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Monthly Archive: November 2017

Safari Tales #7 and #8

Safari Tale #7 Dancing Hyena – On Day 2 we had an optional walking tour in the Serengeti in the morning with the guides and a park ranger.  We chose to do the walk along with Lee, Aileen, and Russ.  The tour was very interesting because the camp guide and ranger pointed different things like scat (translation: poop).  Hyena scat is white because they will literally eat anything, bones, glass, metal, etc.


This guy was out for his own walk and posed for some pictures.


The wildebeest migration was on from north to south and millions were on the move.


During the walk, we saw packs of zebras just hanging out.

As we were walking, Mark asked the guide, “Can we see a Hyena den?”.  Mark thought the guide replied, “I will show you the Hyena dance”.  Mark said to Lee, “Are they really doing a dance later?”  Lee said “No, he said we will see a Hyena DEN, not DANCE.”  That became a source of amusement every time we saw hyenas and most likely it becomes a t-shirt when we get back.  In all fairness to Mark, some of accents were a bit hard to understand.


This hyena, known as the scavenger since they eat anything and everything.

 hyena den

This den was created by aardvarks, used by warthogs, and then became a hyena home as it is abandoned sequentially and taken over by the next animal.

Safari Tale #8 Favorite sayings of our guides – Willie was the oldest guide on the trip and had been doing this job for 37 years.  When we would be stopped next to lions or cheetahs, Willie would say to Mohdy (a young guide), “When I was your age, I would run out there and grab one of cubs and bring it back to the vehicle”.  Or “When I was your age, I would run out there and grab one of the lion’s tails and run back before I got caught. Go ahead and try it”.  One time Mohdy replied, “You should go try it now because you have lived a long time.  I still have many years to live.”

Cheetah and baby

Momma cheetah and her cub just looking at us.  No one was getting near her.  She’s the fastest land animal, no matter how calm she looks here.

Safari Tales #6 – Take down by lionesses

Safari Tale #5 Take Down – Mark and Susan normally rode with JoJo, Ann, Lee, and Aileen in the safari vehicle. Mark kept saying that he wanted to see a “Take Down” (e.g. a lioness kill a Wildebeest or an Impala).  Mark knew it is pretty rare to see a kill, but he was still hoping for one.  Our guide, Willie, said people hope for a kill, but often when they do see a kill they start crying.  The joke for several days whenever we saw a lioness was, “I want to see a take down”.

On Day 5 in the Central Serengeti, low and behold, we saw one lioness stalking a herd of wildebeest. Then two more lionesses got involved in the hunt.  Suddenly, the first lioness takes off and everyone thinks she started too early, but the other two lionesses cut off the wildebeests’ escape route and the hunt was on.  We saw two kills in the same hunt.  Willie, the head guide, said one kill was rare; you almost never see two kills in the same hunt.  No one cried when the kills happened, but JoJo and Ann were hoping the wildebeests would all escape the lions.  “Take Down” was our motto after the kill.

This was definitely the highlight of the entire safari!

lion stalking

Lioness #1 was carefully and slowly stalking the wildebeest.

lioness getting ready to attack

The lioness was poised to start the attack.

Lioness chasing the wildebeests

This lioness is chasing one of the wildebeests. You can see the herd in the background.

wildebeest running away

This wildebeest was getting out of the way.

lioness missed

This is the lioness who missed the wildebeest she chased.

lioness with dead wildebeest

This lioness was successful on her take down. She’s standing next to the dead wildebeest in the grass.

After the kills, the lionesses headed back to their cubs to bring them to the kill.  We followed around to watch.  The lionesses and cubs didn’t appear at all phased by the vehicles watching them.

 lioness next to truck

This is out of focus but you can see how close the lionesses were to the vehicles.

Lioness and cubs next to safari vehicls

Mom found all the cubs and they started down the road.  These cubs belonged to all three of the lionesses but only one lioness went to retrieve them.

lion parade

They all calmly walked down the road with Mom taking a swat every once in a while to keep the cubs in line.

Lions on parade.

Lions on parade.

Lion cubs are just too cute!

lionesses and cubs in field

They all hung out under a tree or in a field for a bit before the lionesses sent the cubs off to the kill.

cub scratching the tree with family

This little guy needed to scratch the tree.

cubs playing on kill

The cubs were clearly not hungry since they played with the dead wildebeest, rolling over it and climbing on it.

lioness and cubs with kill

Mom finally tried to show them what to do with the kill.

