Richard Denyer in Rwanda - 2012 Blog

Richard and Vivienne Denyer

03 Dec 2012

Gorilla trekking with Natural World Safaris Review

Ever since our first trip to Rwanda back in 2009, we couldn't wait to return. Obviously to see the amazing mountain gorillas, but also, one of the most remarkable and scenic countries in Africa. We arrived at Kigali, and were met by our driver / guide – Isaac, who typically turned out to be extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and reliable. He did all he could to manage our expectations over the next few days.

After approx 3 hrs of comfortable driving, with the amazing views of incredibly farmed hills and valleys, and we will never cease to be amazed at how 'fit' the locals are! We constantly pass people carrying all sorts of huge loads either on their heads or piled onto a pushbike.  We arrived at our lodge  in the Virungas - Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. An excellent location - at the foot of Sabyinyo, only 10min from the park headquarters, and with a great views of the volcanoes. We were greeted and shown to our spacious room before tucking into a buffet lunch.

Later this afternoon we were entertained at the lodge by the local village dancers, a great spectacle, full of smiles, energy and colour – even though we have seen this performance before, it was a great sight with Sabyinyo as a backdrop. As the light faded, we returned to our room (bungalow), when there was a knock at the door - a happy smiling face appeared at the door with a shovel of glowing coals and an armful of logs.  Every evening we had a fire lit in the room, with regular top ups of wood to keep the room warm. The evening hot buffet was good and washed down with a few beers before crawling into a nice warm (hot water bottle) bed ready for tomorrows excitement.

So, day one – off to Kinigi to find out our Gorilla group. Isaac had arranged for us to see a group we had not seen before – Umubano Group on mount Bisoke. After the short drive, we set off, along with porters and guide. A slight incline, and in good weather, we made it to the gorillas in less than 2 hours, with only approx 30min of reasonable climbing, with the trackers cutting a path for us through the dense vegetation. The experience as before (this was our 3rd trip) you cannot explain the excitement of meeting these great creatures in their own environment. The first sighting was of the No2 silverback just sat in the middle of what seems like a huge salad bowl. Two young blackbacks were play fighting which was great entertainment, swinging there arms about, grappling and rolling through the vegetation, whilst we all did our best to dodge the action. Every now and then, they would stop to almost check that we were paying attention. This is when we got that amazing eye contact - when we realised that they really are studying us,  just as we are them! We moved around somewhat, with the trackers and guide making every effort to get us into position to see the whole group, including the leading silverback Charles, who was sat quietly grooming one of is females.  The group continued to play and move around, with a young (approx 1yr old) gorilla clambering around in a tree. Charles then decided to move in towards us, and gave us a great yawn showing his fine set of teeth before moving away with the rest of his group.

Day two, again we woke to a bright clear morning, the mountains were majestic in the morning sunshine, with the distant valley immersed in low mist and cloud. Isaac had this time managed to arrange for us to the Sabyinyo group, which we were keen to see, as the largest silverback was head of this group - Guhonda, at 220kg . We had a relatively flat hike for approx 40min through the potato and bean plantations before reaching the buffalo wall. Our guide - Ignatious, then advised us that we may well have to hike for a further 3 hours to find the gorillas. We were prepared! we pushed on for approx 5 minutes, before he stopped, only to advise us that we had arrived. Sure enough, we could hear and smell our gorillas. We quickly prepared for the next hour, and another amazing and exciting experience was there for us. What was so different this time, was that the gorillas were very active, with Guhonda sitting proud in the bamboo forest, munching on bamboo shoots, and his no2 silverback, and a very large blackback chasing each other around, we found ourselves looking in all directions, and seeing gorillas all around us. 

We followed them for a few metres, into an  'open area' only to come across 'Big Ben' - a bald gorilla - sat on the buffalo wall, just staring at us. A few seconds later, two more gorillas  appeared, clambering up and over the wall to meet us! We were then entertained by the silverback chasing the large playfull blackback around a large bush.  We carried on moving, watching all sorts of play  and feeding, swinging in trees etc..this was definitely the most active encounter we had experienced. The hour was up - wow! what a sighting that was - in all 9 of our previous gorilla treks, that was the most action packed. We made the short journey back to our vehicles, and the lodge. This afternoon, as we had plenty of spare time, Isaac arranged for a local guide to walk with us to the cultural village at Iby'Iwacu. We walked the short distance of approx 5km along a track surrounded by the picturesque farmland, and had the constant attention of the local smiling children. We were invited by one family to watch whilst they milked their cow. We reached the village, and were met by the 'crazy' ex poacher - Barora Leonidas with his chanting, and dancing - we recognised him from TV documentaries about the Virungas. We had a go at archery - shooting his  target (banana leaf) at first attempt, to be congratulated with hilarious cheers and chants.  More drums, dancing,  singing and a visit to the 'chiefs house' completed this interesting and entertaining visit.

So, our final morning set off for the National Park Headquarters again at Kinigi, we had asked our driver to see if he could get us in the group to visit Hirwa also known as 'Lucky'. This group, led by a huge silverback named Munyinya, has a female who has twins - now only 8 months old, they are fit and well.  Good news - again we have been 'lucky', and we are off to see this group.

Again, unusually we have been fortunate, and the trek to see these gorillas is again not too steep, and only 1 hour from our vehicles. Today however, the sky is somewhat overcast, and we find the Hirwa group inside the bamboo forest. The forest  itself is not too dense, but it blocks out a fair amount of light. The gorillas are again very  active, with youngsters climbing above and around us, the occasional branch cracking and dropping. We have to dodge bamboo being pulled down by incredibly strong young gorillas, who seem fearless and so at ease as they clamber around in the forest. Munyinya the 'boss' just sits, eats and watches,  occasionally moving to another good feeding place, taking one of the youngsters with him.  Then the female and her twins came into view, they are so cute, running rings around her, beating their chests in sync, they look like they're dancing for us.  The cloud / mist then came down, and making photography pretty difficult, but the entertainment continued. As our time drew to a close, the gorillas actually wandered off behind Munyinya, it was as though they knew we'd had our hour!

Once again an incredible experience, certainly seeing these amazing animals  active , relaxed and very much at home on the Virunga mountains was well worth the experience.

Now after my tenth gorilla trek, there is still just as much desire to return, every encounter is so different, and to actually be amongst these fine gorillas, rather than be in a safari vehicle, is certainly an experience that is far more incredible than I can write.

Find the best time to visit Rwanda here.


Richard Denyer

14/12/2012 4:00 AM

Hi Peter, Yes - as above, we did book this through Natural World Safaris. We have somewhat become regular travellers with them! We've now used them for over 12 individual safaris / trips. All tremendous experiences, with great camps and reliable guides. Have seen the Gorillas now 3 times, in March, July and this time November. This was I think our best trip, as the light was pretty good and the gorillas were so active. You must go! Best Regards Richard

Kyle Denson

14/12/2012 2:00 AM

RIchard & Viv! Great blog, pictures and videos. I wish we had that lighting when we saw the gorillas. We saw the same dancing group, too! Thanks for sharing. I hope to see you both in Africa again. All the best! Kyle

Peter Unstead

13/12/2012 2:31 AM

A fascinating account. A quick question - was this organized through Natural World Safaris and what time of the year did you travel? Rgds Peter

Natural World Safaris

13/12/2012 2:30 AM

Hi Peter, Richard travelled with us to Rwanda in November 2012. If you're interested in travelling with us too to track the gorillas please don't hesitate to get in touch - we'd love to help you plan your trip. Regards, NWS Team

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