Today was the day we had all been waiting for when we would finally see the rare Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. I woke at 5am before getting ready and making sure that everybody who had upgraded to a room were awake and having a quick breakfast. We had to be ready for 6.15 to get into minibuses that would take us to the Park HQ which was a big task for me due to not being a morning person.
After arriving we all signed in and sorted ourselves into groups. I didn’t mind which group I was in except I didn’t want to be in the group that would trek the most difficult routes and I ended up in the easy group that would trek to see the Amahoro group of Gorillas.
It took around 45 minutes to drive from the Park HQ to the location where we would enter the park for our trek, via the guides home where he got supplies for the day. During our time outside his house we saw a bunch of kids eating raw sugar cane which seems a popular snack but not something I wish to try. For the final 20 minutes our journey was up a really bumpy track with kids waving at us and showing us art and our driver described the drive as “An African Massage”. After last minute preparations we met our soldier guides and entered the park at around 9am.
The start of the trek was fairly steep but it soon evened out and the trek was evenly matched throughout between climbing up hills and walking along flat paths. We took things easy as some members of the group needed to take regular breaks however it took almost as much effort to avoid the stinging nettles in the park as it did to walk up the hills.
Around 1 hour 40 minutes after entering the park we caught up with the trackers that spend a week at a time in the park with each family of gorillas and left our bags with them so we could spend our hour with the Gorillas with ease and without interfering with them too much. After leaving the trackers it was a short walk down to where the Amahoro group were located.
We knew we were getting close to the Gorillas when we started hearing grunting noises and seeing moving bushes. I was taken aback when I saw the first Gorilla as it was so close to us but didn’t seem to mind us being there at all. There was a huge feeling of relief among the group that we had made it and had not been unlucky by missing the Gorillas entirely. The first few Gorillas we saw were fairly close up but we also saw a baby and the silverback sleeping in the distance before moving on to see more of the family, plus a better view of the silverback.
A few minutes later after leaving the silverback the bush next to me started rustling. Our guide encouraged us to move quicker but a Gorilla called Gahinga appeared out of the bush right next to me. He seemed to think we were new play things and grunted loudly before running past us and interacting with us in startling ways. I was grabbed on the knee as he ran past, Barry was prodded on the knee where he had a support bandage, Betty was poked and Trip was grabbed on the arm before being made to stand up straight by Gahinga because he was slouching. After being ushered away by our guide Gahinga got upset and ran back past us. Most of us got out the way but Leon wasn’t quick enough and was knocked onto his back in the middle of a bush.
If you think some things you’ve seen while travelling can get the adrenaline going there’s nothing like having a Gorilla touch you on the leg shortly before charging down a path towards you. He was only playing, and you could tell how intelligent he was with acts such as making Trip stand up straight and realizing that Barry had a problem with his knee, but he is still a wild animal and the encounter got my heart beating fast.
We stayed in that area for a while before discovering the majority of the family were relaxing in an area that was undercover and surrounded by bamboo just around the corner. We saw a few babies, young gorillas and adults playing and more came along in time – including Gahinga who decided to show off by punching the ground a few times, hitting his chest a few times then running away. This was the final place that we saw the Gorillas as we were only allowed to stay with them for an hour. I got some really good videos and photos though and had the time of my life.
We met up with the porters, collected our bags and started going downhill. It wasn’t as hard going downhill but the stinging nettles got me this time while I wasn’t paying attention and trying to clean off some Gorilla deposits that I had stepped in. Wow what a smell… beats most things Ive smelt before!
After arriving back at the park boundary we thanked the soldiers and our guide before making our way back to the road to wait for our minibus. We picked up some souvenirs that the locals were selling while waiting before driving back to the park HQ to pick up some overpriced souvenirs and our certificates. On the way a kid started running behind us showing us some art he had drawn – I took a picture to see what it was and it turned out to be two Gorillas mating. I showed our driver and he burst out laughing, stopped the minibus and called the kid over before asking if anybody wanted to buy the drawing for $1. Leon bought that one and I bought another one of two Gorillas – one of which is showing off so I decided this one must be Gahinga. During our journey back we also saw a group of soldiers surrounded by some locals – our guide explained these were rangers embarking on a weeks mission into the National Park to protect the Gorillas and the locals were wishing them well.
We got back the convent and not only had everybody already arrived back but most people had already eaten lunch. Some had been back over 3 hours as their family groups were close to the boundary so they thought we were lost, in hospital or dead or something as we were supposed to be the group with the easiest trek. Maybe we were out the longest but we definitely had the best experience on the mountain after talking to the other groups. They got really close and got better photos than us but we had the Gahinga incident to talk about.
After showering, washing etc I went to the bar for some drinks with Al, Jono and Leon to talk about the day. Others arrived from town and we all talked some more before dinner which was a traditional African meal that Den had cooked for us consisting of some weird maize potato looking thing with different stews. We ate it in the traditional way without cutlery and it was very nice, just very filling.
We all went to the bar again after dinner to relax and talk some more about the day, show each other our photos and everybody agreed we definitely had the best experience in our group. I think everybody had an amazing time and will have so many good memories and stories to tell from just this day alone!
I’ve been up since 5am so I’m planning to have an early night tonight but there’s a loud TV in reception which is stopping me from relaxing at the moment so I’ll probably just have one of my usual nights but at least my back won’t hurt as much.
[I found out later from Jono that they were watching a soft porn video!! A convent that watches porn, has a bar serving alcohol, in the middle of Rwanda with all sorts of birds flying overhead is definitely a surreal place.]