Safari tales from Tanzania safari

We used Thomson Safaris to book our safari and they took good care of us. Gabriela in Boston answered all my million questions before we booked and then handed us off to Nicole and Annifreed. Both of them managed to make sure we got all of our published materials about two months earlier than normal since we left the country in August.

We had 10 people on the 12-day safari and used to safari vehicles (Land Rovers Defenders) every day – 4 people in one and 6 in the other.  Willy was our head guide with Harrison and Mohdy as the two drivers and assistant guides and spotters.

safari vehicle

We spent about 8 hours a day in this vehicle. There was a lovely blue stool for some of us to use to reach up the steps!

The groups consisted of:

  • Mark and Susan
  • Annie and Jo from Nashville. They had some amazing/amusing travel tales to tell and used their nursing expertise when needed by the group.
  • Jerry, a retired high school English teacher, and his grandson, Russ, who works on merchant ships.
  • Jean and John from Florida
  • Aileen and Lee from outside of Chicago.

We all landed at Kilimanjaro (JRO) airport either on KLM (everyone else) or Turkish Air (us because we used United Star Alliance miles for free Business Class tickets).  Our flight landed at 1:30 AM and the driver for the KIA Lodge was waiting after we exited Immigration and got our luggage. Staying there, saved us a 45 minute drive at 2 AM.

JRO Airport at 1 AM. We walked across the runway to the terminal.

kili viewing point

If the clouds weren’t in the way, we could see Kili from here. The locals told us Kili is very shy and doesn’t make an appearance often.

first view of Tanzania

Our first view of Tanzania from KIA lodge. The scenery looked like all the pictures we’ve seen of Africa.

After a short night, the next morning we transferred to Rivertrees Country Inn, as planned. We came in a few days early due to free ticket availability and Susan’s fear of cancelled flights.

monkeys grooming

Three types of monkeys live at River Trees Inn. These two were grooming each other.

Room and bed with mosquito netting

Our room had mosquito netting around the bed. We were lucky that we saw very few mosquitoes!

Susan at cottage

This was our cottage at River Trees Inn.

Here’s our Safari tale #1.  Two people in our group had luggage that was missing in action!  Jerry got his in a few days.  Aileen’s suitcase had a lovely trip – Chicago to Amsterdam to Tel Aviv to Dusseldorf with some of this on an Air France flight somewhere along the line.  How do we know this?  Air France put an apology card in her suitcase and a Dusseldorf luggage tag was attached when the suitcase FINALLY showed up 6 days late.

Everyone pitched in and loaned/gave combs, malaria meds, allergy meds, shampoo, cameras, chargers, etc.  Mark used his Google Pixel for pictures so he loaned his Canon camera to Aileen.  He’d left the camera battery charger in Germany, though.  Amazingly, Annie had a charger for the Canon battery!

The safari began with a drive from Rivertrees Country Inn to Arusha airport (about 1 hour) where we boarded a small plane and flew to Waiusa airstrip in the eastern Serengeti.

Where did we stay?

Most of the time we stayed in permanent tented camps, complete with real beds, camp toilets and camp showers.  We could have hot showers so no one complained.  All lighting was solar.  However, there were no outlets in the rooms.  We charged items either in the main tent or in one of the vehicles while we drove around. We just had to pray for sunny days, so the bar tent had solar power for charging!  It was only a problem one day.

Eastern Serengeti tent

One of the tents we had. We were always either tent 4 or tent 5 so those are the only 2 numbers I know in Swahili!

Inside tent with bed

Yes, it’s a real bed! The pillows were hard. At the camps that were “cold”, hot water bottles were provided at night. Mark and Susan only used the bags one night in Ngorongoro Crater Rim camp. The rest of the nights it was plenty warm.

Where did we eat?

Meals in the camps were served in a dining tent next to the bar tent!  Safari tale #2 – One morning, Russ was in the dining tent for breakfast and saw a snake on the ground. He lifted the edge of the tent, kicked the snake out, and told the camp manager who called the ranger (Every camp has one assigned to it.).  The ranger used a long stick to move the snake to a better location and THEN told Russ it was a highly poisonous black mambo that he’d kicked.  Russ promised never to kick another snake!

inside dining tent

All meals were done as a group with formal service. The food was good especially the variety of soups we had.

