The grueling Mt Bisoke hike

I like hiking but I am certainly not that good at it. I get tired quite fast owing to the fact that in my everyday life I do not exercise except for occasional walks as I go about my day. However I like adventure and doing activities that out of my ordinary life like hiking. I imagine the satisfaction from great views when I arrive at the top of a hill or mountain therefore I encourage myself to keep on. It is because of this back ground that I decided to hike Mt Bisoke one of the Virunga volcanoes shared between Rwanda and DR Congo.

I previously had the idea of hiking Mt Bisoke but had no concrete plan until the day before I took the hike. I had taken clients to trek gorillas in Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and I needed to wait for them to finish the trekking later that afternoon/evening and transfer them back to the hotel. Then I got the idea, instead of sitting around why not use to the time to hike the Bisoke volcano. With a plan, I prepared for Mt Bisoke the next day as the rest of the group spent time trekking mountain gorillas. We received briefing early morning at the park headquarters before we could drive to the starting point of the trek. The drive to the starting point is about 1 hour on a bumpy road filled with stones. It is the kind of road you prefer to walk on but not drive on, nevertheless we arrived at base where the cars park and we started the trek. We were a group of 4 ladies with no gentleman except for the porters, ranger guides and army men. We were advised to walk at our pace because the hike can be difficult and no one should lose breath trying to keep up with other peoples pace.

I am a slow walker weather on flat land or otherwise. I knew for sure the hike would mean that I would even be much slower and therefore I did not expect to hike at the pace of anyone else. The hike was gruesome in every sense, at some point I could not feel my legs but I told myself that whatever happens I would reach the top and enjoy the views of the lake. The group was later divided into 2 groups i.e. the one ahead and me who remained behind with a very kind ranger guide. I did not appreciate one of the ranger guides who attempted to pressure me into walking faster. At some point he radio called the ranger I was with asking us to stop and not proceed so they find us there on there way down but this ‘ranger guide’ persisted with me. I was grateful to him for keeping with me encouraging me to not give up, in typical African style he continuously told me that we were left with a few minutes to reach when clearly it was several minutes.

After 3,5 hours I arrived at the summit, I was told the rest arrived after 2,5 hours and others at 3 hours. I was really happy to make it even though my legs were not that pleased with me. The way down proved to be even more painful but at least it was faster. The previous days rain made the way very slippery which was worse off on the way down. After about 1 hour we arrived where the cars were parked ready for the drive back to Musanze which was about 2 hours because of the road. The pain in my legs lasted for about 4 days, I promised myself to exercise more to avoid such but alas apart from occasional walks this has not happened and yet I look forward to hiking Mt Gahinga and Nyiragongo volcano in the near future.

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My day trip to Akagera national park

The day trip to Akagera national park is popular for many visitors to Rwanda because of its closeness to the city.  Akagera park has been restored to close to its former glory of being home to the big 5 after it lost animal populations to poaching.  My tour guide informed me that to explore this park on a day trip we needed to leave Kigali as early as 5.00 am. I was up at 4.00 am  and prepared to start the tour at 5.00 am.

We set off for Akagera national park and enjoyed views of a beautiful sunrise on our way. We stopped and I quickly got my camera to capture this moment. I normally miss out on sunrises because I like to sleep in, so on rare moments like these I endeavor to take them in and celebrate the gift of a new day. Apart from the sunrise there was not much enroute to capture my attention except looking forward to arriving at the park. We arrived some minutes after 7.00am and went through registration for people and the car before entering the park. Honestly for me it was more of visiting the park and knowing what it is about but not for the game I could sight here.

But alas I was pleasantly surprised when we started the tour that we were able to find schools of Hippos resting by the papyrus near the water. For the other people on the tour they were fascinated by Giraffes, Zebras, Baboons, Impalas, Buffaloes and one lone Elephant which was a distance away. There was no sighting of Lions or the newly introduce Rhinos but again, this is nature. There is a joke among tour guides that if you want to see animals you need to go to the Zoo or probably make an appointment with them, otherwise what you see on a game drive depends on so many factors that tour guides have no control of.

