gorilla munching on leaves in rwanda

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

How to Get to Rwanda

While on safari in Kenya, we took a side trip to Rwanda for two days to see the mountain gorillas.  RwandAir offered a 5am departure from the Nairobi to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. 

The domestic portion of Nairobi’s airport isn’t anything to write home about. There was a bathroom without toilet paper, one café, and a small waiting area in the terminal.  The gate area required extra security, and once inside water and toilets were unavailable.

mule packed for tizi mzik summit

Summiting Tizi Mzik in the High Atlas Mountains!

On our second day in the high atlas mountains, we devoured a breakfast of eggs and bread with lots of spreads including jams, butter, and honey.  Oh, I almost forgot, also tea (and coffee).  I’ve decided it would be very hard to be gluten free here.  Bread is served with every meal.  While I’m not gluten free, bread is not allowed in my food elimination diet.   With a long day ahead of us, however, both of us needed to eat more than a few eggs, so we dug into the basket.


Valle del Francés in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

We arose early today. It’s not hard to do given it’s light at 5am. The moon lit the sky over the towers briefly before the clouds blew in. We packed up our camp and sat for the traditional South American camping breakfast. Toast, cheese, ham, oats, yogurt and surprisingly eggs that didn’t look like grits (yesterday was the first time we were served eggs for breakfast, but their texture was strange).

We turned in our lunch tickets for a to go box and stuffed it in our pack before we headed toward Campamento Italiano and the Valle del Francés. The wind gusted violently this morning. I was thankful to be following somewhat flat terrain through tall grass and low bushes by the lake so I could keep my balance. Soon we entered a stand of dead trees. It is amazing how well leafless trees block the wind. We turned from cold to hot as the morning sun gleamed on the white trunks. Eventually the dead trees turned to live ones, and we were in and out of stunted forest.

The path was muddy from the many waterfalls that spilled down the walls to our left into the lake on our right. Many of the boardwalks and bridges were in complete disrepair and may have been the only run down thing we’ve seen at the park thus far. Some of them looked rather dangerous. I was careful to walk on the boards with supports beams, and looked for ones that might pop up from being loose. Sometimes I just followed along the side in the mud.

After we made it around the lake and up and over the ridge, we walked through the prettiest forest yet with large trees and soon arrived at a rickety, suspension bridge over an aqua river with a fantastic view of Francés Glacier. This bridge led us to Campamento Italiano which is free and operated by the park. We filled out a form and provided our reservation tickets to the ranger before we seeked a campsite. We didn’t look long because we wanted to climb up to Británico whose trailhead begins at the camp. We found a flat spot not too far from all the amenities (a kitchen and bathrooms which were 80 yards away). Had we scouted at all, we could have found a quieter spot along the river.

We set up our tent quickly, packed up our day packs and followed the trail up the Valle del Francés. Signs pointed us in the direction of Británico. Our walk took us through the campground in the woods and then along a scree path. The gentle sloping path turned steep as we exited the forest to the rocks where we enjoyed a nice view of Francés while eating part of our lunch. We were still at the bottom of the trail, and I was feeling antsy as I wanted to reach the top during the nice weather given it is so unpredictable. Though during our short stop, we did spot another ice calving.

The path, peppered with location signs, crossed countless waterfalls. At times when the trail leveled out, it turned into a small stream. We trounced through the water, climbed over boulders, and wandered through more forest until we stopped again at Francés lookout. Several people had stopped here for lunch as it provided a close up view of the glacier. We didn’t stay long, but kept going toward Británico lookout. We passed through an open space with dead trees, more forest, and more rocky steep areas before we finally reached our resting point surrounded by granite towers and walls a few hours later. What a magnificent panoramic view!

Lucky for us, while slightly breezy, the usually windy lookout point was rather pleasant. We hung out with a handful of hikers for a few hours as we watched the clouds shift. Each set of peaks and walls, once wrapped in clouds soon protruded into blue sky. We sure have been fortunate with the weather! Come late afternoon, we ran out of snacks so we meandered slowly back to camp. Hearing several thunderous booms in the warming day, we decided to make one more stop at the glacier and wait to see ice calve. On the way up, we saw a few poofs of snow. At our final stop, we basically saw a waterfall of ice tumble down the rocks. With that, we finished our descent. After a ten mile day, we chopped up cheese and sausage and complemented it with dried fruit and walnuts for dinner. We were asleep by 9:15! The only disappointment is neither our pictures nor my description can do this place justice. It is so beautiful! ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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A Day Off In Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

So the beauty of reserving camping at Refugio Paine Grande two nights in a row is twofold.