Eastern dining bar tents

Dining and bar tent where the charging of phones, batteries, Kindles, toothbrushes was done!

Safari Tale #3  Showers – Camp showers consist of a cloth bag filled by two guys with a combination of hot and cold water at the time you specified.  They worked pretty well and when one person in the tent was finished, the guys would come back, and we’d hear a voice say “Ready for another shower?”  They’d fill up the cloth bucket again and we’d hear the same voice say, “Shower is ready”.  These were the talking showers!

Shower set up inside the tent

You can see the water bag outside the mesh window. It worked pretty well!

Shower set up

Shower set up. The solar power was for the little lights in each tent.  The green rope controls the pulley system for lifting the bag.

Sink area in tent

We each had our own sink but you had to fill it with water from a pitcher. In the morning, we all got a big pitcher of hot water to mix with the cold water from the other pitchers. This was only for washing. Teeth brushing and drinking water came from bottled water.

We spent three nights at Gibb’s Farm and it was heaven – soft beds, proper showers and toilets, great food, and a cat who came to visit.  We had both an indoor and outdoor shower.

Living room in cottage.

This was a shared living room. We had Happy Hour here, inviting some of the other safari people. The lodge asked every night if we wanted the fireplace lit.

Bathroom at Gibbs Farm

The bathroom complete with African carving artwork.

croquet game

A lively game of croquet was played except no one really remembered the rules!

Mosquito netting and bed

Every bed had mosquito netting. Again, we saw few, if any, mosquitoes here.

our cottage at Gibbs Farm

We had the left side of this cottage. Annie and Jo had the right side. Our cottage was the furthest away from the main building and involved a nice little walk at about 7000 feet.

outdoor shower

This was our outdoor shower.

 Sandals being modelled

Mark modeled the slippers from our rooms for us during Happy Hour. They’re made out of old tires.


11/27 Flying RwandAir

We thought we should give a report on flying RwandAir from Kigali to Johannesburg.  No pictures on this one – just a story!

The security to even get ON the airport property is more than most Americans have ever seen. Security #1 – Every car has to go through security before they’re allowed near the terminal building.  We all had to get out of the car, put our bags on a platform for the German Shepherd to sniff while we all went through a metal detector. Of course, Susan’s bra set off the detector, and that required her to be wanded.

After that, Robert, our gorilla tour guide, could drive to the terminal lot and park and we could take our bags to near the entrance of the terminal building.  Only passengers with tickets are allowed in the airport terminal. Check-in starts 3 hours before the flight and you are not allowed in the terminal until that time. An electronic sign told us when the check-in would open and guards would let us in. A local guy who got there at the same time we did told us to get up closer to the entrance because the hoards will come from the café when the 3 hour time is near.

After the terminal guides saw that we have tickets for the proper flight, the first stop INSIDE the terminal was to show our tickets to the RwandAir personnel who let us go to security check #2, another x-ray or metal detector of both us and all of our bags, carry-on and check-in.  We always had to take out our computer but shoes were OK to stay on.  Mark usually had to remove his belt.  The security guy asked Mark if he had a knife in his checked bag?  Mark said yes and the guard said to make sure it was in my checked bag. We passed and we proceeded to the check-in counter.

At the check-in counter they told us we couldn’t have any electronic items in our checked bags. (I hoped our electric toothbrush didn’t count. I forgot it was in the suitcase until we were on the plane.).

After we received our boarding pass, we could go to Immigration and have our passports stamped that we left the country.  The Kigali waiting area has 2 shops, 1 set of clean bathrooms, and 1 small snack bar.  I recommend the Croque Monsieur (grilled ham and cheese) at the snack bar if you’re hungry.  Mark got a chicken sandwich and was not sure it had any chicken in it.  He’s still not sure what was in the sandwich but he didn’t get sick.

To get to the actual gates (labelled 4, 5, 6, and 7 but all are really one gate), we went through security #3 and they were pretty thorough in looking at the contents of suitcases.  We’re so Americanized, we had no problems – nothing looks suspicious in our backpacks!

We were finally in the boarding area and we waited and chatted with 2 South Africans. Flight was late by about 40 minutes and then came boarding!

No announcements are made … some gate agent just walked in front of the seated people and said, we think, “It’s time to board”.  Everyone rushed to the open door, exchanged their ticket for a plastic “Boarding Pass”, walked across the runway to walk to steps UP to the airplane, where we boarded in no special order!

