After this all occurred, it was in fact quite easy to get through immigration, customs, and security. We waited seemingly forever for our flight, which did not take off until almost 2am. We managed to sleep on most of the flight, but Justin's mom did not. Shortly before landing we saw Mount Kilimanjaro standing above the clouds – that's up there on our "to-do" list for future trips.
The Nairobi airport was interesting to say the least. It was way overcrowded, and in fact the whole terminal appeared to have been designed around the duty free shops, rather than restaurants, bathrooms, or seating areas of any kind. We cramped into a tiny café because that was the only place with any seating. The toilet in the women's restroom was flush with the floor – not good. The men's restroom had about 5x as many people as could fit in there – also not good.
Fortunately, about an hour before we were due to take off, they called us to board. We didn't actually board, however, we just went to this much, much larger room behind the duty free shops where we could actually sit in peace. There was one other airport we had been to that was like that – we think it was Kuala Lumpur, but at least there seating existed on both sides of the boarding area. The flight to Kigali was short and uneventful. All of our luggage was thankfully there, though when leaving the airport we had to unwrap all of the saran wrap that the people in JNB had put on it, since the entire country of Rwanda has a ban on polyethylene bags.
We were picked up by our guide Lawrence, who was very nice, but unfortunately dilly-dallied a little too long while we were getting into the car. There were bees everywhere, and we were constantly swatting them away and moving around to avoid them. We thought we were home free, in the van, when Crystal was stung on her shin. She made it through 9 days in Botswana unscathed, but was then stung by a bee in a parking lot – go figure.
We drove a bit through Kigali, getting a very abbreviated tour of the city, including the Presidential compound and the Milles Collines (Hotel Rwanda). There were people everywhere on the streets – either people were conducting business on the side of the street or there were a lot of people not working.
We soon started going up into the mountains, heading northwest towards the Virunga volcanoes, where the Mountain Gorillas live. The vegetation was amazing, with terraced farms and gardens cut into the hillside, full of bananas and sweet potatoes. There were even some nice waterfalls here and there. While it never gets that hot in the mountainous regions of Rwanda, it never gets that cold either, and the climate supported many plants that either do not survive or greatly suffer through San Diego 's winter – the climate must be like our coastal fall, but all year round.
It took over two hours for us to get to Ruhengeri – everyone but Justin's mom took naps, despite the gorgeous scenery, due to fatigue from our long travel day – Rwanda was our fifth country in just over 24 hours, and sixth country in just over 72. We ate lunch at a nice place in Ruhengeri, which had some nice crowned cranes on the grounds. After lunch we made the last 20 minutes of our jaunt up to the Mountain Gorilla's Nest, just outside of Ruhengeri. The Gorilla's Nest is the closest hotel to where you have to meet for the National Park, meaning we would get to "sleep in" compared to others.
The grounds at the hotel were phenomenal – nicely laid out and well manicured, somewhat reminiscent of the courtyard at the Hotel Monasterio in Cusco. The hotel is only five years old, and was cut out of a large eucalyptus grove. It even has a golf course. As we were warned, the only downside to the hotel is that the rooms are very cold, but since we knew this, we had long underwear and jackets. We went to the bar, which had a good view, and was also much warmer than our room because there were little pits all over the bar with embers in them. We waited out until dinner at 7:30. Dinner was very good, especially the tomato soup that they served. Then we went back to the room to get ready for the next day.