Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gorillas and me in the mist and mud

(This will be entirely boring for folks not interested in the process of gorilla trekking in Rwanda)

So last time I checked in I bragged about our toughness i.e our going independent in Rwanda. We made it, and we loved it. 

Here's what I said a few weeks back (in case you missed it):

After days and days of reading forum after forum about trusted and untrusted gorilla tours I decided to just contact the Rwanda Development Board (formally ORTPN) and organise everything directly with them. I sent off a quick email to and got a quick reply from Norbert. He gave me some date options, I wired 1000 US bucks to the RDB bank account (not going lie, I was extremely nervous this - why is his email address .com?!?!) and then I emailed him a copy of my bank transfer. Two weeks later (yep, I did all of this two weeks before coming to Rwanda. Probably not a good idea in high season) I rock up to the new RDB offices, not the ORPTN building listed on the lonely planet map, and I picked up my two permits. 

Piece. Of. Cake. 

So, what happened next?

With gorilla permits in hand we needed to find out way from Kigali to Musanze and there were a few options. You could get a driver for about 80 US bucks, actually if you could make it 100 US bucks and I think your driver will pick you up at the crack of dawn on your gorilla day (GD), drive you up and over the mountains to Musanze, wait while you trek and then drive you back to Kigali all in one day. Might seem efficient but you'll miss out on Musanze. And Musanze was our favourite place - so don't do that. 

If you wanna be hi-so about it you can get a driver. Actually, it might be nice as there were some kodak moments that whizzed past us on our bus journey. But the bus was fine - a little cramped with our bags - but bearable for a two hour journey. We went with Virunga Express, departed from the main bus terminal in Kigali (again, ignore the LP map) and cost us about $3 each. It was a scramble getting on the bus, every man for himself, but somehow everyone ended up with a seat. 

Two hours later and we were checking into the Muhabura and sitting on porch with a Primus beer. 

A great option - for once we agreed with the LP

The Virungas line the skyline that surround this beautiful little town and Mzungos (foreigners) are a common sight because of the gorillas. Don't think that means you wont get any attention though!

This hotel cost about $40 a night, had a fair restaurant and a strong wifi signal (in the restaurant, it was dodgy in the rooms). Noel at the reception desk was a star and he sorted everything out for us as we prepared for our GD (Gorilla Day, remember?). Here is where the money starts flying out of your pocket again...

Here is what will happen on your GD:
  1. You need to be at the park headquarters at 7am
  2. While at the park headquarters you will be assigned a group and you will watch some traditional dancing/singing (Trashtastically touristy)
  3. Once you have a group you will have a trek starting point (the treks do not begin from the headquarters)
  4. You drive anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour to your assigned starting point
  5. Trek to and from the most magical experience of your travelling life
  6. Drive back to your hotel. 
You could be doing all of this with your driver from Kigali and about now it is starting to feel like you should have gone with his $100 all inclusive offer. (But again, you don't want to miss out on a couple of days chilling in Musanze). Instead you get yourself a driver from Musanze and the rate is pretty standard. It'll be $80 a car as long as you aren't assigned the far group (Susa family) in which case it'll be $100. We decided not to take any chances here. The lonely planet says that you could hitchhike but I think it'd be tricky. If you're paying $500 for the gorilla trek, you can find $80 for your driver. If you find meet other people in your hotel and want to split the cost of the driver keep in mind that they will then be a part of your trekking group. The guides at the headquarters give you a look up and down and decide on your fitness levels. Don't team up with folks that are way fitter or way less fit. You might not get the trek that is right for you!

Mike - my porter and hand holder

Also, think about getting a porter. They don't just carry your bags. They will carry you. Mike held my hand like my high school sweetheart for almost the entire trek. Keep in mind that our trek was more like a vertical scramble through wild celery, mud and (eventually) gorilla poo. 

A porter will set you back $10 + tips. You should be tipping your guide and your trackers too. Yes, it all adds up. But the LP is right when is politely reminds us not to be tight asses. Everyone knows you paid $500 for the gorilla permit. Don't be a tight ass. Tip your guides etc. 

Hey, at the end of the day you will have photos and memories like these:

Sarah and I get our first glimpse
Our best little friend just contemplating life. 