Eventually, somehow, everyone got on the plane and managed to find some places for their carry-ons.

After that, the flight was uneventful but everyone (except the well-trained Americans) took off their seatbelts and stood up the minute the wheels touched down in Johannesburg at 2:45 AM.  This airport has a real jetway but it wouldn’t connect to the plane requiring us to wait on the plane for about 10 minutes while that problem was solved!


11/26 It only took 3 months to have a Credit Card compromised!

We wondered before we left Fort Collins how long would it take for one of our cards to be compromised, either through a data breach from our issuer or from someone “skimming” our card.  As it turns out, it took less than 3 months.  It appears that our card was “skimmed” in Cape Town South Africa.

What is skimming you ask? Here’s the definition from Investopedia: An electronic method of capturing a victim’s personal information used by identity thieves. The skimmer is a small device that scans a credit card and stores the information contained in the magnetic strip. Skimming can take place during a legitimate transaction at a business. A skimmer can be placed on an ATM, gas pumps, or a waiter or waitress can have a device on their person.

We figured out that we were compromised at the Johannesburg Airport when we had our debit card declined when we tried to buy lunch snack food at a convenience store for the equivalent of $10 and it was declined.   We had used the card in Cape Town for the past 3 or 4 days without issue.  We were on our way to the Seychelles so we had to wait to call our bank until we got to Victoria, Seychelles.

When we arrived at the hotel in Victoria, Seychelles, around 10 P.M. local time, Mark had a voice mail and it was time to call our bank – First National Bank.  We called using Skype (There’s another story about using Google Voice, and not really being Google Voice.) and Mark spoke with a nice lady who wanted to know if we were traveling in South Africa.  Mark, sounding a bit annoyed, said “Yes, I told First National in August all the countries we were visiting during our 9 months”.

The lady said, “OK.  So the charge for $2,500 for cellular network is legit?”  That would be a “NO”.

She asked if the 2 charges at the home improvement store for $1,200 & $300 were legit. That was another “NO” and then Mark thanked First National for declining the charges.

The nice lady brought on a personal banker, Wade, who asked some of the same questions.  We asked if First National knew if the card was skimmed and, if so, where?  Wade said they weren’t sure if it was skimmed, but the card had been marked as fraud.

Next up was how to get a replacement card to us.  After some talking with 1NB, checking with First National management, and talking to our favorite person at the next chain hotel we would be staying at in the Seychelles, Le Meridien, First National gave the go-ahead to send us a new card via FedEx.  We are keeping our fingers crossed it will work.

We want to give a big shout out to First National Bank for detecting the fraud and for working with us to get us a new card in the Seychelles!

  • Skimming tips: We always check an ATM or gas pump prior to inserting a debit card/credit card to check for a skimmer.  Check the slot with your fingers and see if it’s one piece or not.  We check regardless if we are in the US or traveling the world.  These are the favorite targets for thieves.  Not much you can do if a waiter or waitress is carrying a skimmer on them.
  • Using an ATM … cover the keyboard when entering a PIN because the bad guys need the PIN in this case.
  • In the Seychelles, as well as in most of Europe, the cards are scanned right at the table in restaurants. If U.S. credit card companies would actually go to true Chip and Pin (get rid of the magnetic strip and require a PIN be used for ALL credit card transactions) many of the skimming problems could be eliminated.

More gorilla trek pictures – just because gorillas are cute!

Here are a few more pictures from our gorilla treks to give you a better idea of what went on.

Baby gorilla

He obviously knows he’s a pretty adorable little gorilla!

Very young gorilla

Big Silverback gorilla

Big Silverback (may be redundant!) gorilla. He’s the oldest one in the park.

Mom hanging on to her baby

Mom hanging on to her baby.

Our porters on the rainy, wet, muddy day!

Our porters on the rainy, wet, muddy day! This was at the end when we were, obviously, drenched!  You really can’t tell how muddy our shoes were although the picture below helps.

A Trek with the Golden Monkeys in Rwanda

Time to switch from gorillas to smaller primates – Golden Monkeys!  The routine was the same – 5 AM wakeup, 6 AM departure to get to the National Park.  Snow was on top of one of the volcanoes this morning.  This is the low season before everyone starts visiting during Christmas holidays and very few people were at Volcanoes National Park today – only 2 gorilla trekking groups and 2 monkey groups.

