An excellent and unforgettable trip through East Africa.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
On trips like this I always hope to have one outstanding moment that will last me a lifetime. This trip provided me with 3 of these moments.
Seeing the mountain gorillas in Rwanda was everything I hoped it would be and a whole lot more. We went to see the Susa group on one of the longer treks and got to trek through some terraced fields and then a bamboo forest before finally seeing the group in a glade of bamboo and mountain celery. We saw 28 out of the 36 members of the group including lots of babies, cheeky juveniles, adult females and 2 silverbacks. We even saw a mother with twins, both stuck to her back like velcro.
White water rafting at Jinja in Uganda was exhilarating and left me with a quiet feeling of great personal achievement just to have survived! Safety is very well taken care of with the safety boat and excellent kayakers who will fish you out when your boat flips. We managed to get ourselves in to the 'Bad Place' in the Graveyard rapids and our boat flipped immediately - just like our rafting guide said it would! I got fished out about 50m downstream after doing most of the grade 5 rapid under water. We did 8 rapids along 32km of river ranging from the grade 1 'Chicken Run' at the end to grade 5 white water 'washing machines' (our boat crew's term not a technical term but it does describe the feeling well).
Seeing big cats on the Masai Mara was everything I hoped it would be. At long last I was able to see a leopard in the wild, it even had its dinner stashed a little further up in the branches of the tree we saw it resting in. We also saw a pride of lions demolishing a freshly killed buffalo with great enthusiasm. I had hoped to see a cheetah as well, but was rewarded with seeing 4 of them instead. This included 2 brothers who seemed very at ease in each other's company when sunning themselves on a termite mound one morning. The yawn and stretch I managed to photograph one of them doing was perhaps one of the best wildlife photos I have been able to capture.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Often Konzoro is an excellent tour leader. He had a great team to work with as well. Boniface was our driver, Wilson the cook and Onesmas our general assistant. All of them worked tirelessly and very cheerfully to make sure we were well looked after and very well fed throughout our trip. Often is obviously well known and also a popular figure with the camp staff at the places we visited. Things went smoothly and Often's briefings each evening were clear and informative. The lucky person sat nearest to Often also got a free shoulder massage whilst he was telling us about the next day.
At the border crossings Often was able to get us through with a minimum of fuss and a lot faster than the truck drivers! Where we had options Often was able to make it clear what we would be able to do and how things could be arranged. I was able to do all the options that I wanted and I think this was the case for most others on the trip as well.
Often realised when we were beginning to flag a bit on some of the long drives and the truck would stop for a couple of minutes. Shortly afterwards Often would start dishing out some of the treats he had bought for us (chocolate biscuits and bananas were popular). This got us all talking to each other and we would arrive at the next camp in good spirits.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
I did the reverse version of this trip and I am very glad that I did. Rwanda is a very beautiful country and the people genuinely seemed happy to see us. The locals are certainly very enthusiastic wavers at tourist buses. If you go on one of the longer gorilla treks then please consider using the services of a local porter. It is only $10 per day plus an optional tip to hire a porter and the porter I had was very good. The route down the mountain was very slippy and I was rescued from falling flat on my backside about 8 times. Others in our group were quite literally helped every step of the way by their porters.
Charge camera batteries at each opportunity you get and bring spare batteries and memory cards. Bring a blower bulb and other camera cleaning stuff too as it can get quite dusty in this part of Africa.
I thought very carefully about going on the balloon ride in the Masai Mara and am glad that in the end I chose not to go. It is expensive and on the game drive that I did instead I saw the 2 cheetah brothers which ended up being one of the stand out moments for my whole trip.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
There was a huge amount crammed in to the 2 weeks that I spent in East Africa. The long drives mentioned by other reviewers I found to be not too bad as there is always plenty going on by the roadside in the towns and villages that we passed through and great scenery to look at when out in the countryside. The overland bus that we used was comfortable enough for the terrain we went through, just remember to hang on when going over the bumpy stuff.
Our group was pretty big for this type of trip at 18 but we were so well looked after by Often and his team that I don't think it would have made much difference if we had been a smaller group. There were lots of great people in our group which really added to my overall enjoyment of the trip.
There were only 2 long drop toilet campsites on this trip and the rest were better than expected at the camps which had normal toilets and showers. At the remote campsites where the toilets were long drop the benefits of being somewhere so remote and peaceful soon out weighed the toilet facilities. We shared these campsites with wart hogs, impala, vervet monkeys and buffalo. The hippos stayed in the lake at Lake Mburo but were very close to the shore early morning.
This was a real trip of a lifetime for me and will be very difficult to beat, however I think I will have a great time trying!