Monday 6 November 2017

Intrepid Travel Gorillas & Game Parks - Day 10

Today was the day we were all waiting for – the main reason for our all choosing this particular Intrepid tour, and what’s kept us going through some frustrations and discomfort along the way. We headed off at 6.20am after a particularly sustaining breakfast, driving to the gorilla trekking centre outside the town. There we said which tour we wanted – easy, medium, hard – and there was a bit of number juggling. Then we all waited, fizzing with impatience, and also adjusting our gear.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately – it is the rainy season – some of it very heavy, and we were apprehensive about the muddy climb up through the jungle to where each groups’ assigned gorilla family was expected to be (trackers, er, keep track of them). I strapped on gaiters for the first time in my life.
Our assigned guides took each group away for a briefing in the garden. Most of our tour had elected for a medium trek, and our guide was Francis, with 20 years’ experience. He described our gorilla family, called Amahoro, its 15 year-old silverback, Gahinga, the dominant male. We could hope to see 19 gorillas.
And then we set off, up into the hills deep into farming country – the volcanic soil here is dark and clearly enviably fertile, the crops of potatoes, beans, maize and pyrethrum looking lush and healthy. We passed kids going off to school and younger ones waving energetically and shouting ‘Hello!’ as we passed. Guys on bikes hung with yellow plastic containers toiled along: the banana beer delivery service. The road got really bumpy and then finally we were at the end, and piled out, keen to get hiking.
Following huge furrows past tethered sheep and cows, we came to the wall of the Ruhengeri National Park, and climbed over it to start the trek proper. The jungle was surprisingly quiet and bird-free (compared with the Amazon) but we were busy anyway watching our footing on the slithery bits, glad to have been given carved poles to use, and taking care not to brush up against the fiercely vicious stinging nettles they have here. The gaiters were good protection, from them and also the mud, by the way.
We wound up for about 90 minutes, the guides getting updates by radio from the trackers – and then, quite suddenly, it was time. We took off our packs with our lunches in, left our sticks behind, and took just our cameras deeper into the bush, pushing and scrambling through bamboo and bushes, someone cutting a way for us with a machete.
And there they were: eight gorillas, right there, much closer to us than the official 7 metres. Like, just two metres. The silverback was sprawled out on his back, snoozing, the younger blackbacks and females lay in a heap together with younger ones, resting and grooming each other, while a mischievous baby explored around the edges. None of them took any notice of or interest in us, although they were of course aware of us. This is one of the park’s habituated families, who are used to seeing humans appear for an hour almost every day. They probably think we’re just a weird oddly varied kind of species who talk in whispers and make constant clicking sounds.
The silverback woke up, looked at us unimpressed, appeared to give us the finger, and slowly moved away to feed. The baby did forward and backward rolls, explored things to eat, copied an older gorilla who climbed up some bamboo, swinging till it crashed down, and generally behaved like any curious kid. One bigger gorilla way up in a tree had an elevated poop. After a bit, they all went deeper into the bush to feed, and eventually we lost sight of them, not quite having had our full hour. We didn’t mind, though – everyone was thrilled to have got so close to them and to have seen, in the end, about a dozen gorillas of all ages. Besides, we could hear thunder rumbling around the edges of the valley and it felt like time to go.

So we headed off back down and out of the jungle into the farmland again, to be taken to a souvenir shop for our official certificates; and then back to the hotel. Where, of course, we found the others, who had elected for the tough hike, had found their gorillas within 20 minutes, all 21 of them including two silverbacks and twin babies. One girl even had a young gorilla grab her leg. And then they got back before us, and scored all the bragging rights.

Never mind. We had a perfectly satisfying gorilla encounter, which was wonderfully special and up close, and we feel lucky to have had an experience that most people can only imagine. Apart from David Attenborough, of course.


the queen said...

Were I that close to a gorilla outside of the zoo I would have an elevated poop myself.

TravelSkite said...

Ha! But noone was nervous at all, oddly. We were too busy being thriled.


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