The park doesn’t set any limit to the number of people who can visit the moneys and our group consisted of 10 people. Fernando was the trekking guide we had for the gorilla trek the day before.

  • 3 Iowans – they are everywhere! Mom and Dad and a daughter who’s with the Peace Corps in Rwanda.
  • Mark and Susan
  • Jane and Larry from Colorado (They were with us yesterday.)
  • Ben and Belinda from Australia but they live in Geneva, working for NGO’s.
  • Amy Porter – gorilla researcher in the Congo with Diane Fossey Organization

The starting point was in the middle of a small village.  Only Mark and Susan hired porters (Jack and Theo) to start with – one each. Shortly after we started walking, the Iowa lady decided she wanted one after she found out the porters carried our backpacks with water as well as helped Susan walk up the really steep parts (only 1 spot) and across bridges or rock “steps” ( A few piles of rocks to maneuver.)


These are a few of the porters who helped on the monkey trek.

monkey trek sign

Pointing the way to our monkey group – into the bamboo forest

We walked through farm fields again and they were a bit drier than the wet ones yesterday!  We saw a few chameleons and a rock hydrax along the way before we entered a bamboo forest and continued uphill.  The walk was only about 20 minutes after we reached the bamboo forest before we saw Golden Monkeys!  We followed them as they moved along through the forest – climbing, peeling and eating bamboo, moms with babies.

The Iowa people didn’t tuck their pants into their sox nor did they wear gaiters and they managed to get ants crawling up their legs and inside their pants!  I was really glad I had long socks AND gaiters on!

No exciting stories for this trek. The monkeys are adorable, naturally, and move incredibly fast as they jump from tree to tree or scurry along the ground on the hunt for bamboo.  The speed makes them tricky to photograph.

wise monkey

Just hanging out watching the people and monkeys

munching monkey

This one was eating some plant he found delicious. Their fingers are very agile and allow them to peel bamboo and get to the yummy part in the middle.

monkey mom and baby

The baby was nursing with Mom. It was hard to take pics with all the shadows of the trees .

monkey looking at me

What did I do?

Fernando our trekking guide

Fernando was our trekking guide for Gorilla Trek #2 and for the monkey trek. The guides rotate which treks they do so no one has to do all hard treks.

monkey family

You can see the baby monkey if you look in the grass carefully.

monkey balancing on limb

He’s carefully balancing on the limb – and is a bit fuzzy!

monkey and baby on limb

Mom and her baby walking on a thin bamboo limb.

flying monkey

We tried to get a picture of the monkey jumping from one tree to another. You can see what the bamboo forest looks like.


Gorilla trek #2

Time to wake up at 5 AM, breakfast at 5:30, meet Robert at 6 AM and head off to Volcanoes National Park Headquarters.  Even if we weren’t going trekking, it was good to see all the activity in the towns in the morning. Adults and children were out and about walking to work or school, taking potatoes, bananas, eggs etc. to market.

carrying potatoes

Taking potatoes to market. These guys buy potatoes from farmers and use their bicycles to move them up to 25 km. to market.

After yesterday, we were very glad we’d booked two treks to have another opportunity to see gorillas.  This time we were assigned the Sabinyo group with Big Ben, the bald gorilla; and Guhonda, the oldest Silverback gorilla in the park.  and our trekking guide was Fernando with Placide to help. Fernando made Susan into Queen Susan and Susan and Jane from Australia led the way.  No one could go faster than we did.  At least people were kind enough to tell us that we were going just fast enough – ie. SLOWLY!

This group was much better than yesterday’s group:

  • 2 Australians – older couple like us!
  • a couple from Massachusetts about our age
  • Larry and Jane from Denver
  • Mark and Susan

Susan and Mark each hired two porters again and Josse (female) and Andreus were the best for Susan.  I think the drivers should do a better job of explaining what the porters can do and the importance of the employment to the economy.  I can testify that their assistance in walking in mud and crossing rocks and little wooden bridges is immeasurable!

Today’s walk was much easier than yesterday’s hike, at least on the way up to see the gorillas.  We found them after a nice walk through a relatively good trail and only a bit of trekking through cleared brush.  Susan must have looked pitiful again because the ranger and trackers helped her through the brush after we left the porters.

Our first encounter with a gorilla was to see Big Ben sitting in the middle of the trail as Susan came around a corner. He was easily identifiable as he is noticeably bald on top! He moved a bit off the trail and we all watched him for 5 minutes or so.

