Second chance in the DRC

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October 10th 2010
Published: October 11th 2010
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One For The Road

We have made our way across Kenya staying at some spectacular campsites. One of which sits on the banks of the Nile as it is fed by Lake Victoria. This was just a stopover and we are due back there to enjoy it more on our way back to Nairobi. Uganda is calling so we are cutting through Kenya to get there.

Over the whole trip we have covered some extraordinary terrain. We started with the very dry flat, almost desert like countryside of Southern Africa, through lush river delta's up to the lakesides and coastal roads of East Africa. The further north we have progressed and as our altitude has increased towards the equator we have been faced with an altogether different landscape. The land is primarily agricultural with plantations as far as the eye can see. Anything from tea, coffee, sugar cane and bananas. Sadly with the green vegetation comes the rain and the humidity which in turn makes driving conditions a little more "out of control".

Now in Uganda we are staying in a town called Kisoro which we are using as our base to trek up to the gorillas. Our driver informed us that seeing the gorillas in Uganda wasn't possible as we couldn't get hold of the permits but we could go and see them in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is not every day that you go to such a place so we thought why not. We tried to cross the border into the Congo on Saturday but at the border we were told we couldn't cross over as the President of the Congo was making a visit to the border to inspect a road built with the aid of the Chinese. We all feel a bit disappointed not to be able to meet him, let alone see the gorillas but we have been assured that we can try again on Sunday. Fingers crossed we can because although Uganda is a beautiful country there really isn't much going on in this town let alone this campsite.

However as I type this up a rather random wedding procession has pulled in. Maybe this Saturday night isn't going to be so slow after all.....

Apparently our campsite in Kisoro is favoured by wedding parties for the photo opportunities. Never being ones to shy away from a camera, we thought it would be

Our escorts up the mountains.
a good idea to take some pictures ourselves. After rattling off a number of snaps, we were asked to join in some of the family wedding photos. We felt this was a little odd given what we were wearing, but the family insisted, so we thought why not. Definitely one for the mantle-piece, and a nice way to pass a Saturday afternoon in a very wet Ugandan town.

So having been disappointed at the border on Saturday (who knew the President, His Excellency, had the ability to close a border crossing?), we were up early again on Sunday to attempt the crossing into the DRC. This time we had success and after the seemingly inevitable wait at the border we were shown to our truck and off to the mountains we headed.

We drove for an hour or so through some tiny villages, gradually moving up into the mountain region. It is incredible that every piece of land that is available to the locals is cultivated. With no machinery available, all of this work is done by hand (and animal)! This transforms the landscape to a beautiful patchwork quilt of hard work and greenery. As we drove along

Who's been sleeping in my bed?
the very muddy single track roads we were greeted and chased by the local children. They seemed desperate to catch up with the truck, and would run behind for what seemed miles.

At the end of the road, we were off on foot, trekking up through more farmland and into the mountain jungle. We were lucky, as the weather remained fair, and the trek only took an hour or so before we were told by our guides that a family of gorillas was close by.

Each night a silverback sleeps on a new bed made by the females in the group during the day, and we were lucky to find the previous nights "king size" recently vacated, and it wasn't long before we had our first glimpse of these incredibly rare, and truly spectacular animals. The family that we had tracked were made up of one silverback, 2 females and 2 young gorillas. We had been told that we needed to be a minimum of 7 metres away from the gorillas, however our guide was fairly relaxed and allowed us to get as close as possible.

The first gorilla to appear was an incredibly curious and playful young 2 year old. When you see how they play and attempt to interact with humans, you realise how similar they are to young children. Truly fearless and just happy to play and show off a little, this little critter just wanted to show us how good he was at climbing. After Megan gave him a little encouragement he felt bold enough to run up an slap her on the leg, this he did not once but twice, and only reinforced how comfortable they are with humans on their door-step. This has proved a problem in the past, as the biggest threat to the small gorilla population in the world is not disease but poaching. Fortunately, by making visitors buy permits and limiting the number of permits available per day there are funds available to protect and track the gorillas as they make their way through the mountain jungle regions of Central Africa.

The next gorilla to make its way past us was the silverback of the group, and as the youngsters are impressive by their curiosity, the silverback stood out by his sheer size. They are truly immense creatures, and we were incredibly priviledged to have witnessed him so close up. He was not fazed by our presence and the entire family were happy to sit around and find the greenest shoots to feed from. We always felt very relaxed in their presence, and the only time things got a little edgy was when one of the females wanted to get beyond us, and she felt she could charge through. We were more than happy to let her pass, and were happy that she didn't fancy a swipe at us as she went.

We only had an hour with the Gorillas as to spend any longer would disrupt their lifestyle too much, but this was without a doubt one of the highlights of the whole trip. To see such magnificent creatures, from the inquisitive youngsters to the enormous silverbacks in their own environment was a once in a life time experience, and one we will never forget. When our time was up, we made our way back to the truck, then down through the mountains, and across the border. Our time in the Democratic Republic of Congo was short, but well worth it, and should you ever get the chance to do this then take it!!

From Kisoro, we made the loop back through Uganda and into Kenya. The last stop on our tour was Lake Nakuru where we had one last game drive in the national park. Lake Nakuru is a body of water that shrunk dramtically in the early 1990's, but since then has regained most of its volume. Although up to 45 square kilometres in size, its deepest point is only 1.03 metres. Our guide told us we could walk across it, but given the unknowns lurking, we felt more comfortable in the truck. One of the major attractions of the lake are the pink flamingos which flock there attracted by the abundance of algae. There were approximately 400,000 lining the shore, but at their peak this can rise to 1.4 million. A fanscinating pink flapping squawking site.

The other major attraction this national park has are the many rhino wandering about. On our trip so far, we had only had a fleeting glimpse of one black rhino, so it was great to see so many in their natural habitat. They are enourmous almost pre-historic creatures, and we were very fortunate to see so many of the white rhinos so close to our truck. Unfortunately we didn't manage to see the black rhino this time, as they are typically found amongst the trees, however the white rhinos were truly impressive.

We had now reached the end of our tour. We have had 7 weeks on the back of a truck carving through Africa, from Cape Town up to the Democratic Republic of Congo. On our journey we have seen some incredible sites; from the vast expanse of the Okanvango Delta, the dramatic back drop of the Ngorongoro Crater and the resplendent majesty of the mountain gorillas. We have also been fortunate to meet so many great people. From those who took care of us in all of the campsites and hostels, to the friends we made on the truck. We would like to thank Drew and Henry for taking us on this journey, no easy task, but one you did without major incident. And we would like to thank all of the friends we made on the back of the truck, without you guys the trip would have been a lot longer, harder, and a LOT less entertaining. We wish you well for the rest of your travels, wherever they may take you.

Now, after a break in Nairobi where it was great to catch up with Dan, Becca, Poppy and Willa we have returned to the UK. A couple of weeks to prepare for our next leg, which will take us to South America. Next stop Rio, and we promise to keep you up to date with how we get on travelling through the continent, hopefully finishing in Mexico City.....

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17th October 2010

hello you 2 lovlies! Your pics are AMAZING, great blog and im not jealous at all....MUCH!! next trip for us Gorillas! Glad to see you both dressed up for the wedding and that you found matching shoes and hat!! ha! take care and enjoy south america, oh you lucky things you have so much more to look forward to! x

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