Journey Through Uganda & Rwanda

Judith Towell

14 Jul 2015

In Search Of Primates

Natural World Safaris client Judith Towell set off on her wildlife experience to Rwanda and Uganda last month, encountering mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and learning about the countries’ history. Here she gives us a whistle stop tour of her adventure.

Tuesday 9 June 

Arrived in Kigali at midnight to be met by my guide and driver Isaac for the short journey to the Kigali Serena Hotel for two nights.

Wednesday 10 June 

Morning at leisure in the very comfortable Serena until 1pm when I was met by Isaac for a tour of Kigali and a visit to the Genocide Museum. Kigali is a remarkably clean city courtesy of the country's determination to be litter free (England take note!!) although the traffic is manic. On to the Genocide Museum which is a very harrowing experience but one which should not be missed. How the country has turned itself around in 21 years is incredible. Very enjoyable dinner at the Serena and then prepare for an early start tomorrow for the journey to Nyungwe.

Thursday 11 June 

Off to Nyungwe Forest Lodge with stops en route for the King's Palace, museum and a second genocide memorial at a school in Murambe where there are said to be 54000 corpses, some of which have been preserved and are on display. Very harrowing again! Arrived at Nyungwe Forest Lodge at 1730 which is a fantastic place and very luxurious. After settling in, a most enjoyable dinner again.

Friday 12 June

A VERY early start today (0430) to get to Cyamunongo Forest to track chimpanzees. My guide for the day Ange, a lovely young man who is obviously very passionate about the forest and the animals within it. He was born and brought up in the area, has a Masters in Conservation, been voted one of the best young conservationists in Rwanda and is off to study in the USA for 12 weeks (meeting President Obama while there), then probably do his PhD. We eventually found the chimpanzees in the forest and observed them for about an hour before heading out of the forest and lunch back at the Lodge. In the afternoon a 3 hour walk to a spectacular waterfall (the name of which apparently means 'To Swallow an Elephant'). My guide Narcisse, again, expert on all aspects of Nyungwe Forest - trees, plants, birds and animals.

Saturday 13 June 

This morning off to Uwinka for the Igishigishigi canopy walk. Three walkways of 45, 90 and 25 metres in the forest canopy which give magnificent views but I wasn't too sure about the 'bounciness' of the walkways. A great experience though. Back to the lodge for lunch then a birding walk which seemed to be less than 300 metres long but we spotted over 20 species.

Sunday 14 June 

A new experience today. A helicopter flight to my next destination, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. After a slight amount of trepidation when the pilot couldn't get the helicopter to start, we eventually took off for the 45 minute flight which I thoroughly enjoyed. The only disappointment were the hazy conditions which meant not good views of the Virunga Mountains. But a marvellous experience. Lovely seeing Rwanda from the air and easy to see how hilly the country is. Flew along the shore of Lake Kivu and over the mountains to land at Ruhengeri where my next guide Sam was waiting to take me to Mountain Gorilla View Lodge which is obviously not of the same standard as Nyungwe Forest Lodge but still very comfortable.

Monday 15 June 

Another early start to get to the park HQ to register for my first mountain gorilla trek. I was assigned Susa group A which is apparently one of the oldest habituated groups. From the HQ, a very bumpy one hour drive to the start of the trek. Only 5 of us in the group and we set off through the bamboo forest to the rainforest proper and the gorillas. 

We soon met up with the family and what a laid back group - ranging from a magnificent 42 year old silverback to a 2 month old baby. Enchanting! 

Spent an hour with them which was over all too quickly before we had to slip and slide our way back down and out of the forest.

Tuesday 16 June 

Yet another early start but this time to meet Golden Monkeys. I would have preferred a more intimate group during the trek but we did spend a most enjoyable hour with the monkeys who are extremely photogenic. Back to Mountain Gorilla View for lunch then a visit to a Cultural Centre which is run by former poachers who give demonstrations of Rwandan life in the not too distant past. 

Wednesday 17 June 

Left Mountain Gorilla View and Rwanda today to travel to Clouds in Uganda. On the way visited a local market and crossed the border to Uganda (a very strange experience to see a young boy grazing his cattle outside the Customs buildings). Reached Clouds about 3pm and was greeted with a glass of hibiscus and lemon grass and a hand massage! Wonderful! Shown to my cottage (Posho Cottage) by my housekeeper Jane and butler Felix! A beautiful cottage built from the local volcanic rock with a double-sided wood fire between the lounge and bedroom. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for the staff here and it's an absolutely stunning location but sadly the clouds are covering the volcanoes.

Thursday 18 June 

Early start (again) to meet Agatha from Nkuringo Walking Safaris for a long (29k I think) walk to a waterfall then on to the Congo border. A very strenuous walk given the terrain but very enjoyable and Agatha is the most wonderful guide so enthusiastic and so knowledgeable. Lots of birdlife plus L'Hoest, Red-tailed and Blue monkeys. Very interesting to see the refugee camps on the Congo border.

Friday 19 June 

My second gorilla trek which starts only 100 metres from Clouds. Hoping to find the Nkuringo group and after a slippery downhill walk we found them in the valley near the tea plantations. Two silverbacks in this group and a selection of youngsters who were determined to show off to the visitors. Again the hour was over too quickly and we set off up the very steep hill back to the HQ. We arrived back at the start of a terrific storm which raged for most of the afternoon. Well, we are in the rainforest!

Saturday 20 June

Another day with Agatha and a canoe trip on Lake Mutanda. A very brief view of the volcanoes before the clouds descended again and it seems I'm destined not to see the volcanoes in all their glory. A very interesting 3 hours on the lake and then a 9k walk to be met by Sam. On the way back to Clouds spotted a Rhinoceros Chameleon in a tree on the roadside. An added bonus.

Sunday 21 June 

My last day but before setting off on the drive to Kigali, a walk to The Top of the World with Agatha for fantastic views of the volcanoes. Well, there would have been if the clouds had lifted but sadly not to be. Apparently, according to everyone at Clouds, the views are magnificent. It seems I might have to come back another time to see for myself! After lunch, left for the long drive to Kigali via the border and lakes Bulera and Ruhondo and my flight at midnight.

A marvellous (and strenuous) holiday but hopefully one day I'll return.

Please get in touch if you'd like us to organise a Uganda and Rwanda safari like Judith's.

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