Big Ben gorilla

Big Ben with his bald head. He was standing in the middle of the trail when I came around a corner

Next encounter was in a clearing with the Silverback wanting to move down the trail.  When a silverback wants to move, you move!  We all cleared the trail but the silverback charged the group as he moved.  Another male (teenager) stopped to play with bamboo tree and threw it, hitting the Australian in the knee.  Then he rolled down the hill in sommersalts!

A big silverback gorilla

This silverback gorilla, leader of the family, was every bit as big as he looks here.

Silverback gorilla walking past Mark

He walked on the path right in front of Mark.

We saw a mom holding on to her baby tightly.

Mom gorilla with her baby

This mom and her baby were standing close toe Mark.

We followed the gorillas for a bit and found some playful little ones.

Baby gorilla

This young one was playing with a stick.

Baby gorilla

This little fellow was enamored with Mark and tried to get closer to his shoes.

Baby gorilla

How could one get any cuter??

Then the rain started, and we learned that gorillas don’t like rain. They all try to find some place to hide and several ended up under a tree’s rout system.  The gorillas sat and stared at us!  By this time our hour with the Sabinyo family was up and we moved on to trek back to the start.

Remember, it rained, right?  The rain stopped but now the trail was mud and more mud!  Thank heavens for the porters who helped Susan through the mud and held me up when I had to slide down a little hill and helped me up the steps of mud!

Mark and I thought the hike was easier than yesterday other than the mud but the MA couple said this was harder than their previous trek.  The MA couple only walked 6 minutes the day before because our silverback had chased their silverback and his family out of the park.

After the trek Robert stopped at the gift shop for us to get our certificates, use the toilet and buy t-shirts of the family we saw!

Poor Elie at Virunga Lodge when we got back!  He took one look at our hiking boots and knew we’d had a messy hike.  He laughed and asked if we wanted a picture of our boots before he cleaned them!

If you ever get a chance to visit Rwanda and the Gorillas do it.  Rwanda is a beautiful country and the people are very proud of how clean and safe the country is after the 1994 genocide.  We can attest to both as we never saw a piece of trash and we will talk about security at the airport in another post.  BTW, people are hired in Rwanda to plant flowers, pull weeds, and pick up trash.  This isn’t their full-time job; it’s a part time job.  The last Saturday in every month is national clean-up day and even the president participates.


Gorilla Trek #1 – “I have a 17 hour flight!”

How to describe this adventure?  This post will be rambling as was the hunt for the Muonza Family, a family that has been an easy hike to see since June (important point).

Let’s start with the Group members:

  • Mark and Susan
  • Tom from Belgium – about 50’ish in age, perfect English, nice guy
  • DC man and woman (DCM and DCW) – in their 70’s, we’re guessing.
  • Alabama man and women (ALM and ALW), friends with DCM and DCW– younger, maybe in their 60’s.

DCM, DCW, ALM, ALW had trekked the day before on what turned out to be a steep hike in the forest for 2 hours.  That was their description of that hike and they made sure to tell the guide, Patrick, and the group about this.

The day before they’d been accompanied by another friend who used eight porters to carry him on a stretcher to see the gorillas. This is an option for $200. Since we never saw the stretcher (“African helicopter” as the guides call it), we have no idea what it looks like. Friend opted not to come on the 2nd trek.

Note: if you do a hard hike one day, you will generally be assigned an easy hike for the next day.

Patrick tells us about our family and its silverback leader and off we go.  Mark and I each hire 2 porters and Tom hires one porter (important part of the story). The other four people hire one porter per couple. We trek through farm fields and DCM slips off a ledge about 2 feet and tells the guide he needs to stop.  The guide talks with DCM and the DCM continues on the trek.  Note – you are told that when the group starts, the group has to stick together since there is only one ranger with a gun with the group and the group can’t be split up.  We reach the wall, and start hiking UP the volcano.  The whole time Patrick is talking to the tracker about the gorilla family location.

The whole saga goes from bad to ludicrous from here on.  When we reach the wall, DCW wants to know how far away the gorillas are because they have to be done with the trek by 11 AM so they can go back to the hotel, pack, shower and drive to Kigali because they have 17-hour flight to get home to the US.  “They were promised the trek would be done by 11 AM”.

It’s getting a bit slippery, but Susan’s two porters are amazing in the slippery places and steeper areas. One of Mark’s porter and Tom’s one porter go off to help DCM and DCW.

