At Dubai Airport at 4am for my early morning flight to Kigali.
My flights for the trip were a direct flight from Dubai to Kigali (DXB-KGL) and returning via Mombasa (KGL-MBA-DXB) on RwandAir. I booked my flight through Kayak/Vayama for $339 (including $200 taxes/surcharges) as it was $200 cheaper than booking it directly through RwandAir ($339 + $200 taxes/surcharges) for some reason.
About to board the Rwandair 737-800 for the 6:25am flight to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
The Dubai skyline on the horizon and Emirates aircraft lined up on the apron after take-off from DXB.
Simple but satisfying breakfast that was served on the ~6 hour flight.
We arrived in Kigali on schedule at about ~10:30am. After getting my temperature checked (for Ebola) I lined up to pay my $30 visa on arrival, collect my checked bag and exit the airport by ~11am.
I was then met by my driver, who was aptly called 'Safari' (from the swahili word to travel).
My first visit to Rwanda would only last ~4 hours as the plan was to drive west and across the border to the city of Goma (the third largest city in DR Congo) via the Rwandan town of Ruhengeri.
We then began the drive west, passing the main Kigali bus station.
On the outskirts of Kigali (right). Easy to see why they call Rwanda the land of a thousand hills.
And some locals saying hello.
Schools out. We then drove through the hills and valleys on the road to Ruhengeri.
Stopping for a break on the way to Ruhengeri (Safari and the Landcruiser centre).
Fruits. Compared to other African countries, Rwanda felt relatively clean and orderly.
After a ~2.5 hour drive from Kigali we finally arrived in Ruhengeri.
I then got to meet Ms. Mercy from Amahoro tours whom I had booked and organised my tour with and paid the remaining balance for my trip.
Some delicious fish & yoghurt stew, beans, potatoes and rice for lunch.
We then continued the drive to Goma. Some tea being grown in the valley.
We got to Gisenyi on the Rwandan side of the border at about 2:30pm, and Safari handed me over to my guide from DR Congo, David. After completing exit formalities for Rwanda we walked through no mans land to the DR Congo side.
Entry formalities for DR Congo were quite easy, helped no doubt by having my guide David to assist me. If you are visiting Virunga National Park a visa on arrival can be easily organised in advance for $70. I had my yellow fever certificate but they never asked for it. A Canadian I would meet in a few days would have to pay a $20 'fine' for not having various other vaccinations they wanted though.
My hotel room for the next two nights at the Lablise hotel, which was right on Lake Kivu.
After crashing out for a few hours, I went for a walk on the streets near my hotel. My guide David recommended not walking about with my camera, so took my phone instead. It was close to one of the UN MONUSCO bases in town. The UN MONUSCO is the most expensive current UN deployment (>20,000 troops) and the only mission currently authorised to actively engage insurgents (as opposed to only shooting when shot at first).
Every second vehicle on the road seemed to be a white UN 4WD.
Dinner back at the hotel, kebab, chips and salad.
After a good sleep I was up early at 5:30am for a good breakfast.
I then got picked up by my guide David for the drive to Virunga National Park to go trekking for Gorilla's on the slopes of Mt. Mikeno. We would also pass Mt. Nyiragongo which I would be camping on the top of tomorrow night.
Just before 6am on the drive north with Mt. Nyiragongo, one of Africa's most active volcanoes, in the distance.
Stopping for a closer photo of Mt. Nyiragongo. The volcano last erupted in 2002 with at least 15% of Goma comprising 4,500 buildings being destroyed, leaving ~120,000 people homeless.
And Mt. Mikeno (left) and Mt. Karisimbi (right) further up the road.
An artillery piece used by the milita during the Congo wars outside a village as we head north.
Off to work.
We arrived at a village near the entrance of Virunga National Park at about 6:30am, ready to meet up with the Park Rangers and other trekkers.
The other trekkers arrived at about 7:30am after apparently being held up by some police in Goma who wanted a bribe before they would let them on their way. There were six other people for the gorilla trekking; one Brit and five Americans. All worked for NGO's in DRC.
Parc National des Virunga. Virunga is Africa's oldest nation park and is home to nearly a third of the world’s roughly 900 remaining mountain gorillas. The park lost thousands of elephants and hippopotami during the Congo war years, but its gorillas actually doubled in number. That is partly because they were of less interest to poachers and can hide deeper in the forests, but mostly because of Virunga’s courageous rangers. More than 140 rangers have died protecting Virunga park that was at the centre of the DRC’s carnage.
