Kigali - 15th April 2011 - 16th April 2011
Entering Rwanda was pretty straightforward. For once Brits get a good deal on the visa front - they don't need one. On querying how long we could stay we were told as long as we liked!
We headed for Kigali through a lush green landscape, almost always on the way up or down (Rwanda is called the Land of a Thousand Hills for good reason). Kigali was the usual traffic nightmare made much worse by the fact we were driving on the right and our GPS kept trying to send us down one way streets.
The next day we headed off to the Genocide Memorial Centre. We knew it was going to be a emotionally draining day but nevertheless I don't think we were really prepared for the impact it had. The content of the displays is full on and relentless and it really does bring the horror home with graphic photographs and video accounts of survivors. Unbelievably over a million people were slaughtered in a mere three months as part of a carefully preplanned exercise, and whilst UN and foreign forces stood by not authorised by their commands to intervene. Around quarter of a million people are buried at the site and one mass grave is still open as human remains are still being found today.
As we left the city and drove along winding roads with amazing views at every corner we kept looking at the people by the roadside and wondering what they had experienced 17 years ago. Were they survivors or perpetrators of the violence?
Lake Kivu - 17th April 2011 - 20th April 2011
We found a beautiful spot on Lake Kivu to stay. DRC lies just across the water as does an active volcano and swimming is not encouraged due to "poisonous gases".
Despite never having had a cold in Africa before we now both do ... just in time for our gorilla trekking. You are not allowed on the trek if you are ill, as gorillas are highly susceptible to human germs so we are keeping our fingers crossed that we will have got rid of this by the 22nd. We don't want to be responsible for wiping out some of the most endangered creatures on the planet.
Parc National des Volcans - 21st April 2011 - 22nd April 2011
I had wanted to visit the gorillas for years and when the day finally came it was hugely exciting. Due to my sore foot we rather feebly requested one of the closest groups (it can take up to 8 hours scrambling up the side of a mountain to reach them).The walk was actually very easy and we came across the gorillas after about an hour. They were rather inconveniently high up in some dense vegetation and it took the trackers a while to hack through. But before long we were looking at the back of an enormous blackback. He didn't seem to want his picture taken so we crept along a narrow path on the side of a slope with a steep drop through the undergrowth and spent a while watching a female and her baby.
Then the guide told us to turn and retrace our steps. I turned expecting to see Jerry but instead came face to face with the blackback who wanted to go along the path. There was absolutely nowhere for me to go so I leant as far as I could into the slope and he pushed past me. It was a breath-stopping moment. (If you look carefully to the right of the picture below you can see me!)
Next we scrambled through the undergrowth to find another blackback with a female and very young baby (3 weeks). She was hidden but he sat there nonchanantly pulling vegetation towards him. The tracker was busily hacking away at the undergrowth to give us an unobstructed view when he obviously touched something he wasn't supposed to. The gorilla lunged forward grabbed his arm and gave him a good shake before plonking himself down right next to us. We could have reached out and touched him. As it was we hardly dared breathe.
Finally we came across the silverback, Guhondo He is the biggest gorilla there is at 226kg and was just awe-inspiring. He sat and watched us and we sat and watched him.
There are only 700 or so mountain gorillas left in the wild and it was a real privilege to be able to see these magnificent and gentle creatures at such close quarters.