1. In case of bad weather we could choose which day would be better suited for a hike to Glacier Grey

2. We could hike with a day pack, as opposed to backpacking to Refugio Grey on day 1 and backpacking back to Refugio Paine Grande on day 2

It rained off and on from midnight until 11 am. The wind battered our tent. Though the only, single pole alpine tent set up in camp, it survived handily. Since we hiked to Glacier Grey yesterday, we got to take a day off from hiking on a gloomy day. We showered when no one was around, though I would have liked my shower better had it been hot. It was cool with an occasional surge of luke warm water.

During the dreary morning, we played cards and read in the dining area. We warmed up with a hot lunch of lentil soup with salad and bread as we watched the changing weather pattern. Eventually, the sun peaked out. We thought we’d take advantage of the clearing sky to stretch our legs.

We strolled down to Lago Pehoé and found the trail that leads from the park’s administrative headquarters to our campground. This section is part of the Q route. There is also an O route. Both of these routes include the W, but extend to a less crowded section of the park. Having said that, we didn’t find our hike to Glacier Grey to be terribly crowded, especially in the evening.

So we climbed the path to the top of the ridge and admired the landscape from above our campground. On our way down, we saw a woman eating berries. We asked what they were and she replied, “Calafate berries”. We decided to try some, though I didn’t find them that tasty.

Dinner tonight was roast on rice with salad and cream of lentil soup with a terrible dessert and peach juice. After David’s third glass of juice, I said, “You know, I think that juice is straight from the canned peaches that were used for the peach tart last night.” He laughed and replied, “Yeah, and I think the cream of lentil soup is leftover water from the hot lunch that was served today.” Well, at least they aren’t wasteful!

Tomorrow we are headed to Campamento Italiano and Valle de Francés and the forecast seems promising! ETB

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Hiking to Glacier Grey in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

Our bunk beds were rough for David. He nearly killed himself before we started the W route in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Still in one piece, we had out breakfast at 6:30am. The lodges are very accommodating for those who leave before the scheduled breakfast time. As usual we got cheese, meat, yogurt, and toast. Eggs would be nice. They put eggs in soup, on pizza, and with a million other things, but not with breakfast.

IMG_3616 breakfast

We shared a cab with two more hikers to the bus station. The 30 minute walk is only a $3 cab ride! We had Buses Gomez tickets that our lodge purchased for us in advance for the 7:30am bus. As soon as it pulled into the terminal we walked outside. This was a brilliant choice. David threw the bags underneath, while I handed over the tickets, and we were the first of five to board the bus and to snag good seats. Being early kept us from waiting for a second bus, though they caravaned together so it didn’t matter too much.

The bus took us past estancias, guanacos and several farm animals during our two-hour transport to the park. We even spotted a grey fox trotting across the hills while waiting a few minutes by a construction site. As the park scenery came into view, at first I was very upset to be sitting on the right-hand side of the bus. Eventually, the road turned, however, and I got to snap some photos.

Several companies operate at the same time. They stop at a small town for a restroom break and soon arrive at Laguna Amarga. Here all passengers must fill out paperwork, purchase park passes, make campsite reservations for free locations, and watch a video on the rules of the park. David’s papers were in his backpack as was the itinerary I made which had the dates for reservations I needed. While I had it memorized, I felt better to have this in hand when making reservations, so we had to do some digging under the bus. I don’t recommend this. Luckily, we were able to get reservations at the free campgrounds when we wanted because some dates were already full. It was amazing that with all the people, no one seems to get left. The buses wait around a while, but it a little chaotic.