Heart was racing!
To summarise, your GD will go like this:

  1. The day before you trekking day you need to find yourself a driver. Ask at your hotel, they will call someone. ($80 + tips) 
  2. Leave early enough in the morning to make it to the headquarters - I think we left at 6am
  3. Enjoy some tea and coffee at the base of the Virungas while locals dance and your guides fight for your spot on the trekking group you asked for (our options were hard, medium and easy - we went with medium)
  4. Once all of the groups are finalised you are shuffled to a display board to learn about your new best friends. Queue awesome jokes from the guides. 
  5. Get back into your cars with your drivers and drive to your trekking starting point. Ours was probably 20 minutes away through very muddy farmland.
  6. Get your porter/s. Sarah and I shared one, if I did it again I'd probably get one each. ($10 + tips)
  7. Start the adventure of a lifetime. 
  8. When you return (I think we were back down at about 1pm) your drivers will be waiting - were they there all day? Unclear. (Tip the guide)
  9. Drive back in the direction of the headquarters stopping at a gift shop for a mandatory "I trekked to see the Gorillas" t-shirt. (~$5)
  10. Back to the hotel. 
What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Going independent in Rwanda..... A whim away, a whim away.

I'll admit that even I was a little nervous about the idea of coming to Africa without the support and structure of a guided tour. Heck I even lied to my parents about it. I ssured them that we were doing this trip wrapped in cotton wool with every meal and every toilet stop pre-planned by a money hungry tourist outfit. But, in the end, we decided that we could do it solo (we aren't the first, I did loads of research) and by doing it solo we would save a packet (more money for more primate tours?), we could come up with our own Salange slothful itinerary, and we could chose when and where to pee.

So, we are here now, faces in the lonely planet, doing Kigali like every other independent traveller before us.

We started with lost baggage. The process of filing the report certainly had a feeling of Thai style Mai Ben Lai but it was dashed with more assurance than I've come to expect from my second homeland. This was perhaps the first instance of I'm not in Thailand anymore that I felt. The second came soon after when a woman of traditional size and costume booted me from my seat in the baggage claim waiting room. Hey, it was my fault for not offering it up. Facial to me.

My bag eventually showed up (as promised) but not before I invested in a tacky tourist T-shirt and a couple of pairs of granny undies. Oh how I will enjoy shopping in Africa. If I lost my bags coming to Thailand for the first time I would have had to purchase two pairs of knickers and taken them to a tailor to sow them together!!


Anyway, I really want to talk about the process of obtaining the gorilla trekking permits. Maybe someone will stumble upon this and find it useful. Maybe it's only my mum and sister reading and they are still freaking out about the independent in Rwanda part of this post.

After days and days of reading forum after forum about trusted and untrusted gorilla tours I decided to just contact the Rwanda Develpment Board (formally ORTPN) and organise everything directly with them. I sent off a quick email to and got a quick reply from Norbert. He gave me some date options, I wired 1000 US bucks to the RDB bank account (not going lie, I was extremely nervous this - why is his email address .com?!?!) and then I emailed him a copy of my bank transfer. Two weeks later (yep, I did all of this two weeks before coming to Rwanda. Probably not a good idea in high season) I rock up to the new RDB offices, not the ORPTN building listed on the lonely planet map, and I picked up my two permits.

Piece. Of. Cake.

Ok, so we still need to get ourselves to the the National Park. But we are still going to do this as efficiently and independently as possible. Hello 5 dollar bus trip.

More to come. Hopefully some pics of baby gorillas too!!!

A whim away.....

Our hotel is in a leafy suburb on one of the many hills of this city. We walked around (and got lost) yesterday and i was mesmerized the whole time by my surroundings. The people we passed on the street. The billboards. The immaculate roads with the less than immaculate driving. The huge houses on the left that we're hiding behind giant brick walls. The small huts that lined the hills on my right. I couldn't work out what I was looking at. Couldn't put it all together. It was (and is) unlike any where I've been before. I'm mean there are elements of everywhere topped off with elements that are completely new to me.  Not surprising I guess. I haven't been to this city or this country or even this continent before!

Now, the thunder and heavy drops of rain is cooling of the heat of day here in Kigali. I actually still can't believe I'm here, in Rwanda, in freaking Africa. 

We ventured out to be tourists today, first picking up our gorilla trekking permits (the ease of this process was unexpected!) and then a stop at the genocide memorial and museum. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Nothing to stop me from crying. Or from asking why? Or for just being mad at the world for allowing it all to happen. Even now I'm taking long and silent pauses to find words. Huh, how fucking obnoxious of me. I wasn't there. I barely even heard about it. I was 14. I should've known. All this just makes me even more sad and angry. 

