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Published: June 21st 2013
When we awoke in the morning, it was cold and still dark. We gathered up all our things and headed for breakfast, not that we could face much at 6am. On our way to the meeting point, we passed a large field that had a stage being built in it. Our guide explained that this was for a visit by the president on Saturday, when they would be naming the newly born gorillas that had been born in the park, and local people dressed in gorilla outfits. At the meeting place and there was tea and coffee if we wanted it, and the guide took our passports to get the permits. We would be joining a group of upto 8 people for the trek. Whilst we were waiting for the permits to be issued, a group of local drummers and basket balancers came to perform for us to wish us luck of for tracking the gorillas.
Once the permits were issued, our guide ushered us to a group and introduced our park guides to us. We were in a group with 3 other pairs from Mexico, South Africa and Canada who seemed nice. The guides asked us
to introduce ourselves, and the Mexician mum and daughter told us they had been on a trek the previous day and it had taken them 6 hours to find their group because they kept moving! We all hoped our trek would be shorter than that. The guides gave us some basic information, and told us that the trackers had been out since first light to find the groups and part of their job is to ensure they have seen each member of the group and they are all in good health. We were going to be looking for the group called Hirwa, meaning lucky, which comprised of 1 silverback, some blackbacks (older males), females, teenagers and babies including twins. All the gorilla groups live on Muhabura mountain. There are a number which are classed as tourist groups, as well as 3 research groups. Our group is led by a lone silverback, who stole his females from other groups by fighting for them.
We set off with our guide to the start of our trek, where we were each given a carved walking stick to assist us, and the option of hiring a porter for the trek who would carry
Kathryn's bag and look after them both when we reached the gorillas. We set off, initially walking through farmers fields and through a eucalyptus plantation until we reached a small wall. We were joined here by 2 armed park rangers, as this wall marked the point at which the park started. It was there so the farmers knew not to encroach into the park, but it was easy for the gorillas to get out for food if they wanted to. It also stopped the elephants, buffalo and porcupines getting out! Our guide gave us a further briefing on the gorillas, including a vocal demonstration of the noises he would be making to check with the silverback that we were ok to be with the group. They were a series of grunts. He also warned us that the younger members of the group may come closer to us and we should take direction from the guides when this happened.
We set off again, with one of the guides leading the way with the rangers, and at various point attacking the undergrowth with a machete. It was mostly uphill, and whilst it wasn't too strenuous, there were certainly some challenging points
where the creepers on the floor tried to wrap round your ankles. There were places where the steps up and down were steep and the hand of the porter was very welcome. The guide made frequent stops for us so we could take on water, and also to let us know that the trackers had found the gorillas and we were nearing them. On the way through the bamboo, we saw fresh buffalo poop and elephant tracks. We continued and the forest of bamboo changed to primate forest, natural clearing in the forest that weren't man made. Our guide explained some of the food sources for the gorillas, of which there around 200 species of plants available to them, and said that they liked the young shoots of bamboo, but they contained alcohol which got them a bit tipsy!
After about two hours of walking, we stopped in a clearing, and 2 more trackers joined us. Our guide announced that now was the place to get our cameras ready as the gorillas were less than 100m away. We were told to leave everything bar our cameras, so Russ juggled lenses and after a few minutes we set off.
We approached with trepidation and the guide began grunting to get permission from the silverback. Then they were there, literally just in front of us, all members of the family group, nearly within touching distance under the tree canopy. We desperately tried to get some good shots of the gorillas, but the light wasn't the best and they kept on moving! It was truly amazing to get so close to wild animals. There were a couple of more bosterius ones that tried to challenge the group by running past and slapping your leg. You were always conscious of the guides instructions not to be too close to them, but there were times when you just couldn't help it because the gorillas themselves were running about. The babies were very fluffy, and spent their time play fighting with the older ones, whilst the silverback laid there responding to the guide's grunts for approval. They were so mischievous they stole a hood from the back of one of our groups jacket and ran away with it , and pulled another ladies hair as she sat to get a photo in front of the silverback. We had lots of photo opportunities, and all
the while a couple of gorillas were above in the trees making nests. We could hear them, and see shapes, and lots of leaves were falling, but it wasn't until the silverback decided that the group was going to move that they came down from the trees.
Once the silverback set off, the rest of the group followed, and so did we. We were given the opportunity to see them again, and this time the light was far better, and the silverback became the star of the show. He was eating, moving and posturing which meant for some great shots.
All too soon, our allotted 1hour with the gorillas was at an end, and it was time to return to the lodge. We set off back down the mountain, and the whole group was on a massive high from the experience. Before returning to the lodge, we stopped at the exit HQ and collected our certificates commemorating our experience with the gorillas, as well as the opportunity to pick up a few souvenirs. Back at the lodge, we gave our boots in to be cleaned, got changed and went for some well earned lunch, it was only when
we got back we realised how hungry we actually were.
After lunch it was time to leave, and we met with our guide to return to Kigali for the night. Our hotel was one of the better ones, having been made famous by the film Hotel Rwanda. It had a lovely pool, and bar area, and after we had unpacked a bit, we went for a bit of a walk as the guide had mentioned a shopping Mall, but it failed to deliver in the hunt for another football shirt to add to Russ' ever growing collection!
We returned to the hotel, past the memorial to the hotel staff victims of the genocide of 1994. By the time we went to get something to eat, all the tables by the bar were taken, so we ended up at the main restaurant. The steak we had was lovely, the service poor, but we looked out over the pool bar and were intrigued to see the chicken skewers that were coming out of the kitchen. They looked good. Once we had eaten and some of the tables had cleared, and it was busy for a Thursday night, we found a
table by the bar, and watched some football on the TV with a large draft Mutzig. We retired to bed, knowing that we had a bit if a lie in, as were weren't being collected until 11am for our flight to Tanzania.
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