I remember one of the first thoughts I had when I found out I was coming to Rwanda for my fellowship – GORILLAS! Since the age of 10 I have been wanting to meet gorillas and orang-utans and this week I have made one of these dreams true by trekking in the Volcanoes National Park here in Rwanda.
It was an intense day that started with a 4 am wake up call and a 2 hour drive from Kigali to the park entrance in Musanze. We were greeted my local dancers and singers who tried to entertain and keep awake a nervous and tired set of tourists.
Once we had been entertained and served some coffee, the park ranger Felicien gave us a briefing about our hike – we were going to hike a medium trek to visit the Sabyinyo Gorilla Group, with the oldest silverback in the mountain range called Guhonda. We also learnt about how to behave:
- No eye contact and pointing – it’s a sign of threat
- No bags – the youngsters get too curious
- If the silver back gives you a warning, kneel down and lower your head
- NEVER RUN
And we were off… An hour and a half of trekking in the jungle – ankle deep in mud and buffalo poop, vicious ants and stingy nettle, slipping and sliding through the bamboo trails, hacking new trails with a machete… What an experience!
It was worth it though… as we walked into a clear area of the forest where the family had settled for the day, enjoying their brunch… I must admit, I did choke up a bit! They are the most magnificent beasts!
The silverback was a true old man – lying on the floor, napping, yawning, scratching and farting. Whenever he felt like we were getting too close to his babies, he got up, walked towards us and we slowly (with a lot of panic inside that we were all trying to hide!) backed away.
The ladies all had young babies with them that they nursed, carried on their backs and presented to the silverback. Whenever he spoke to them, they spoke back and followed his guidance on where to go next.
The kids of course were the cutest – playing with others, curiously staring at us, banging their chest, kissing each other. I could stare at them all day – their little feet, their big eyes – pure joy!
This was truly a once in a life time experience… What a privilege!