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Published: September 1st 2018
Up early again. 0530 knock on the door wake up call. Quick shower, dressed and packed for our day out with Jason Dunstall.....The Silverbacks are calling us. Breakfast, pack a snack box and into the car for our exciting day. Still unsure what to expect but the day is clear and not too hot. What do you wear for such a day. Well ours started at the breakfast table where one of the staff fitted our long gaiters we had hired from the lodge. Lucky for us as it was a bit trickier that I thought. Strapped in and out to our waiting car.
Back down the rocky road and off to the park headquarters where we have to register and be allocated to a group of 8 people all eager to see these mountain gorillas. We hover, then Yassin comes back and leads us to our guide. Patrick - where do they get these names.....
He chats to us, hands out coffee or tea gift boxes for our involvement in the gorilla protection scheme and then gathers us in an enclosure to brief us on what we will do and hopefully see. We are allocated to the “Agashya” group. One woman asks if it will be a short walk. This is ironic as you will read further on.....
Patrick chats, then introduces his companion, Patrick. Bloody hell, just like the 2 Moses behind the bar on the Chobe River.... Anyhoo, we continue. Fill out forms then Patrick 2 does more paper work while 1 chats and tries to get us more excited about our walk. He tells us he is waiting for a call from the trackers to give exact locations of our group, but does say there are about 30 in the group.
Ooh, aah. He also says that our chances of seeing them are very good. Ok, now we just need to get to them. He says to go to our cars and we will drive in formation to the track where we start the walk.
We drive back past our lodge entrance and further again. Finally get to a village and go off road, well, bumpy track again. We stop and get out of the cars. There are porters waiting for us in their blue overalls (porter uniforms). We get our walking sticks from Patrick (never mind which one now as they are interchangeable).
Allocated porters by either them jumping at us or a smile and you are mine. I get Andrew, a bulky strong looking guy. Chris gets Amile, an older guy but looking very agile for his age (whatever that may be). Another briefing and away we go through the potato fields. Patrick (the bigger one who becomes the spokesman now) tells us we have a 200% chance of seeing the gorillas. The trackers have told him where they are and we change direction accordingly. Means we wander through the potatoes a bit more but it is flat.
We get to the entrance to the jungle and are met by a gun wielding guard who will accompany us form now on. Protecting us from buffalo and elephants. We have to wait there as there is a division in the ranks. Turns out that the short walk ladie‘s husband has trouble walking through the fields and is short of breath, ergo reason for short walk question. By the time he gets to us he isn’t looking great. Someone says he should have more chocolate so one of the young guys gives him M&M’s. Hmm, anyway, he picks up and on we go. He has a porter, and one of the other guys is asked if he will share his porter to help. Yes. I reckon that is a bit unfair but not my call.
Into the jungle and up we start to climb. Slippery here, a bit tight there but we climb because we have an end goal. We stop on a regular basis to wait for our slower person. Makes comment at one stage about being 77 and struggling a bit. Didn’t mention Marion at 91 would be coping much better than him though.
At one of these stops, Chris mentions to me that Amile looks like the driver from Miss Daisy. What is his name. Hmm, then another of the group says Morgan Freeman. Bingo. Even Patrick agrees. Giggles all round and Chris asks him to explain what we have said. Amile is amused but probably didn’t have a clue who Morgan Freeman was. Anyway, it kept us amused. Chris then asks how long he had been a poacher for. Oops, meant porter. Not a problem, Patrick explains that most of the porters were poachers who know the mountains extremely well. Amile has been a poacher and porter for over 30 years so his knowledge of the mountains is excellent. This was proven at one stage when they were looking for the easiest way to the top to save our 77 year old and they said one way, then Amile pointed another way. We went his way and it was a reasonable and short way to the top.
Finally get to the top of the ridge. We are told the gorillas are very close now so our descent into the gorge is much easier with that knowledge. Another stop and final briefing. Walk a bit more and I spot our first gorilla not far away. In we go. Patrick tells us this is male number 4 - that is the 4th ranking male. He is on his own, but we get pretty close for some pics. All of a sudden he decides to up and leave, brushing past Chris’s legs. We are told not to move. Chris is like a statue and I decide not to move the camera for a shot. Hearts pumping and we start to see them in the bushes and canopy above us. Up we climb through thick scrub, eager to see more.
We stop and in the bushes is the alpha male of the family, Mr Special - they all have names. We clamber to get close for shots. He is unconcerned about us and keeps on eating. Hard to get a really good shot as the bushes hide his face but just keep pressing the button. Then there are others in the trees above us. Whoa, too much happening in a very confined space where 8 people are all trying to get the best spot and shot.
Lots happens, one of the tree climbers clambers down and bumps one of the people, while the silverback decides to move on and he just up and brushes past one of the women in the group. Again, we follow instructions and stand super still as he moves.
Move on again, trackers using their machetes to hack a path through the scrub. Find a mother and baby but she is a bit shy and moves on. Eventually slide down the bank to find another male. Think we have now found all 4. He sits nicely so Patrick gets us one by one to sit beside him and he takes shots. Wowser, so close and they basically ignore you.
About to move on when another female and her baby clamber onto the canopy above this male. Cute baby starts to play to the cameras, climbing mums back, etc. I just let the camera go with repeat shots. Hope they are in focus.
Show is over. It has been an hour and we start our climb back out. Mr 77 is happy and has found an extra burst of energy now, until we start the climb. He again has help to get out and we finally meet our porters again. All happy and chatty about our experience.
We rest for a while then it is suggested we get a group shot. Done and we head down. Finally make it to the gate we came in over 2 and a bit hours ago. We are told our cars have moved much closer so we only have a 15 minute walk left. I chat to Andrew, my porter, about his family. English is not his best language but he did pretty well. He has 2 kids, 10 and 7. I tell him I have grandkids aged 8 and 5. Some sort of agreement, then he turns to me and says “Steve, thank you for hiring me today”. I am a bit stunned but say it has been a pleasure to meet him and spend time with him and hopefully my hiring him will help put food on the table or educate his kids. He smiles and slaps my back. Very strong man but a gentle one as well. We have had a bit of fun with each other, high fives, fist pumps and general pats on the back.
Get to the cars then have to do payments. Going rate is USD$10. I decide to do a bit better and pay them in Rwanda francs of 15,000 which is the equivalent of about USD15. Andrew and Amile are both happy, and so are we to help them out. We get a few more pics with our boys then climb into the car. As we leave, they give huge smiles and thumbs up. Glad we could help and make them happy.
Back to the lodge for an easy afternoon. Arrive and there is someone to take the gaiters off and our boots. They take the boots away and clean them for us - nice as we have walked in gorilla poo, buffalo poo and other associated nasties.
Back to the room for a shower then to lunch. I download the photos and have some really good ones and some not too good, as you would expect with the conditions we were in.
Re-shuffle the bags as we are on the homeward leg now and then go back to the lounge for a drink and compare pics with a few others. Do airdrops of some to one of the guys and another lady who chats with us. Turns out she has done everything including winemaking in Robinvale at McWilliams in a past life - More 6 degrees.
Dinner then to back to the room. This time our fire is raging when we get back. We sit and listen to the fire crackling then to bed.
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