Searching for the Silverbacks
- 23/7/2014 <--Prev : Next-->
It was one of the most extraordinary trips we had ever been on.
We were ecstatically in the company of almost our entire family and had the holiday of a lifetime planned, including a visit to the extinct volcanic mountain Bisoki in Rwanda's Virunga Range, to search for the endangered Mountain Gorillas.
The ride to the Mountain Gorilla National Park was fairly hairy as we ascended many thousands of feet on a twisty, turning road and we were quite relieved to check in safely to the freezing Mountain Gorilla Lodges where fresh ginger tea and log fires awaited us.
Thinking it would be a mere toddle up a kopje for us 'Born Again Athletes' we were surprised at the incredible preparations at the super organised base camp where we were taken for our briefing the next morning.
Our guide was called 'Patience' and he needed every ounce of it to initiate our family trip up into the mountain. His briefing was exact and laboriously detailed, he insisted we each use a mountain climbing pole, he insisted we take two porters to carry our backpacks, he insisted we take numerous bottles of water, all of which we thought to be 'over the top' but we thanked him profusely for all this attention later!!
If only I had known just how steep this climb would be, and at such a high altitude, climbing the Chimanimanis was a piece of cake compared to this!!
The Rwandans are an amazing people, we were astonished at the cleanliness of the country, we marveled at the guides who meticulously collected what little trash there was along the trail. We were given two armed Rwandan soldiers to care for us along the way, very unobtrusive and shy, one at the head of the party, and one bringing up the tail.
We commenced our ascent far too quickly, 'Poli poll' is a favorite saying in the region meaning 'slowly slowly' but as we shot up the first few kilometers, we suddenly succumbed to the altitude. The porters were worth their weight in gold and pulled and pushed the two 'wrinklies' in the party whilst all the time supplying us with very necessary water!!
Patience gave us detailed instructions on how to interact with the Gorillas - they are very carefully supervised and each precious troop is only subjected to human contact for one hour every day.
We had done our homework on 'searching for the silverbacks' but no one had prepared us for the immense size of these beautiful creatures, no one had prepped us as to the fabulous natures of these 'Gentle Giants' it was indeed an assault on one's senses! With the guides hacking their way through the under growth with their machetes, and the bamboo thickets crowding in on us, Patience was entrusting us with the 'Ugenda' troop of Gorillas.
The scouts found them three hours up into the mountains in the densest bush possible, and deep in venomous nettle territory. Scratching furiously, exhausted by the altitude and the brutal climb, we suddenly came across an entire family of 21 rare mountain gorillas frolicking in the midday sun.
Papa Silverback was lying indolently in the shade refusing to be drawn into conversation, but his large and growing family was evident and engaging!! Patience was an expert in submissive Gorilla language and the guides and trackers melted suddenly into the undergrowth leaving us to a most magical experience.
Coming face to face on your own two feet with a Silverback weighing in at 200 kg can be counted as one of the greatest wildlife experiences left on the planet. Suddenly every vestige of our exhaustion left us as we witnessed sights that relatively few people are privileged to enjoy. The most magical hour of our lives was spent participating nervously in the lives of this fabulous primate family. HeeHoo was particularly blessed as the second in charge of the vast male silverbacks actually trod on his foot as he lumbered past our mesmerized group!!
Creeping forward, the forest seemed to come alive with the day-time activity of the 21 strong group. Juveniles tumbled past, oblivious to our presence - too engaged with their boisterous wrestling. A new mother sat lovingly cradling her infant, a scene that left me astounded at the similarities to humans.
Meeting face to face with the wild gorillas of Rwanda is an intoxicating blend of fear, privilege, anxiety, wonder and pure happiness.