A bit further on, DCW complains “the trek is taking too long and they have a 17-hour flight home.  They can’t keep trekking. They were promised this trek would be short.” The tracker via radio tells Patrick that Silverback Muonza has figured out that another family is in the territory and has gone off to fight with them to chase them off.  The rest of his family is scattering through the forest but a few gorillas are nearby.  Patrick tells the DCM, DCW we are only 10-25 minutes from the gorillas.  He encourages them to continue.


We had paths part of the way but, eventually, the trackers cut the jungle away and we trekked through it.

Guide Patrick

Patrick was our guide for Trek #1 and the search for the elusive group.

Another note:  Before you can visit with the gorillas, you give your walking sticks and backpacks to your porters who stay with them.  The only people who go to the gorillas is the guide, 8 visitors, trackers, and ranger.

Anyway, we all stick together and manage to see about 4 gorillas for a short amount of time.  To see more of the family, we have to trek through rain forest that is being hacked down by the trackers.  At this point we are going straight uphill and walking over very slick plants that have just been cut by the trackers with machetes.

DCM and DCW refuse to go any further so Patrick has to decide what to do about porters, trackers, etc.  DCM and DCW stay in a clearing with two porters while the rest of us go chasing through the jungle with trackers using machetes to hack down the undergrowth.  Thank heavens they helped me walk on the undergrowth (I must have looked pitiful.) to keep my feet from getting tangled and falling!


Watching a gorilla have a little snack.

Gorilla on the trail

The gorillas were bigger than I imagined. This one was sitting on the trail.

We see another two gorillas before the gorillas take off running.  At this point we all head downhill to a clearing with Patrick trying to find out where the silverback is.  Now, ALM and ALW say it is getting late and they all need to leave and they can’t go without DCM and DCW – remember the 17 hour flight!

The porters bring DCM and DCW to our group and after a bit of discussion, the four of them with their two porters and a tracker leave.  We have no idea if or how they got down because at this point Tom and Mark each get their porters back.  DCM & DCW asked why the porters weren’t going with them and Patrick said they didn’t hire the porters and the porters were staying with Mark & Tom.  With all porters back, we go downhill to try to find the silverback.

Thank heavens for John (an ex-poacher) and Emil who helped me through all the brush and mud and over rocks and down slippery slopes. The three of us were pretty far behind Mark and Tom and Patrick. We all met up in a potato field at the bottom while Patrick checked with the trackers again/continuously!

group at the end in the potato field

This was our group at then end of the trek as we waited in the potato fields for an update from the trackers.

It’s now been 4 hours of hiking and we are all (probably not the porters) tired. When Patrick hears that the silverback has headed up the mountain to find his family, we admit defeat and head back to the cars.

We could tell Patrick was very frustrated with the gorillas and with DCM, DCW, ALM, ALW. He just shook his head and apologized because we didn’t see the silverback of the Muonza family – it’s nature!  The next day, our guide, Fernando, told us that trekking guides have to fill out a report if they don’t see gorillas and the group can come back the next day for a free permit or get another one free the next time they visit Rwanda.

It was an adventure! Our group of three was the last one to return of the day and Patrick reported to the head ranger that Muonza Family needs to be reclassified as hard family because the silverback is moving around trying to add females to his family by fighting.  He promised we’d get an easy family tomorrow!

We started out as an easy group, but finished as the hardest trek that day.  All the Rwanda people we spoke to knew that our family had become the most difficult trek.  We climbed over a 650 feet in a mile so we had approximately a 12.3% grade.


Gorilla Trekking 101

We are in Rwanda to trek with the gorillas, requiring a flight to Rwanda, a visa on arrival at the airport along with $30 US, and a trekking permit for a substantial amount of money. We lucked out because we got our permit about 1 year ahead of time before the permits doubled in price. The additional revenue is used to buy land and increase the size of the park/habitat for the gorillas.  Up to 12 groups of eight people each can go out in one day to visit the gorillas and permits can be hard to get in the high season. In low season (now) far fewer groups are here. On the day before our first trek, only 2 groups went to visit the gorillas.  There are 20 families total in the jungle, but 8 of the families are for research only and no visitors are permitted.

