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  • Day52

    Volcanoes National Park

    November 6, 2019 in Rwanda ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    We’re leaving the Twin Lakes today and heading into Volcanoes National Park. Martyn and Laura have secured permits for the gorillas, but we’ve decided to go for the much cheaper ($75 vs. $1500) permits to climb Mount Bisoke.

    We do realise, however, that whilst we’ve purchased permits online, we have no idea what to do. There are no instructions about where to go, what time to go, what you’ll need etc. We try calling the various numbers for the Wildlife Authorities, but they’re all clueless. Martyn and Laura decide to head to the office in the town of Ruhengeri to talk to someone, but it turns out that the office doesn’t exist.

    Finally, after checking in to our accommodation at Red Rocks, just south of town, we’re told to head to the reception at the bottom of the mountains, at 7am. It’s a fairly long drive there, so we need to set off before 6 to be sure we’re there on time.

    So, we head off for an early night, Martyn and Laura in their room, us in our tent. We quickly discover that the tent is not a good idea, since the bar just across the road blasts out terrible music all night, and our thin tent walls do not filter any of it out.

    We wake up at 5am, groggy and a little irritable. That’s not helped by the fact that the car won’t start. We’re not sure if the battery is flat, but we don’t have much time to find out, and we’re forced to get an expensive taxi to the start point.

    We make it there on time, but we’re faced with a new issue: the rangers don’t have any vehicles, and they themselves get rides from the tourists (who are mostly being driven around by their tour groups). Martyn and Laura are forced to splash out further on a taxi to their start point, as the driver of the other tourist in their group refuses to take them. We get lucky, and are driven by a French and German couple.

    We disembark at the base of Mount Bisoke and start the climb up the volcano. It’s steep and slippy, and Katie soon finds herself helped by the invaluable Leonard. We’re also accompanied by a band of ten or so heavily armed soldiers. They’re in full camouflage and armed with AKs. We’re told that they’re there to protect us from the buffalo that call the mountain their home. Whilst it’s true that buffalo are very dangerous, we doubt that ten AK-47s is necessary to scare them away. We suspect that it may be more to do with the fact that Bisoke lies on the DRC border, and rebels are known to operate in the area.

    It’s a fairly tough climb, but we soon reach the summit, at 3,711 metres. And the views are… rubbish. The entire summit is cloaked in a cold mist, and we can barely see a few metres in front. We settle down for our snacks, and some vodka coke, courtesy of some of our group. Then, quickly, the mist rises, and we’re treated to the incredible views of the crater lake, shared between Rwanda and the DRC. It’s monumental, and made slightly bizarre by the fact that, if you had your passport, you could walk a bit further into the Congo.

    On the walk back down, we overhear the French guy in our group ask one of the soldiers if he can borrow the AK. “Why?” asks the soldier. “Cos I wanna shoot a gorilla”. He doesn’t get a go on the machine gun.

    Gorillas do make the mountain their home, but they’re rare, and since we don’t have a team of trackers, there’s basically no chance of seeing any. It doesn’t stop us from peering into the dense foliage the entire time, checking for any movement. We don’t stop until we’re right at the gate leaving the national park. Dejected, we give up hope of seeing any gorillas. And right then, the rangers whisper: “Look! Up in the trees!”. And sure enough, right there is a silverback and two young ‘uns. It’s great to see, and we want to stay longer. However, the rangers don’t let us stay or take pictures, saying it would be unfair on the people who paid $1,500 to see them, so we’re led away. Still, we’ve now had two encounters with these incredible primates, and it’s no less special the second time around.
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