Sunday, February 21, 2010
Our last trip was to Akagera park in the Eastern Province of Rwanda and an unique area due to the changing landscape from the rocky hills of western Rwanda, to the vast Savannah's of Kenya and Tanzania. We unfortunately had problems with our tour company which I won’t go into but the tour guide at the park proved to be very good. She showed around to see about 16 species of large animals (not including the tons of birds we saw). At the top of the list was giraffes, zebra, buffalo, hippos, crocodiles, and antelopes. We had a great first day. When we took a break for lunch we set up our tent and met a group of Libyans who proved to be some of the most hospitable people I have ever met. They fed us freshly cooked chicken, beef, Libyan pasta, Arabic coffee and even a little sheesha (sp?). They were so kind and really made our day. The food was some of the best I have had in over a year. We camped that night on the lake. We could shine our flashlight around and see the eyes of crocodiles shining back at us. All night we could hear splashing in the water from hippos and crocs. The hippos also make grunting noises. Our fire kept everything at a good distance but I won’t lie, it was a little unnerving. Hippos are the most dangerous land animal (even though they spend most of their time in the water). They are generally harmless as long as you don’t get between them and the water when they are on land feeding. The most dangerous creature in Africa is actually the malaria carrying mosquitos. The next day we searched for elephant but all we saw were tracks and poo. The drive was beautiful though. Unfortunately our tour company, Akagera Tours & Travel (be warned) ended our day at noon. However, we were highly satisfied with the number of animals we saw. Rebekah left the next day. :(
Saturday, February 13, 2010
After going to Uganda we took a trip again to the north but this time to Musanze, (aka Ruhengeri) the place where Diane Fossey once lived amongst the endangered mountain gorillas at the foot of a string of volcanoes that divide Rwanda, the DRC, and Uganda. This place is one of extreme beauty. We came to visit the gorillas but we weren’t sure if it would be worth the $$. We hiked about 1½ hours through a tone of stinging needles and left our walking sticks and other items so that the gorillas didn’t suspect we were poachers. Our guides made calls to let the gorillas know we are friendly. Then… we came across 1, 2, 3… about 15 mountain gorillas. We were allowed to get up to about 20 ft to them but in reality they got up to about 12 ft from us. They were relaxing, sitting down and eating wild celery or other things. They continued as if we weren’t even there. The silver back (an adult male and head of the harem), was effortlessly gnawing on the bark of a very large branch he had ripped down. As Rebekah and I turned our backs to an adult female to take a photo of us with the gorilla in the background, the gorilla decided to approach us. From studying the gorillas at the zoo in Albuquerque (a university class), I suppose the gorilla thought we were inviting her to groom us. The guide quickly got us to move further away. The gorilla then gave her own grooming invitation to us. This whole time I felt completely unthreatened by them, even though they could potentially and effortlessly rip us to pieces. They knew we weren’t there to hurt them. If anything we were a minor disturbance to their nap time. Furthermore, I was very impressed at the vision of conservation that the park shared. The tours are expensive but it keeps the number of visitors down thereby protecting the gorillas. Supposedly, a large percentage of profit flows into adjacent communities thereby showing the community how the tourist attraction can directly benefit them and reduces poaching. Lastly, the park is constantly monitored through a collaboration with the military to prevent poaching. Over the years the number of mountain gorillas as steadily climbed due to this vision of conservation.