Mountain Gorillas Reviews
Oct 17, 2007
One of the best things I've ever done in my life!
A great adrenaline rush, second to para-sailing in Peru.
I recently had the pleasure of going to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga Mountain Range/Volcanos. Simply put, it was awesome! It was a bit expensive, though I went on a package deal and I think you can do it for cheaper, all told, about $3,000US.
We flew into Kigali Airport and stayed the night at the Milles Colines (ie. Hotel Rwanda, as in the movie). The next day, we drove about two hours to the Volcanos and stayed the night at a decent "hotel" The first morning, we went to see Golden Monkeys, which was cool, but paled in comparison to the gorillas.
The following day, we met at the ranger's station, where about 50 or 60 people gathered in groups of 7 - 8 people to trek one of 8 gorilla families that live in the mountains. We were assigned a group of 9 gorillas, and proceeded to drive 45 minutes to a drop-off spot where we hiked into the rainforest.
I heard the day before that one group found the gorillas in a half hour and were back at the hotel in under 3 hours total (before noon). Another group didn't get back to camp until after 6pm, so there is considerable differences in trekking times. It took us almost 3 hours of exaustive climbing the volcano before we saw our first gorilla...it was SO COOL!
As we were all excited about our first sighting, we came upon the Silverback in a tree, not too high up (we learned later that he is the biggest of all the silverbacks). He is the dominant male of the group that is also the leader and protector. As we jockeyed for photographs, our guide pulled back a tree limb and the silver shrieked and we all jumped back. It was just a bluff, but we all got the hint. He's the boss.
As I was taking photographs, he seemed to be staring at me intently. I asked the others in my group and they said "yeah, I saw him staring at you!" In order not to seem a threat, I turned away, pretending to eat grass. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. Looking at my photos, he was indeed looking at me as if I was threatening and I'm so glad I didn't continue to stare. I've heard a horror story of a girl at a zoo, who stared at a male gorilla constantly until the gorilla jumped the fence and mauled her. My advice to you, don't stare. Just look, then look away. You do not want to challenge a silverback in his own home.
After we sat down to watch, other gorillas started to come through our encampment. One female actually tap a few of us on the head as she walked by. It was so funny. Then another young female came up a trail and laid down at my feet and just looked up at me, bathing under the jungle canopy of light like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. She had her arm behind her head, looking dreamily in the sky, gazing at me at times, rolling on her back in a flirtatious manner. I remember thinking that she's a natural model...natural indeed!
As we followed some of the gorillas down a slope, we heard another gorilla behind us. Looking up, we saw a second Silverback, younger, more fit and seemingly more aggressive with a mean look in his eye and a tough jaw. He wasn't as big as the first, but he was just as dominant. I got a couple good shots until he came charging down the trail. All I could think was "get outta the way", he was like a freight train. I tried to move but he literally knocked me down with a brush, and I went flying into the jungle. The guides began to get excited and tried to coral us all together and said that it would be very dangerous for us if the two silverbacks fought. They are such powerful animals, I would hate to become collateral damage of their anger.
We all moved into a tight circle, shifting up the mountain, not really sure where a safe place was. Being on the fringe of the group didn't seem to offer me much protection, but we all pushed back from the center of what seemed to be the gorilla family's main den. I could feel my adrenaline pumping harder than ever as I realized this might be a little more dangerous than I imagined.
After the threat had passed, we followed a couple other members of the family up in the canopy until they disappeared in the bush. I didn't want to leave, but the "magical hour" was up, and we had to begin our descent down the volcano.
It was a great hike down the mountain. I had one of the greatest experiences of my life and I have the photos to prove it. If anybody knows someone at National Geographic, I have some photos for them.
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