24. RWANDA'S RARE GORILLAS
Just after 6:30am on Monday morning we checked out of our Ruhengeri motel and drove a half-hour to the Virunga Volcanoes National Park. We were on our way to see the GORILLAS CALLING TO RWANDA. When we arrived at the Office of Tourisim (ORTPN) we were given our permit and assigned to one of five groups, each going to a different part of the mountain to see a different family of gorillas. Our group of eight was assigned to the HIRWA family. We all set off in our separate vehicles to drive to the place where we'd begin the trek up the mountain.
It soon became the kind of road a person would prefer to have a four-wheel drive for and the SUV wasn't being treated like a city slicker anymore. It had to prove its stuff and, under the expert handling of our driver (and with no damage to the vehicle except for a dented back licence plate from straddling boulders for awhile) we were not that much the worse for wear (other than jiggled-up insides) by the time we got to as far as vehicles could go.
Then we started walking through low-sloping fields and small villages which became higher-sloped every foot of the way until finally we came upon a bamboo jungle looming ahead of us, separated from the farms by a rock fence to keep cattle from straying into gorilla country. Now was where the climb would begin. We were accompanied by our own personal guide, who was in radio communication with other Rangers who were looking for the gorillas and breaking trail.
The photo above shows the three Rangers - with rifle, walkie-talkie and machete. The Ranger in the middle was an expert in gorilla-talk, which is partly how the gorillas are located, and while we were with the gorillas, he made soothing, humming sounds that put them - and us - at ease.
Everyone had been issued with a bamboo walking stick which came in very handy. Luckily for our group, the family of gorillas we were going to see wasn't too far away - only about a one hour climb, and the exercise was actually quite exhilerating. Once we came to a place so steep we had to be pulled up in relay by the person ahead. We were warned not to get hit in the face with a thistle branch - but if we did - not to scream out loud as that could scare off the gorillas.
The vegetation was very lush, with lots of food for the gorillas to eat, and our guide let us taste some for ourselves. Some of it tasted just like celery, and was as tender, after its thin layer of skin was peeled off, which is how the gorillas eat it.
Finally word came down the line - in whispered tones - that the gorillas were straight ahead.
But first Bob was off on an adventure of his own. As he told the story later, he heard something rustling in the bushes and decided to go and investigate. Little did he know that right behind him was a silverback sleeping, and over his shoulder he was being watched by another:
And right below his feet, crossing his path, was a small gorilla:
It actually touched his legs as it hurried past - probably toward its mother (the one peering over Bob's shoulder perhaps?)
Back at the clearing it was quite the sight to behold, and for the next hour we watched them as they ate and rested in the sun.
The female above has a baby in the crux of her right arm (you can see its little nose), as she peels a piece of celery. Next she sits down to eat some lettuce. Not far from her a silverback was stretched out napping:
Then, upon raising himself, he began grooming a female who had woken him up by wandering into the bushes beside him. He methodically combed through her hair, parting it a row at a time, just as a person would do. By this time the female with her baby had had enough to eat and was now napping:
This gave us a very good look at her irresistibly cute baby, in between its breaks at nursing. It also gave a good view of the silverback's silver back. After a time he turned around to have a look at Bob, who was having a look at him:
Actually, he seemed to be trying to mimick Bob's facial expression, or was Bob trying to mimick his?
When we got back to the Office of Tourism, from where we'd started a few hours earlier, we were presented with a "Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Certificate" certifying that we had visted the Hirwa group in the Volcanoes National Park, "home to the last mountain gorillas", and signed and sealed by the Director of ORTPN.
go next to 25. SOCCER BALL GIVE-AWAY #6 or back to index at DESTINY DESTINATION RWANDA
WEIGHING IN ON SILVERBACK
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