Jordan in the Mist

Rwanda Travel Blog

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    The car bumped along the road in the early hours of the morning. The sun had not yet decided to show its face so the pitch black night flooded our path. The only light to be seen was the cars headlights which shot out five feet in front of her less-than-adequate automobile. My driver, Marcellus, kept me awake by entertaining himself with questions about California and my life there. He was able to find, or create, similarities in our culture which I could never have bridged: "You rock climb in California? Sometimes, Rwandan man has to climb rocks too."

    When we arrived at the foot of the mountain, small crowds of similar-minded travellers such as myself were beginning to group in a nearby hut which was built for those of us "photo-poaching" (as one Afrikaaner quite humerously told me) the gorillas. The rangers there set out coffee, which was well wanted by myself, and local fruits. Over the next fifteen minutes the small hut filled with people who were even more filled with excitement to discover the world-wonder lying in the midst of the mountains. The rangers alerted us that each group needs to consist of twelve people and that we would have a ranger with us as well. Right as they were starting to break us all into groups, Marcellus waved over to me, summoning me to trek over to him. As I approached him I could see the excitement in his eyes. He told me that one of his friends was a ranger here and that he would take us to a new gorilla family which had just recently had a child; only three days old! My group had gone from 12 other people, to Marcellus, our ranger friend, and myself.

    As we began our trial through the mountains, we were warned of the stinging nettle plants which littered the path we would be taking. Our ranger told us that we would be travelling a slightly more recently opened path so we might have to cut our way through quite a bit. Carrying his large machete he created trail after trail for us, chopping through thick vines and pushing back branches that scraped across our shoulders as we passed. For much of the trip up the mountain Marcellus and his friend spoke together in French; a language I have yet to learn. When we did speak in English, we talked about the Dian Fossey and all the work she had done for these primates. After a difficult three hour journey through the vine and thick mountain forestation our ranger stopped dead in his tracks and rose his arm straight in the air. At first I thought he was signalling for us to stop, but after a few moments I realized he was signalling the rangers who track the gorillas that we were not poachers (A "please don't shoot us!" hand motion).

    Before I realized what was happening there were nine gorillas all around me. My camera lurched out of my bag and was clicking away before my mind had time to process the situation. The gorillas were beautiful! They sat about five feet from each other, grabbing handfuls of vegetation. They could have cared less that we were there, to them I was harmless. This was exactly correct, had they wanted, any one of those primates could have expelled me from their territory with ease. As I moved through the gorillas, zig-zagging as to avoid coming closer than five feet, I noticed a mother holding a child which I was told was only three months old. Putting my camera into overtime I think I may have offended the mother. She began moving up hill and shook some tree branches at me (Alright mama, point taken, no more pictures of your baby). Moving around the tall foliage I was able to find the silverback male sitting and quietly eating his meal. He was enourmous! I myself am 6 ft tall and I could have sat five of myself on this one gorillas back. The words "Mighty Joe Young" came to mind. After his photo shoot was finished he stood up and walked past me. His shoulder brushed my chest as he moved past and a firm hand of our ranger grabbed my arm and pulled me back away from the large gorilla. The male moved down a few feet into a clearing and laid down on his back. Ill never forget how human he looked in that moment. He was laying with his feet stretched out and crossed, his left hand was stratching his chest, and his right hand was shielding his eyes from the sun. Before I knew it, the rangers told me that it was time to go. I took one last look at these giants hiding in the mountains and then returned down the mountain.

    Seeing those gorillas that day was one of the many highlights of my life. Being able to see such a majestic creature in its own habitat is something of real value. To anyone going to the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, or Congo, I urge you to make the trip up into these mountains and keep your eyes open for a life-changing experience.
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2,449 km (1,522 miles) traveled
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