I read that we should take the ferry ride for beautiful views so instead of starting the hike at Laguna Amarga, we took the bus to the second stop…Pudeto. Here, we started the line for the 12 o’clock ferry. Boarding the ferry first allowed us to get seats up top for good pictures, however, our bags got stored at the bottom of the pack. I didn’t mind having to wait for our bag, as we had to pay for our $22 one way tickets in cash before we left the ferry anyway. We could have done that anytime during the boat ride, but we wanted to enjoy the view. We felt a like sardines on the ferry, but the spectacular weather made it worth the thirty minute ride across Lago Pehoé.

We had reservations for camping and food at Vertice Patagonia’s Refugio Paine Grande which was located adjacent the ferry dock on the south side of Cerro Paine Grande with magnificent views of los Cuernos del Paine. We checked in, received our laminated food tickets and set up our tent. Fortunately we had our own tent, as tent rentals sold out by the afternoon. The refugio was equipped with mens’ and womens’ bathrooms which included sinks, flush toilets and showers; a kitchen for campers to cook on their camp stoves; a large dining area; a small shop selling limited food supplies; and of course hostel style rooms with bunk beds should guests wish to share a room with strangers and not sleep in a tent.

After getting the lay of the land, I suggested we hike to Glacier Grey today as the last weather update I saw called for rain tomorrow. David was in a more lackadaisical mood until we checked the latest weather forecast with the staff. In Spanish, English, and hand gestures, we learned that tomorrow there would be a chance of rain and low clouds. The gentleman suggested the hike to Lago Grey was only two hours and told us to “go NOW”. Fortunately I had scheduled some buffer time upon arrival at the park because I didn’t have full confidence in the transportation system that they somehow have down to a science with paper tickets!

So we hustled back to our tent, tossed together our day packs and headed toward Glacier Grey around 2:30pm. Just near the turnoff to the trail, I read a sign “11K and 3.5 hours to the glacier”…hmmm. At a quick pace, we followed a light incline up an impressive valley through dead and stunted trees until we reached Los Patos Lagoon. Only 30 minutes into the hike, and we enjoying superb scenery which only got prettier as we climbed. Snow capped peaks towered over the Lago Grey which stretched the entire length of the trail. After about 1.5 hours of hiking, the glacier came into view. It looked magnificent in the nearly cloudless, sunny sky.

We stopped for a brief time to enjoy the grandeur before we continued toward the lookout point by the glacier. This is when we figured out the hike would take three hours at a steady clip as we were going beyond the lake and close to the base of the glacier. The sign and the staff were both right. We were the challenged ones! We had to hurry to finish as we had purchased dinner which ended at 9pm. At least we didn’t have to worry about the light given it doesn’t get dark until 10pm, and we had our headlamps anyway.

While we rushed toward the glacier through intermittent forest, I did not fail to take pictures. Flowers sprinkled the trail and waterfalls tumbled down the mountainside. Soon we reached Olguín bridge not too far from Refugio Grey, also operated by Vértice Patagonia. We passed by the refugio and through the campground to the final lookout point. We climbed out on the rocks, enjoyed a quick snack and view before racing back. Admittedly, I would have liked to enjoy a slower pace, but I also didn’t want to be the last one on the trail or miss our dinner. We capped our hike off by spotting six hares as we descended to our campground.

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

Our cafeteria style dinner was good, though nothing spectacular. The burger patty, potatoes, corn soup, salad and peach tart beat cooking dried camp food. After dinner, we admired an absolutely fantastic sunset that lit up the rocky Cuernos del Paine! We couldn’t have asked for a better day, especially when the clouds blew in just after dark at 10:30 and the rain began at midnight. ETB

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laguna de los tres

Laguna De Los Tres…The Most Sought After Trek in El Chaltén

Hiking to Fitz Roy

Yesterday we confirmed the weather with the hotel staff. Based on a sophisticated forecast system, it was suggested that today would be the best day to hike the Laguna De Los Tres trail for the closest views of Fitz Roy massif. While the trailhead may be reached by walking to the edge of town for an out-and-back trek, it is also possible to take transportation to Hostería El Pilar. I highly recommend arranging a bus/shuttle ride a few days in advance for $125 Argentinian pesos. It provided us the opportunity to see the Hostería El Pilar and the associated trail as well as the Laguna De Los Tres trail. Continue reading “Laguna De Los Tres…The Most Sought After Trek in El Chaltén”