Rwanda Gorillas – a remarkable experience
Mountain gorillas are unique creatures; they have been poached almost out of existence and are therefore highly endangered. Seeing them in their own habitat is an exceptional experience, and certainly one for the Bucket List. Chartered clients, Brian and Ronelle Baker have just returned from Rwanda, and share their amazing experience with us.
Each gorilla family has a name, and we were part of the Kwitonda group. With our guides, Afrika (also our driver), Francois and Kalista, and porter, Elisa, we set off
from the rendezvous point for all mountain gorilla trekking, the edge of the Parc National des Volcans. We were given beautiful walking sticks with a gorilla motif carved on top and these were useful as we trekked through some rough terrain.
There are 10 gorilla families that are habituated (accustomed to human visitors), some families that are used for research, and some families that are considered to be wild. Only eight tourists are allowed to visit a gorilla family for one hour per day … but to get to your gorilla family for that one hour was very challenging – the trek is not for the faint-hearted! Your guide chooses on your behalf which gorilla family you visit, based on your fitness. You can trek for one hour and see a family of three gorillas, or you can trek for two and see a family of 23 (that was us!). I am grateful not to have been judged able to complete the six-hour option!
Gorillas are not big animals; I thought they’d be much bigger, even having done my research. The females don’t get much heavier than 120kgs, whilst male gorillas (silverbacks) can weigh up to 227kgs. The babies are born weighing about 1.4 to 2kgs and are the cutest little things you’ve ever seen. Amongst our gorilla family were two silverbacks, the biggest one appeared to be enormous when lying down, but also seemed quite at ease with all of the people around him – eight tourists, two trackers, two guides, three “security” (guys with AK47s), and about four porters (although the porters do not come close to the gorillas and remain in one place whilst the rest of us “visit” with the gorillas).
There were many enthusiastic juveniles being playful and active. This became quite a scary moment for me as a youngster used my right leg as a swing pole to get down the edge of the mountain – fortunately, Francois was right next to me so I could clutch onto him! It all happened so quickly that only much later did I realise what had happened. The 7 metre rule memo obviously did not get to the gorillas – you’re not allowed to get closer than 7 metres to a gorilla, pretty much impossible with such a large active family who keep moving up and down the unfriendly terrain!
The experience of looking into the eyes of a gorilla is profound – you’re not supposed to make eye contact, but it’s almost impossible not to. I felt as if we needed to sit and chat for a time, to find out about each individual’s life and habits; but, as the allocated time for the “visit” is so short, you just have to breathe in the experience and, in Brian’s case, take photos and more photos and try to enjoy the moment.
Our hour with these gorgeous creatures zoomed by and we had almost to be forcibly removed from the top of this mountain! By now we’re all sweating up a storm, as it is hot and humid. After another very strenuous two hours, we made it down the hill and out of the national park, across the fields and back into our vehicle. I’ve never been so happy to sit down in my life!
A once-in-a-lifetime experience, highly recommended, but very tough going.