The gorilla trekking in Rwanda is all in Volcanoes National Park on the volcanoes that are shared with Uganda and the Congo.  Gorillas can and do move between countries without a passport or a visa.  That is a favorite joke of the guides.  Not so much for the humans who want to visit them.

volcano with clouds

Oee of the 6 volcanoes in the morning with interesting clouds

We all met here at 7 AM before the treks starts

Check-in time for the visits is 7 AM at Park Headquarters where our driver took copies of our passports to check us in.  Everyone checks in here if you are doing the Gorilla Trek, Golden Monkeys trek, or a hike.

Before going any further, let me back up a few hours.  The 7 AM check-in required us to get up at 5 AM (Yes, it is dark then.), eat breakfast about 5:30 AM and then go with our driver at 6 AM for the hour drive to the Headquarters.

How did we dress for this adventure?  Long pants, wool sox pulled up over the pants, hiking boots and gaiters. These are to prevent nettles from sticking to our legs and nasty ants from crawling up legs between the pants and sox if the sox are under the pants (This happened to 3 people on our Golden Monkey Trek.) as well as to collect mud along the way. Leather gloves are recommended to protect hands from the nettles and to grab on to bamboo and plants to pull yourself either up the mountain and to help keep you from sliding down the mountain because of the mud.

All the literature warned us it could be cold at 8000 feet. Being good Coloradoans, we had layers with us – t-shirts, mosquito repellent long sleeve shirts and rain jackets – to go with the pants.  Did we need them?  We wore some combination of these clothes everyday on the hike but not because of the cold. The volcano is a rain forest – think humid – meaning Mark and Susan were never cold but we couldn’t prevent rain and used the rain jackets during the rainfall; we used the long sleeve shirt to save our arms from getting scratched up.

Mark and Susan

It was warm and we hadn’t reached any nettles, so no need for long sleeves yet.

Back to check-in … the drivers negotiate with the trekking guides for what kind of hike their customers want – easy, medium, or hard.  Robert, our driver, was good and negotiated an easy family for the first day.  He seemed to know all the trekking guides which is a good thing!

The gorilla group you are assigned is based on the hike difficulty and during high season, it’s tough to get an easy hike.  A lot is based on age and even VIP status.  It’s low season, making it a bit easier to get the family/hiking difficulty we wanted.

After being assigned a gorilla family, the group of eight meets with the trekking guide who is responsible for getting us to the gorillas.  He gave us information about the gorilla family and trekking and we met the other members of the group.

Then it’s time for the last visit to the toilets – VERY clean – before heading out with our driver, Robert, to the trek starting point.  Each gorilla family has a different starting point requiring a 10 to 30-minute drive to the starting point. At the starting point, everyone gets a walking stick to use if we wanted and we both opted for one.  The porters can be hired there, too, and then it’s time to start the walk!

About the porters – Porters carry your backpacks which should have bottles of water and some snack food or lunch along with all the clothes you have. They also are amazing at pointing out where to step and helping the visitors up and down stones and steep inclines and muddy trails.


These are a few of the porters who helped on the trek.

The porters dress in blue with a name and number on each uniform.  All of them are either ex-poachers or from a family of poachers with these jobs providing an alternative income to poaching.  We were told that the average income for a person in Rwanda per month is only $45.

The porters show up each day to their assigned area and are assigned to visitors in a rotation, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to earn money.  In low season, porters may only work 1 day a week.  The official price to hire a porter is $10 US plus a tip and visitors can hire as many as you want.  Mark and I each hired 2 porters each, both to help us and to help the economy.  Given the cost of a permit, the cost of a porter is miniscule. We were rather surprised that more people didn’t hire porters given the age of some of our fellow trekkers. (Read that to mean older than we are!)

The trackers for each gorilla family are already in the forest looking for the families and stay in radio contact with the trekking guides to inform them about the family location.  Our treks involved walking through potato and bean fields to get to the “wall”, the boundary of Volcanoes National Park.  At this point the trek starts to go uphill, either gradually or steeply, and each group is joined by a park ranger armed with a gun.  The rangers will scare off any elephants or water buffalo you might encounter (We never saw anything worse than big piles of buffalo poop.)

Fields of pyrethre

Pyrethrum, a natural insecticide, is made from these flowers

When the trekking group meets the tracker in the forest, you know you are close to the gorilla family and the excitement builds.

A side note … our trekking guide on day 1 used his cell phone in addition to the radio. We laughed that cell phone reception is better in the middle of the Rwandan National Park than it is in our house in the middle of Ft. Collins!