With my $400 gorilla trekking permit. There are mountain gorillas in Rwanda (permit fee = $750) and Uganda (permit fee = $600), but they attract many more tourists (up to 80 per day in Rwanda versus only 7 for DRC on my day) and are much less wild, while in the DRC you still have them to yourselves.
After a briefing by one of the park rangers/guide (in French, although luckily one of our group translated for us) we headed off through the surrounding villages to the park entrance.
Trekking through the dense vegetation after entering the park...
...and into the jungle. Apart from mosquitoes, we came across swarms of ants while trekking and had to literally run to avoid being bitten alive!
Bosko, our ranger/guide, stopping for a break. We trekked for 4 kilometres and as the vegetation was quite thick took us ~ 2 hours.
We were trekking along and Bosko asked us to stop. Almost on cue we heard a big gorilla fart! We then took off our bags, got our camera's and prepared ourselves for an amazing encounter with one of man's closest cousins.
Our gorilla family was in quite dense jungle/vegetation (can you spot the baby?).
And from a slightly better angle.
I was hoping for overcast clouds (i.e. soft, diffuse light) but no rain and thankfully we were blessed with perfect weather for photographing the gorilla's.
A couple of bigger guys.
A juvenile doing some tree climbing.
If you scratch my back...
Face to face.
Having a swing...
...until the inevitable happened and the vine broke and the baby landed back to earth with a gentle thud.
After a magical and too quick hour amongst these magnificent creatures we bid our farewell.
And a photo with our ranger/guide Bosko after an experience of a lifetime!
The trek back where we were again inundated with hungry mosquitoes and stinging ants.
I met up with my guide David again and we drove back to Goma. A memorial for Belgian and German soldiers who fought in Congo during WWI.
And back in Goma at about 3pm.
We then went to lunch at a local restaurant and ate some delicious local food including beef, sweet potato and baked banana.
Next stop was the local grocery store to buy food for my volcano trek tomorrow.
And got some local bread, cheese and sausage (David on the right).
After the early morning start and the challenging gorilla trekking I took it easy back at the hotel and watched the sun set from my balcony over Lake Kivu.
The power then went out for most of Goma so dinner was by candle light in the hotel restaurant.
An aerial photo of Mt. Nyiragongo (by MONUSCO/Neil Wetmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0). Today's plan was to trek to the top of the volcano and spend the night camping on the crater edge.
After breakfast again at the hotel, I packed my provisions I had bought yesterday for the overnight trip.
On the road again with David to Mt. Nyiragongo. These wooden bikes were quite common in Goma, and even had a golden statue of one in the middle of one of the city roundabouts.
At the headquarters at the base of Mt. Nyiragongo. After being off limits for tourists for several years due to various fighting, climbing of Mt. Nyiragongo had reopened at the end of last year.
The group of people I had met the previous day during the gorilla trekking were planning to climb Mt. Nyiragongo today too. But at the end of the gorilla trek they were seriously pooped, and were having second thoughts about climbing to the top of the 3470 m (11382 ft) tall volcano. Hence after they no-showed, it was just me and a Canadian couple. After a safety briefing (in French again, luckily the Canadians translated for me) we headed off for the ~5 hour trek up the volcano.
At our first rest stop, with our three porters far right, and our rangers/guides, Jean-Phil and Cyril in the middle.
After venturing through the jungle on the lower slopes, the track then became loose volcanic rubble. Not too hard to climb up but you had to be sure you had a solid footing.
Stopping at the second rest stop next to some solidified lava flow.
And some local flora.
Meeting with some other rangers on the climb up. The Canadian girl, Avery, was working in Goma for UNESCO, and had been brought up in various African countries as her parents were diplomats.
Stopping for lunch at about 1pm. Tuna, cheese and peanut butter sandwiches, which were actually pretty tasty!
And looking up to the cloud covered peak.
Wild blackberries, which were quite delicious.
The vegetation got sparser and less dense as we gained altitude.
Making the scramble up the last few ~100 metres.
After 5 tough hours we finally made it!!! The elevation at the headquarters where we started was 1,994 metres so we climbed almost 1,500 vertical metres to reach the top of 3470 m (11382 ft) tall Mt. Nyiragongo.
My cabin for the night with my well travelled sleeping bag (has now slept in it in 9 countries). The rope at the bottom leads to...
... the abseil down to the toilet!!!
Peering over the edge into the volcano crater. In 2007 a Chinese lady got a little too close and perished when she slipped and fell in.
And a panoramic shot to show how close we were camping to the crater edge.
At about 5pm we had some VIP visitors from the Howard G. Buffett foundation who 'cheated' and skipped the climb by landing their helicopter just below the top and scrambled up the last ~200 metres.
