HELLO + WELCOME as we make our way from Sydney to London, via Africa.
This would have to be one of the most enjoyable posts I have written so far. I’m excited to share our experience of tracking gorillas in Rwanda.
It’s Gareth here today.
We rocked up to the Rwandan Development Board office in Kigali to book in our day with the gorillas. Kirst was not going to do it with me because she had already seen them in Uganda and the cost to do it again could be spent elsewhere. I said Eff that I want you with me. I could not come half way across the world and not share this with the girl I love. My future wife. So ten minutes later, USD $1500 lighter we walked outta that office with the biggest smiles on our faces, happy knowing that in a few days time we would be walking with mountain gorillas.
We got up early to drive up to the park office in the Volcanoes National Park. We arrived at 645am, were briefed about the day and told to follow those cars to our point of departure. Fifteen minutes later following the safari vehicles across what I could not describe as anything near the description of a road we had arrived.
Two armed guards, hordes of local village children dressed in rags and our guides were there to meet us. A last minute brief and we were off. We crossed farmers fields of potatoes and eucalyptus forests to reach a stone wall which made up the border of the National Park. A scramble over the wall and it was immediately into a thick bamboo forest and near darkness surrounded us with little light penetrating the thick canopy.
The trackers had found the group. It was called the Hirwa group. They were only an hour up the hill which meant that it was going to be an easy trek.
:: The Hirwa group we were tracking
:: The road to the stone wall
:: A welcoming party
:: Let’s go!
:: Our protection
It was 90 minutes later we were told to drop our bags and have our last sip of water. We were about to walk into a nest of mountain gorillas and the excitement was now at peak levels. The adrenaline was pumping and as we rounded a thick part of the forest, I heard them before I could see them.
I heard a deep grumble. The sound was strong and menacing. It came from the silverback. He knew, that we knew, that he was the boss. We entered a clearing to see the giant silverback gorilla, Munyinya of the Hirwa group. He was the biggest of all the silverbacks in Rwanda we were told. He was surrounded by his posse of females. He immediately commanded my respect. His arms were the size of telegraph poles.
:: Our first glimpse of the Silverback. That’s our guides head to the left.
:: Gorillas resting
The group were resting we were told as they had spent the morning feeding. The big silverback eats approximately thirty kilos of vegetation a day. He was laying on his stomach. His thick, hairy behind sticking up in the air like a small mountain. At one stage he rolled around onto his back and let out a massive yawn. His black and yellow teeth bared for all to see. His tongue looked like a nicotine stained slug. The females and babies were playing. A tiny six month old baby was feeding.
We heard them sneeze. We heard them fart. We watched them play. At one stage the mother feeding the baby scratched her back with the young’ en still suckling. Her scratching, sounded like a piece of sand paper being dragged along a length of wood. They have thick skins we were told.
:: They often shift positions so they can remain comfortable
:: Time for a check up I think
:: Are my nails dirty?
:: The baby of the group hitching a ride
The gorillas did not move from their nest until the silverback was distracted by a female who came swinging out of the surrounding trees behind us. He moved his massive body up and out of his resting position with ease. It was marvellous to see…and I am not someone who uses the word ‘marvellous’ too often.
Our guide Kali told us all to move over to the right so he could pass. I was suddenly told ’Stop. Stay where you are’ Myself and an American girl were cut off on the opposite side of the group. Hirwa was moving towards us. He passed less than a metre off my body, between Kirsty and I, with a silent grace. His grace was soon gone as he pulled metres of hanging vines from the trees. He then sat on his backside and began to eat.
:: That’s me and the American girl on the other side of the gorilla, while Kirst was separated on the other
:: I was smiling for a photo when Kirst told me ‘Turn around, now!’ …this doesn’t look real to me but I guess that’s why Kirst wanted me to turn around!
:: What you talking bout Willis
The next few bonus minutes of our allocated hour were spent watching one of the juvenile twins swinging around the trees above us. It was a magical time. I shed a little man tear of emotion and I could see that Kirst had also been overcome with joy. It was one of, if not the most precious hours of my life. To be in amongst these beautiful beasts was such a pure moment. Something that will be with me for ever.
:: That’s us
As always it has been a absolute pleasure bringing this to you from the road. Get out there.