights. He had informed us of a current special pay for one night stay for 2. Whilst it was US$800 for the 2 nights let me tell you this is probably the nicest lodge in East Africa. Yes, it is that good in every respect. Sumptuous luxury in the middle of nowhere with various Monkeys and Mongooses visible in the trees from your bed – amazing!! The Chimp tracking here was not worth the effort but oh, that lodge….

From here we travelled to Kigali to the Serena Kigali where we stayed for only 1 night. The next day we visited the Genocide Museum where we spent more than 2 hours. It was a very moving and worthwhile visit and highly recommended. After our museum visit it was back off to Uganda.

Our impressions of Rwanda are of a country with nice and friendly people. Travelling along the road between Lake Kivu & the Nyungwe Forest the number of children that waved to us was amazing. Whilst some of them wanted money or a drink bottle most of them were just keen to wave. One time we stopped and a big group of children formed but when I walked towards them they jumped away from me as if they were scared of me. We noticed prices were considerably higher that in Uganda. A bottle of very average South African wine was US$75 in the lodge in the PNV. Whilst walking at Lake Kivu one of the locals attempted to pull a scam on me which was disappointing. If you want to see the Gorillas though this is the pick of the countries to see them. I will review the lodges we stayed in separately and will upload our photos to my flickr site which you are welcome to look at www.flickr.com/photos/kiwiexplorer. Give me a week or so to do this. I hope some of my info helps those in the planning stage. Thanks for reading.

Auckland Region...
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1. Re: Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

Correction to the above there was only 1 Silverback & 1 Blackback we were watching initially in the Kwitondo group, then when the Silverback moved out into the open and started feeding that is when the Ranger started taking photos of our group beside him.

Isle of Man, United...
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2. Re: Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

Looking forward to the photos even more. You certainly had a great visit with your cousins and as you say it is breathtaking in more ways than one!

And getting slapped by the lady means she quite fancied you! I stayed at the guest house in Nyungwe and found it OK but as you say the chimp tracking is not of a good standard and hardly worth while. Nice birds though.

Dublin, Ireland
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3. Re: Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

Great write up! And your photos on flickr are great - you've documented everything so well!

suffolk, va
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4. Re: Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

Great write up- thanks. I'm sorry my trip will not include Rwanda this time but I'll use your advice for my Uganda Grorilla hike. They decide what group you will visit based on your age? How do they work that out? I'm curious!

Isle of Man, United...
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5. Re: Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

I think it may have something to do with the Date of Birth on your permit application.

6. Re: Our Safari with Churchill Safaris

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