We had a picnic lunch at the hippo pool – a place that usually has Hippos bathing in the area. I was impressed by the Hippos there but unfortunately could not get close to get good photos, I only managed photos of their backs. However continuing on the safari, we found another school of hippos in better location so we had a field day with the photos. After this we continued on towards the northern gate which would be our exit back to Kigali later that evening. The landscape driving along the Lake side truck is beautiful, this was another highlight for me while on this tour. For anyone in Kigali on business or attending a conference without much time, I recommend a day tour to Akagera national park. This you can take if you have a night flight because you will get back by 6.00 pm to Kigali in time for your night flight. The drive back is usually not that adventurous except for views of Lake Muhazi.

Exploring the amazing Kigali City

Did you know Kigali started after Dr. Richard Kandt the German colonial commissioner made his colonial outpost there.  His residence is now the home to the Natural History Museum also known as the Kandt house. Walking around Kigali you get a sense of how first things are changing with lots of development and building happening all over the place giving it a look of a first developing city. I like city tours because they give me a glimpse into the city beyond my hotel and conference/expo centre. It is even better if I can explore the city on foot or bodaboda (especially for East Africa) as opposed to the car.

I visit Kigali quite a lot because of the work, sometimes I get to tour around and other times I am unable because of busy schedule but on this particular assignment I was able to. After visiting the Kandt house museum, my next place was the Kigali genocide memorial – this was my first and certainly last visit to this place. I know that I will bring people here but no one will convince me to go through the tour of this place again. Growing up in Mbarara, the genocide in Rwanda is something we heard about on the radio but the most depressing was seeing dead bodies floating in River Kagera that would soon pour into Lake Victoria. For that whole period we were told that fishing was not allowed and therefore no fish was on anyone’s menu. Visiting this place was brought all such memories back to mind but in a more closer way.

I also visited the Belgium’s soldiers monument commemorate the life of the Belgian soldiers that tried to help in stopping the genocide when the French troops and UN decided to leave the area. I did not have a desire to stay long here and instead went to the Nyamirambo women’s center to look at their different materials on sale. They do have excellent work which I recommend to anyone who would like to leave with a piece of Rwanda. They also organize community tours in Nyamirambo but these were of no interest to me. I spent the rest of the day walking in the city, taking photographs. I also went to Mt Kigali and got great views of the city.

Canopy walk experience in Nyungwe forest, Rwanda

As always I like to take scouting trips to areas I would like to sell in the future and Rwanda being next door to Uganda, I decided it was about time I toured it before I could officially add it to destinations for Kagera Safaris. Rwanda is generally a small country so if you are interest is visiting the major tourism destinations you will accomplish that in a week, however if you want to get off the normal touristic routes, then you will require more time to explore beyond the tourism circuits.

On this tour my first major stop was Nyungwe forest national park found in south western Rwanda. There are many activities one can do in Nyungwe forest ranging from Chimpanzee trekking, bird watching, colobus monkey trekking, hiking and canopy walk. I chose the later because it was the most exciting for me – I imagined ‘walking’ in the tree canopies and seeing the forest from above. Together with the tour guide we started the journey from Kigali down towards Nyungwe with brief stopovers at the Kings palace in Nyanza and the Ethnographic museum in Huye district. We had lunch in Huye and continued to Nyungwe forest later in the afternoon.

The drive to Nyungwe is really scenic with winding roads which explains the famous adage of Rwanda being the land of a thousand hills. The road at some points was covered in mist coming from the forest miles away. I traveled during the rains so the entire place was a green carpet, both the local peoples gardens and farmlands. The roads are winding and steep with sharp corners which can be scary if a truck is behind you. We eventually arrived in Nyungwe later in the evening and went immediately to inspect different lodges that we would likely use in case we included Nyungwe forest on the itineraries in the future.