But, one thing I did learn today is that there is no time or room for anger for the people of Rwanda. How they have rebuilt this country in less than 20 years is something that you really need to see for yourself. 

I'm sure that I'll continue to think about the darkness that drove this country to genocide just 18 years ago for the rest of this trip. Hopefully for the rest of my life. 

The optimist is hoping that the world will never allow this to happen again. 

The realist is afraid that it is already is. Not here. But somewhere. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wedding marathon continues....

So I'm on the plane to Singapore for my third wedding in a week. I'm fairly determined to catch the flowers at this one, maybe even take a bitch out in the process, but I'd be a little embarrassed if that bitch was wearing a sari and my elbow got caught on her muffin top (although there prob won't be muffin tops at this wedding, these are some hi-so spunky Indians that can eat paneer without regret). **Edit - there was no bloody flower catching to be done! 

Tiger airways has been my most hated and most loved budget airline today. The chick at the check in counter was beyond stupid. The thinking outside of the box skills were on vacation. Most hated budget airline. But! They sell wine in a can on the flight.  For 150 baht! Favourite budget airline status awarded.

The lady next to me was reading a book about stool (STOOL!) I couldn't help but see it. Why was she doing that? Why? On a plane? I updated my status about it, I hope she didn't read over my shoulder. I hate biatches that do that.

Are you enjoying the stream of consciousness that is happening right now? I think it's because of my new favourite airline and the 150 baht canned wine.

Hey? What are your feelins about chair recliners on a short budget flight? Like, do you do it? I think I tend to only do it if the person in front of me does it and while I am doing it I usually raise a knee sharply/accidentally into their back.

Id like another can of wine.

 Hang on. The captain is speaking. Bastard said we at going to be 50 minutes late. Lucky we had those wine cans. Or I might downgrade Tiger again.

Just realized that I'm going to Singapore and I didn't stock up on chewy. Disaster. Can we talk about the no chewing gum rule for one second? Weirdest/dumbest rule ever. Second over.

This is Sarah's plan for the weekend:

  • See orangutans
  • Find a parrot to tell her fortune
  • Eat a pepper crab
  • Walk on the sidewalk (dream big lately?)
  • And maybe find a wedding outfit (um,

We will do the first and the second last only. Don't tell her. She'll work it out in good time.

Wanna know what is going on at the wedding this weekend? Twitter: @rpwedding2011 You won't regret it. Or you might.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why so much love for Koh Chang?

I am fussy and spoiled for choice in the land of smiles. Perhaps I am verging on high maintenance (Blame the GF). But fuck, where are the beaches Koh Chang? Oh, there they are, littered along the awful strip of White Sands (think Pattaya complete with Russians and hookers and Russian hookers) and buried beneath the dreadlocked patchouli festation on Lonely/Nature beach. I mean, I had a great time, especially when we went lush for a week at GajaPuri - THAT PLACE WAS PHENOMENAL! But when the budget kicked in we found ourselves in a beachless resort for a few days and then in a boat themed resort complete with an anchored cruise ship-turned hotel (ridiculous, kinda scuzzy, but satisfactory because of the cruise/ghostship). Look, we made our own fun and we made do with what we had and what we wanted to spend, all I am saying is that if you could instead go to Krabi or Ko Phan Ngan or maybe even Phuket, then you prolly should do it. OK, maybe not Phuket. 

But if you love rocky shores and overpriced 1950s beach resorts you will love Koh Chang. Or if you are happy with a little grot for a spot on the beach you will also find some heaven. But if you are of the flash packing variety who needs a little AC with her clean sheets you might want to reconsider the long drive to this far away land - unless you have some dollars to spend. In which case you will check into GajaPuri and never leave! 

You see what I love about the beaches and islands of Thailand is that they were quietly discovered and converted into hippy refuges before they slowly emerged into the flashpacking scene which meant that I could find myself a comfortable (CLEAN, A/C'd, ENSUITED) room for less than 50 bucks that was within spitting distance to the whitest bloody sand you could imagine. Heck, if you are lucky your comfortable room is on the fucking sand. But Chang seems to have been discovered by the resorts. They stole all the beach access. They built behemoth resorts and jacked up their prices but haven't renovated in 50 years. I WANT A HUT WITH A/C, CLEAN SHEETS, CLEAN ENSUITE AND A HAMMOCK. ON THE SAND.  Is this too much to ask for Ko Chang, is it?!?!?

