One of the most memorable days – ever!
It is a long way to the remote Virunga Mountains in north western Rwanda which are right on the border with the DRC (Congo) & Uganda, and the Permits are difficult to get and really expensive.
Yet there my daughter and I were, at the Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel, near Ruhengeri ready to go Gorilla Trekking, early in the morning. At the high altitude it was chilly and misty adding to the atmosphere and excitement.
– apart from all the normal logistical and health preparation needed when visiting Africa you will need to plan ahead simply to get a Trekking Permit. You will also need to save up!
– there are many books and films about Rwanda (clearly Hotel Rwanda is most well know) so reading/seeing in advance will enrich the trip
How to behave when you meet a Mountain Gorilla!
There are only a handful of Gorilla families and only about 8 trekkers are allowed to spend up to an hour with each family. So, there were not many people around as we checked in and were allocated our Guides and a couple of Rwandan soldiers to each group of trekkers. We were briefed on the day ahead and how to behave once, hopefully we found a Gorilla family.
Whilst the Rangers track the Gorilla families all the time it can still take 3 to 6 hours on steep and muddy mountain trails to locate them. Also, because Gorillas do not keep to trails (!) the last part can be difficult as you simply follow a Guide who is chopping a way through the damp jungle vegetation. In our case it was after about 3 hours, in the middle of a very verdant area of tall and thick growth that the Ranger turned and motioned for us all to stop and to continue to be quiet.
Then there, just a few feet away I saw a small Gorilla, indeed 4 or 5 of them running around, right there in front of me in and out and under the vegetation, playing! What a sight!
There Is More
Plan to see other things as well as the Gorillas (Golden Monkey trek was fun!), visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali and visit another Park such as Akergeri.
I had read about and looked forward for years, hoping that I might get to see Mountain Gorilla’s one day.
,The Marvels of Gorilla Habituation
The Rangers, over time have habituated the Gorillas to expect and accept brief human presence. During our briefing we were told not to touch the Gorillas. I remember thinking, are we really going to get that close and would I really think of touching and trying to pet a wild Gorilla? Well, I behaved well, but the young Gorillas seemed oblivious to the rules and came playfully running up to me. Absolutely remarkable!
Once I could take my eyes off these nearly human like bundles of fur, I saw a few yards away the adult Gorillas and then the family’s Silver Back. When sitting, they are simply magnificent and I was able to take decent photographs, shown here. When he stood up though , much to the shock and, lets be honest, fear of the 8 of us, my photographic skills and camera deserted me!
At one point the Silver Back decided to move up the slope with his family. Our Guide motioned for us to follow slowly, which we did until the Gorilla had had enough, stood up and faced us briefly and then scurried off followed by all the rest of the family.
We sat with and amongst Mountain Gorillas for about 50 of the most amazing and memorable minutes of my life.
There is so much to the story of Rwanda, The Genocide and its history that is worth an extended stay in this pretty mountainous central African state, called the Switzerland of Africa. When I was there Gorillas were really in peril but the Rangers that had previously been hunters were now, thanks to a very well managed tourism administration, had jobs looking after the very animals they were previously endangering.
The Genocide Memorial Kigali.
Around 800,000 people were killed in the 1994 catastrophe. To this day the events and global culprits are hotly disputed.