On day 8 of our African adventure, we woke in our lovely eco-lodge, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, to a beautiful crisp and misty morning. There was a stillness in the air that was both calming and exciting at the same time. We’d slept so well after our incredible mountain gorilla trek and were looking forward to a pleasant day trekking golden monkeys before we headed to Tanzania for our safari.
off to our golden monkey trek
Our guide, Abraham from Gorilla Holidays, met us early to take us to the meeting point in Volanoes National Park. We met at the park headquarters around 7am along with hundreds of other people. This was so different from the small hut where we were briefed in Uganda – it was huge in comparison with people gathered for many trekking groups for the mountain gorillas as well as the golden monkeys.
The other difference we noticed was how the trekkers were dressed. In Uganda, my relatively conservative makeup made me slightly conspicuous amongst the seriously dressed trekkers but in Rwanda, I felt totally under-dressed in comparison to some. Stunning designers outfits, immaculately styled hair and makeup that would be perfect for a Vogue cover shot!
I have no idea where the ‘beautiful people’ went but they didn’t join our group. Abraham did all the hard work for us again in registering us and getting us into the right group. It took a while but eventually we were sitting within a group of around 20 people getting our briefing on our trek.
The trek began about 15 minutes drive away. Abraham found us and got us away fast to join a convoy of vehicles making our way to the foothills of the mountain. We parked at the end of a narrow street with a shamble of little shops targeted to the many tourists coming through the area every day.
When the group was ready, we made our way down an alleyway between the shops onto a large area of farming plots. We navigated our way down the paths between the plots, greeted by delightful local children along the way as they waved and warmly shouted ‘hallo’ as we passed by.
We were told that the children weren’t just there to greet all the foreign tourists – their presence kept away the golden monkeys and other creatures that would otherwise raid the crops.
The walk was flat and easy, if a little muddy. At times we needed to watch our step going over uneven rocks and vegetation but it wasn’t difficult. We had a lady who appeared quite frail and unwell in our group though – she had some difficulty but had a porter who was very attentive in helping her through the uneven terrain.
After crossing the farming land, we reached the bamboo forest where the golden monkeys live. It was actually a lovely, calming experience trekking through the forest, occasionally needing to climb over branches and walk through mud as the trackers searched for clues to source the whereabouts of the golden monkeys.
Suddenly we came to a stop as we saw a number of chatty golden monkeys playing high in a tree, swinging through the branches, occasionally losing their grip and falling as they cheekily battled with each other. We were thrilled!
That wasn’t the best of it though. Little did we know that as we worked our way through the bamboo forest, we would get up so close that they would be swarming around our feet, totally fearless and energetic as they buzzed around.
It was so much fun, way beyond our expectations. The time just sped by as we were able to wander around freely, following these little creatures to snap the perfect shot or take lovely snippets of video.
Our walk back through the forest was enjoyable as the group chatted together. It was an easy trek and soon we were back at our vehicle in the little town. Overall, our lovely trek lasted around 3 hours.
As at the end of any trek in Africa, we made sure we tipped every person working on the tour. We didn’t need a porter for this easy trek but there were several rangers and trackers who all rely upon tips to support their families.
heading on to Tanzania
After the trek, Abraham took us back to the eco-lodge to freshen up before our drive to Kigali airport for our journey on to Tanzania. It was quite a journey – nearly three hours but it passed by pleasantly as Abraham shared his knowledge of Rwanda and Uganda with me while Karl and Sam caught up on some sleep! They woke up in time though to see Mount Kilimanjaro rising in the distance shrouded in fine cloud.
We eventually parted company with Abraham at the airport after having our luggage and vehicle go through a substantial security check. We actually had to get out of the car and walk personally through the security check as the whole car was x-rayed. Abraham was then permitted to drive us through to the door of the departures building. Then we had to be security checked again and had to show our tickets and passports before we were allowed to even enter the building. Better safe than sorry!
Once inside, we realised that there was very little to do in the airport and we had several hours to pass. We immediately went through security, expecting to have a cafe or bar inside but there was nothing.
Although I got into a little trouble for accidentally keeping a pair of nail scissors in my hand luggage, the security officers in the airport were very friendly. Possibly the fact that the young female officers were flirting with Sam helped!
They let us back out into the public area of the building by ducking under the barriers and directed us to the VIP Pearl Lounge. We paid USD $30 each for admission into a comfortable lounge where we had complimentary food and drinks and were able to recharge our devices. We stayed there so long that they eventually suggested we make our way to board the plane, just a short time before takeoff. Clearly Pearl Lounge visitors had a few boarding privileges!
just made it in Nairobi!
The flight to Tanzania was via Nairobi in Kenya. It wasn’t a long flight to Nairobi, around just 1.5 hours, and we should have had an hour in Nairobi before our next flight on to Kilimanjaro. However the plane was late arriving and as we entered the arrivals building, we could see that it was flooded with people filling out forms. Karl went off the the toilets for what seemed like an eternity as we had mistakenly believed that, being in transit, we wouldn’t need to stand in the enormous queue and submit what seemed to be departure forms – but we were wrong!
With only 15 minutes or so to go before our next flight left, we were sitting on the floor, desperately trying to complete these long forms before racing to join the ever-growing queue for our temperatures to be checked for Ebola scanning.
It was frustrating as the queue moved so slowly and families with children were constantly pushed ahead of us. I kept pleading that our flight was about to leave but no-one was interested. We just had to wait our turn.
Eventually we were cleared and we literally ran to the security screening where we had to take off our shoes and jewellery and pull out all our electricals while in a panic as time was running out.
Once through, we had absolutely no time to repack our belonging and Karl didn’t even have time to put his shoes back on. We raced towards the boarding lounge with everything bundled in our hands to be immediately asked at the desk if we were one of two families by name – clearly they were waiting for us. We were raced through and they closed the door of the plane behind us. Sadly, it seemed like the other family didn’t make it through.
Of the 18 flights of our trip, this was the closest we ever came to missing a flight!
We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport around midnight and, after what seemed to be a long wait, our driver eventually picked us up for our short drive to the Arusha Planet Lodge. We chose this hotel because it was close to the airport but, although it only rates at 3 stars, we were pleasantly surprised at how lovely it was with beautiful gardens and very comfortable rooms, full netting around the beds and good bathrooms. Worth more than 3 stars in our opinion!
Anyway I can tell you, we slept well that night! I was concerned that we would only have a few hours sleep before we had to be up and on the road again but the adrenaline kept us going. There was simply too much to look forward to before our first day on safari to care about sleep!