Oh God, I sound like a freaking whiner. And you are thinking that I went to Koh Chang and I hated it. But I didn't. And you are freaking out cos you are already on your way there. Shit, sorry. Relax. It is fine. You'll find roti and squid and beer and sand and crystal clear water and nemo fish. You can avoid the hookers or pay for em. You can buy sarongs and plait your hair. You can get a fake tattoo or a real one. You can buy a bucket with sharing straws and drink it all by yourself. It's the real deal, it's Thailand. It's all there. It's just not as awesome as what you will find elsewhere – it's a long way to go for it not to be awesome. Don't you think?

I mean lucky for me I went with awesome people. So clearly I didn't give a shit about the other stuff.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blog's back....

My sister's blog is active. Like once a week active. And she makes me laugh. Sometimes I am laughing with her, sometimes it's at her, but still she is #winning. She is winning the who-is-the-most-addicted-to-the-computer competition and the who-has-the-better-blog competition. But she shouldn't be winning, she hates technology! Her biggest tech accomplishment (aside her active blog) is summed up in a few pictures she did with Microsoft Paint! Microsoft Paint! FFS! She loathes technology and it loathes her. But she is still #winning. What does this mean for me and my self esteem? A big effin #FAIL.

So I'm making a comeback spurred on by the weekly updates of my big sis and those of her blog buddy over at Chickens and Bees. I need some new direction though, something that will get the creative juices flowing. (TANGENT: What the eff is creative juice? Does it smell?) I guess I could ramble on about the floods in my hood. Or the lack of floods. Or the messed up politics that surround the floods and that are infuriating the outer limits of the city. Or maybe I could chat about our floody escape? Or maybe you would prefer 700 words about my crippled cat that pees and craps just outside the tray? I mean my sister wrote about sneezing ffs.

Or maybe I need a whole new direction,  a new template, a new title, some writing buddies, new adventures, real stories, passion.... stay tuned folks this shit is about to get real.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Beer. Booze. Baseball.

Camden Yards, Baltimore. Home to the Baltimore Orioles. A magnificent
sporting arena. I'm not gonna lie, I was super excited about my first
baseball game. I wasn't excited about our seats though. The nose
bleeds are fine, that wasn't the problem. It was the 50 pre-teen Jesus
camp kids that surrounded us. The red headed kid with braces who
shouted to his buddy "Are they lesbians?" as we took our seats made me
laugh but mad Sarah kinda grumpy at the world. I did want to shake his
hand and say "Yes we are and now you are too!" but Sarah wouldn't let
me. Instead we moved seats away from their judging eyes. And drank
expensive (and crappy) beers.

Baltimore. The city that feeds.

Who would have thought that the city mad famous by The Wire would
offer such culinary delights? Stoops sitting and drive by drug drops
are not the only things to do here.

A city rich in history like B'more it really shouldn't be a surprise
that you can fill your days (and your stomach) with a variety of
delicious culture and flavour rich snacks. The Lexington Market is
right in the heart of the city and Faidley's seafood can not be
missed. When ordering a Jumbo Lump Crabcake my friend (the local)
asked for cocktail sauce. The reply? "There is no way you be putting
cocktail sauce on my lump crabcake!" Damn! She was schooled on that!
And rightly so, those crabcakes did not need any imitation sauces.
Baltimore, Maryland, your crabcakes are devine.

Day two. More feasting. This time it's the almost century old Attman's
deli on our to do list. I love corned beef. I was in heaven. My corned
beef with mustard on rye was jammed with at least 400g of beef. Check
this shit out:

Monday, June 14, 2010

When beer and water are the same price...

I've been in Bangkok a while. I hang out on Sukumvit. I got used to paying well over 100 baht for a pint or a stubby. I had forgotten that as soon as you step out of the city and head up north, the beer gets cheaper and cheaper. Chiang Rai I hate your cheap beer. My head is a mess today because of you and your cheap beer. Your cheap and cosy guesthouses. Your walking streets. Your smiling faces. Your cheap as water beer. Damn you.

I had to rally this morning and get on a bus bound for Chiang Khong in order to get across the Mekong into Laos. Is a midday wakeup considered a rally? I was S.T.Rugglin this morning Chiang Rai and I blame you...

But I also thank you. A fucking awesome night.