A portrait shot of a very photogenic Cyril.
As the sun started to dip below the horizon and the light started to dim, the glorious colours of the red hot lava and blue light at dusk started to appear.
The lava lake is ~190 metres (~600 ft) across, and is the largest lava lake in the world.
It was so mesmorising to watch the lava lake bubble and erupt away, and I spent a good hour just watching and gazing at the awesome spectacle.
I had my sausages and bread for dinner. Our rangers also cooked us up some goat stew and casava which was very tasty too.
The moon rising above glowing steam over the crater edge.
I went to bed at about 9pm but got up at 2am when the clouds had cleared and got an amazing view of the starry sky over Goma.
And the volcano steam reflecting the amazing glowing red from the lava lake.
I was up again just before dawn to get one last look at the volcano crater.
And looking east to the summit of Mt. Karisimbi. The puff of steam coming from the bottom right is where the toliet used to be, but it collapsed into the hole and is now a steaming vent on the side of the crater.
Looking down the mountain side to the smaller crater. This crater is where lava collected during the 2002 eruption before breaching and running down to Goma. Due to the mineral content of the lava, the speed of the lava reached up to 60 kph (versus walking speed for lava in places like Hawaii).
Getting ready for the hike back down after a quick breakfast of muesli bars.
Must have taken quite a bit of skill to land a helicopter here!
Making our descent.
Blue skies as we made our way down.
A chameleon we spotted!
And back down into the jungle. The climb down took us just over 3 hours.
Getting a photo with Jean-Phil and Cyril after a successful descent.
David was waiting for me and we drove back into Goma to pick up my stuff at the hotel.
We then went back to the DRC/Rwanda border.
Where I met up with Safari again for the drive back to Kigali.
We stopped in Ruhengeri again at the Hotel Muhabura, famous for being where Dian Fossey (of 'Gorillas in the Mist' fame) stayed when she was in town.
And had some tasty pork chops for lunch.
We arrived back in Kigali just after 4pm.
My hotel for my one night stay in Kigali, the Hôtel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda).
I checked into my room and had a nice hot shower. Just what the doctor ordered after three days of some serious trekking!
View from the top floor over the hotel pool and the city of Kigali.
A memorial to the hotel staff that were killed during the 1994 genocide. Over a thousand refugees were sheltered at the hotel during the genocide.
After a bit of a rest, I went to the pool side bar for a drink.
And had the Nile perch for dinner.
And treated myself to some chocolate pudding for dessert after all the exercise after the past few days.
I got up at 7:30am and went for a run in Kigali. My legs were still stiff after the trekking and the hilly streets of Kigali were very unforgiving too!
I then had a decent breakfast at the hotel.
At about 10am I caught up with my driver I had organised for the day.
The plan was to drive south of Kigali to the Genocide Memorials at Nyamata and Ntarama.
When violence broke out during the 1994 genocide began, many Tutsi's took refuge in churches. This time however, the church did not save them from being slaughtered, with ~5,000 people being murdered at Ntarama.
Ntarama Church has now been preserved as a small memorial.
With the Tutsi's sheltering inside the church, sledge hammers were used to punch holes to gain access.
Clothing from the many victims.
Where the brick wall was broken to throw in grenades.
It was a very sombre and moving experience.
We then drove on to Nyamata, another church where Tutsi's attempted to shelter.
Blood spatters and bullet holes were visible on the walls and roof.
After a very moving morning, we headed back to Kigali and stopped at an Indian restaurant for lunch.
After lunch, I went to the Kigali Genocide Museum.
The museum was very educational, and detailed how previously the separation between minority Tutsi's and majority Hutu's used to be largely socio-economic. It wasn't until the Belgian colonists arrived and started categorising the population based on nose length and how 'european' they looked etc. (on the belief that 'european' looking Africans would be better able to govern) that the differences became engrained as being based on race/ethnicity.
One of the beautiful stained glass windows at the museum.
Photo's of some of the genocide victims. Several days after the genocide started, the UN security council met to discuss the request by Roméo Dallaire, the force commander of UNAMIR, for reinforcements. New Zealand, who held the UN Security Council presidency at the time, was the only country that supported this reinforcement.
A memorial outside the museum in the Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda, with the importance of educating tomorrows generation and avoiding a repeat of the past.
The remains of ~250,000 Rwandans are interred on the grounds of the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The UN Security Council later accepted responsibility for failing to stop the genocide.
Back at Kigali International for the flight back to DXB.
And about to board the RwandAir 737-800 for the trip back home after an amazing trip to DR Congo and Rwanda!