Loud “Muuuzzzuunguuuu” followed by quiet “wow”., Kinigi, Feb 15th, 2011

We have heard so many different stories on how easy or hard it is to get a Gorilla permit in Kigali. Today, Saturday, February the 12th, we will find out. But first we need to overcome the incredible simple breakfast at our hotel (tea and a banana plus bread but no butter, jam or so) by going to the 24 hour Nakumat supermarket at the UTC (Union Trade Center – strange, the words “trade center” make me feel unsafe, wonder why). They have it all, we feel home, except that everything imported is quiet expensive, at least for me, coming from the Aldi country.
Then an amazing journey begins, 3 hours at the Gorilla permit office. My emotions have never taken a roller coaster ride like this in such short time. The friendly lady starts with: “we are booked out till March 4th….” Ok, what does that mean? It means we came here for nothing??? That can not be. Being in Africa since 3 months I have learned to hang around. So we do that, me thinking how I can arrange my travels to be back here in March, Angela completely frustrated. Then the info that somebody wants to return 2 tickets for tomorrow but that means that we would have to go there still today, rushing it. I do not want to rush a 500 Dollar experience and miss out on the party night here in Kigali. Then things get interesting. A tourist wants these tickets for tomorrow giving back his tickets for Monday. I jump right into the situation, going for it. Monday is not ideal, we wanted Tuesday, but hey, two tickets in my hand. Then this lady steps in, wants to trade 2 tickets for Tuesday but needs cash, no credit card payment possible. Sarah and I run to the bank, get the cash and finally have exactly what we wanted, 2 tickets for Tuesday. Then Angela steps into the game. “I changed my mind, I also want to do it”……………and for whatever reason, another ticket for Tuesday pops up. Even the office staff says: “unbelievable”. Were we just lucky or is it simply “TIA”???? I do not know but I do not care either.

The afternoon we spend at the Genocide museum. It is touching, moving and simply sad what happened here in 1994, the world watching, not acting. The limited amount of footage they have only emphasizes on the extend of cruelty it must have been. All journalists left the country or stayed in the hotels. It sounds sarcastic but the Hutu actually almost succeeded in the attempt the erase the Tutsi people. Within Rwanda there were not many left. Only the once who could flee or lived abroad at the time survived the genocide. Coming back after wards they all live in Kigali now, presenting 15% of the whole but 85% of the Kigali population plus they have taken all important positions (based on the education they received abroad). The next conflict is programmed and under the hand everybody says its just a matter of time. For dinner we met with John, the American I met in Kenya. He gives us some insights into the reality, apart from clamors Kigali. Only 6% of the people have access to electricity and so on.
Anyway, for the moment Rwanda is on the right track and we want to support that. I spend my money for a barber, the dinner is expensive but amazing and we celebrate our permits in 2 clubs until 4am in the morning. That calls for a lazy Sunday and we do not leave the hotel all day watching CNN on Egypt and ordering food to the room. Angela and I do get out once in the evening to visit the Kigali Casino. Small, really cute but no poker cash game. Oh well.

Monday morning I take a short attempt at the Kongo embassy to get a VISA but give up fast and we leave for Kinigi in the North West. Arriving at the guest house it starts raining. Makes sense as we are close to the rain forest which I can feel and smell as well, wonderful. The arrangement of a 4x4 vehicle for tomorrow must be done in French. As in the morning there is a car waiting I guess the view words I speak did the job, tres bien. The 3 of us are joined by Jasmine and Andrew, an Irish, Norwegian couple. We all agree to wanting the Suza group as visiting them includes the longest trek through the jungle and the chance to see 2 or 3 silver-backs. Heinz, a German, also joins in and after harassing in “Frank style” I get the: “yes, I arrange for you……” The briefing with our guide is short, the drive to the starting point is not.

One hour it takes but its enjoyable. Andrew and I are at the back of the truck and the local children are so amazed by us. “Muuuuuzzuunguuuuu” they scream (it stands for white man) and run after us, partly in crazy manner (see video).

After deciding for a porter and security guide we walk 40mintes through villages and fields before entering the bush. Step by step it becomes a jungle and steeper. A great hike but Heinz struggles, many brakes are needed. Then we reach the point where rangers have spotted the group today. We lay down our equipment, get another briefing and start walking towards the Suza group.

The first encounter is just a black something in the grass. Then something moving and finally a gorilla further away on a tree. That is already touching but then, without noticing how it happened, we stand just in front of a whole group. Suza and his clan is taking a siesta, chilling in the low grass, fantastic. Then the Silverback himself:

They are moving around us. Our guide always makes sure that we step back, when they move. The idea is to never interfere with their intentions, not all to border them in what they do. I believe that works, except for the “clicks” of all the cameras maybe. Even a mother with her young one we see close. Great.

I would guess that we were on average 5 to 10 meters away but that changed soon later. One of them has got interested in us and I believe especially in me and my camera as he looks straight at me. He comes closer and closer. As we can not move back anymore our guide uses sounds and his waving machete to keep the animal away from us / me. I have to admit that I felt a bit nervous. In the video you can see how he is checking me and the guide with the machete on my left (not visible). Finally he backs off. Thanks.

We spend little less than an hour with the Gorillas. I manage to shut off my camera for quiet a while and enjoy the moment, the beauty of those animals and to realize how fortunate I am to experience this. Before we leave I take a view more impressions.

Trekking back is much easier. We receive a certificate, enjoy the screaming children and watch the locals on the drive back. A bit tired but most of all we are content and thankful for this day. It was a special one.

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  • thorsten says:

    Muzuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuungu, oh, vermisse ich das, haha. frank, sag mal wie machst du das, dass du in allen situationen fotos von dir selbst hast, unfassbar?
    gorillas sind der wahnsinn, kann deine gefuehle gut nachvollziehen.

  • Andrew says:

    Just started looking through my photos. My god, it was such an amazing experience. Hope the rest of your journey goes well mate!

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