The next day we arose early and went to the Uwinka briefing point to start the canopy walk. The tour guide I traveled with later handed me over to a ranger guide to take me in the forest for this experience. He was such a pleasant guide and to this day we are still in touch. I learned that his children school in Uganda and we promised to meet when he next visits Uganda, this happened a few weeks later. We arrived at the start of the canopy and walked up to the enjoy the views of the forest from high above. The canopy walk is firm and I highly recommend it unless you are truly scared of heights. The beauty of it is that you get to enjoy the forest learning about the different tree species, birds, history of the forest while on the canopy. The tour of Nyungwe ended and we started the journey to enjoy the views of Lake Kivu which borders with Democratic republic of Congo.

Germany – Exploring Berlin on a walking tour

My work accords me the privilege of traveling quite a bit. Some of it in the form of scouting new destinations for our tours and others for marketing purposes and this one was as such. This can seem obvious because after all that is why I am in the business I am in – the travel world. This trip often happens in March every year where we go to attend the ITB Berlin.

As always I go a few days to the expo or extend my stay to explore a little bit more of the area. I had heard quite a bit about Germany and bits about world war II with Hitler being something else. I had always wanted to visit Berlin and see the famous Berlin wall and the town. I have come to love Berlin because it has such a multi cultural feel to it.  The town is easy to navigate with its excellent public transport and taxis not forgetting the advent of Uber makes it even more accessible. It is not jammed up with impossible traffic but one that is manageable. Thankfully in a lot of places one is able to speak English and get service making it even more pleasant.

A friend told me about a walking tour he had found on the internet which we would join in and explore this city. It run twice a day on particular days of week depending on the weather and how many people confirmed to take it. We choose the morning tour so that I could use the afternoon to do any last minute shopping. Our tour guide was a young lady from Ireland who decided to come to Berlin for work and ended up with tour guiding job, not a formal job but it is a better opportunity for her compared to the work she had back home. The way it works is that the tour is free but you are obliged to tip at the end of it. I found this a good way of getting people to join in and still make money at the end of tour. She had really done her research and shared the history of Germany from her finger tips answering whatever question sent her way.

I enjoyed this walking tour because it afforded us an opportunity to see the city in very real ways and walk through alleys that would not be possible if we were using a tour bus. My highlight was the Berlin wall – not that it was still their but small fractions of it, most of it was a line showing where the wall used to be. I liked visiting the old government buildings and their significance in history. She shared about the role of education and how it had evolved over the years, we also visited the earliest catholic church and Protestant church in this area and how there was tension between the two religious groupings at some point in time. We visited the holocaust monument for the Jewish lives lost during Hitler days plus the area where Hitler was eventually defeated in his bunker underground, it is now a play center for children and has apartments.

Overall my Berlin trips are usually about work but certainly shopping is a big part of the experience. I get to visit several multicultural restaurants and hangout places.

The Maasai Mara delivers

I had heard so much about the Maasai Mara that I could wait for an opportunity to visit. I wondered what would captivate me the most, would it be the landscape and scenery, the large number and variety of game or maybe the phenomenal Maasai people who lend their name to this conservancy. Because the wait was for long, I guess the desire also decreased, this was further caused by an earlier opportunity of interacting with the Maasai in Tanzania in the Ngorongoro crater and en route to Serengeti national park. By the time I visited the Maasai Mara conservancy it was more for curiosity’s sake than an earlier desire which had captured my heart. This is not to say that I did not want to visit it or that I had no expectations but they were watered down a little.

We drove from Lake Naivasha to the Mara triangle to our beautiful lodge in a great location – the Mara Serena safari lodge. First things first, where possible please do not travel by road to the Mara – it was the worst road experience ever, this bumpy ride on a road with stones and everything else was not pleasant at all. I recommend anything else but this drive, however where you have no choice you can take it  and maybe fly out of the Mara. After enduring this bad road experience a paradise of sorts awaited us. The location of our lodge was everything one needs when on a safari. Great views and hospitality from the staff at the lodge crowned with good meals. It is relatively big so not for someone who needs privacy.

