Travel Dates: November 14 – November 17, 2016
Accommodations: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel
When we first started looking into planning the safari portion of our African trip, Amit watched a video on mountain gorilla trekking, looked at me with eyes wide open and said “We’re doing that!” His grand sense of adventure is one of the many things I love about my husband…never mind the fact that he wanted to put us a few feet away from a 500 lb silverback gorilla.
Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo are the only three places in the world where you can visit mountain gorillas. Sadly only about 880 exist in the world today. Half of these primates can be found in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda so that’s where we headed.
Rwanda really surprised us with its beautiful mountainous landscape and its meticulously clean cities thanks to the ban on plastic bags. We also learned that on the last Saturday of every month, the community comes together to clean the streets and garden. This universal service is known as Umuganda.
The country has come along way since the 1994 genocide where it is estimated that over one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed during a 100 day government-organized mass killing. We visited the Genocide Memorial to learn more about the history, the ideology, how it spread, and the impact on its nation in the aftermath. It was a heartbreaking, moving exhibit that is a necessary visit if you’re ever in Kigali. Today they are a very peaceful nation that is extremely safe to travel to. In fact, tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors, thanks to the gorilla conservation!
We stayed at Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel in Muzane, a two hour drive from the capital but close proximity to the national park. The next morning we woke up bright and early to go gorilla trekking (FYI, make sure to secure a tracking permit in advance as there are only a limited number issued daily…they’re expensive but the fees help with conservation and community development). At the park headquarters we learned that we would be tracking Isabukuru, a family of twenty with two silverback males and a rare set of twin gorillas. We were then given a quick debrief on protocol like, “Don’t look the gorillas in the eyes” or, “If the silverback charges you DON’T run away…instead stay put, cower down and show submission.” I’m not sure I would heed that advice since my flight or fight would kick in and I would run away only to be chased by the silverback!
After a two hour hike into the highlands, we were very fortunate to find the family close to the park border. For an hour we sat and observed the family resting and feeding. It was the most amazing wildlife experience I’ve ever had. We were literally 5 feet away from these endangered species. So close that I was tempted to reach over to play with one of the babies but my better judgement kicked in and I refrained. I also kept having to remind myself not to look them in the eyes! It was such a magical experience and I am so glad Amit and I could share this together on our honeymoon around the world.