The game drives in the Mara were highlight with our passionate guide who knew all the spots to go searching for the game. Most of the people on the safari were looking for the King of the Jungle and we were happy to sight them but from a far off. We later continued on our safari and eventually found some lionesses that were much closer. We then drove to the river in hope of finding some wildebeest crossing but we unfortunately did not find any. I must say the game drive was rewarding for most people. We did not see the leopard and cheetah which would have excited me but I know that seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a privilege.

After the morning game drive we had a bush breakfast by the Mara river organized by the Serena staff- what a highlight this was. The staff welcomed us with Champagne as we looked to continue exploring the Mara. The Mara Serena Safari lodge also organized a fantastic sun downer that was unfortunately short because of threats of the rain. I think both the bush breakfast and sun downer were great experiences  that topped it for me on this trip.

The real highlight of the trip was a visit to a Maasai homestead just outside the Mara triangle. There was argument that the experience is not authentic and it was staged but who cares – if you expect to find untainted cultural experiences then get back into the stone age. I enjoyed the dances and music plus stories of how they co-exist with wildlife. It was interesting to watch them make fire with no matches just like the Batwa usually demonstrate in southwestern Uganda. I must say for me this was the highlight even after knowing that it is probably staged. For a tour to the Maasai Mara, I recommend a minimum of 3 nights with extended time on game drive perhaps carry a packed lunch to get a maximum experience. I can always visit again but my thirst for the Mara was quenched at least for a while.

Enashipai Resort and Spa – The base to Crescent Island Game park and Hell’s Gate national park

There are number of attractions in and around the Lake Naivasha area and one needs a good lodge/hotel to act as a base for them to explore these activities. Enashipai Resort and Spa is  in a great location and provides great base from which to explore Crescent Island Sanctuary and Hell’s Gate national park. The concept is that of beautiful homes in an estate that is surrounded by nature which gives it the wild experience. I must say it is one of the best family friendly resorts that gives one wild experiences. The ‘houses’ for lack of a better word to describe them provide both privacy individuals and closeness in case of a family.

On arrival, our first visit was to the Crescent Island game sanctuary which for all intents and meanings is surprisingly not an Island, it is a peninsular but this would not rhyme well in its name. Anyways this is privately owned with license to have wildlife on it which then became a  game sanctuary according to our guide. The place is good for walking safaris offering an opportunity to see the animals and enjoy photos with them in the background. With no big cats in the area like Lions and leopards, this has allowed the game to thrive  in big numbers therefore you will find lots of Zebras, Giraffes, wildebeests, Warthogs etc. It is good for a half day visit and then one can take a boat ride on Lake Naivasha in the afternoon.

Hell’s gate national park is another area of interest within Enashipai that we visited for a day trip. First the plan was for people to ride bicycles in the park because it is also generally safe with no big cats to trouble the riders. However on arrival at the park gate, people chickened out and we all stayed in the car and decided to enjoy the park from the comfort of the jeep because of the heat which made it uncomfortable. The highlights for Hell’s gate is the beautiful scenery of the many rocks making it a good place for those interested in rock climbing. Again the game is the more common ones of Buffaloes, Zebras and wildebeests so for me the highlight was the scenery. There is also great hiking opportunities in the hells gate gorge but I did not participate in the hike because I was struggling with fever even though I soldiered on and refused to stay in my room.  We ended the tour with a visit to the geo thermal plants but unfortunately we did not have enough time to enjoy a swim in the warm waters.

Overall the this was a good trip that I recommend for people that love walking safaris as opposed to using the cars. You get opportunities of getting out of the cars and cycling at some points compared to many other safari destinations. I really loved Enashipai resort and spa, it is place where you will be spoiled over and over. There is a Maasai museum, in house bar and dance club, swimming pool, magical spa etc.