December 31st, 2005 – by: tj1777
The forrest at Park National des Volcanos
I went travelling around Lake Victoria in East Africa one main site on this tour would be to see gorillas in Rwanda. My knowledge of the country before hand was very limited - basically I knew it used to be a Belgian colony in the old days but mainly what I knew was about the genocide in the mid 90th. This is also what everybody else knows about the country, hence most my friends thought going there were slightly mad. But that kind of details never stops me from going anywhere.
We got to Rwanda on the 30th. December and coming there was a bit of a surprise the country got better roads than almost anywhere else in East Africa - apparently a lot of European countries feel a bit guilty about what happened in the 90th.
and put a lot of development help in there. The countryside was very green and fertile because of a lot of volcanic soil all over the place. So the drive through the country was very scenic compared to parts of Uganda and Kenya.
A place where you could actually see several meters ahead.
We were staying at a mission in what I thought would be a small village Ruhegeri apparently it was actually quit big and when we arrived there were an election for head of the local church going on. Staying at a mission in East Africa during a church election is not something I can recommend it involves the mission being fully booked - hence instead of staying in a room with a bed and lights we ended up camping. Ok we were on a camping tour so this was not really uncommon for us and equipped with swag and a mossy net it seem an attractive option.
My very first gorilla - it is still far away. But at this stage I did not realize how close we would get later.
But the election of the head of a church in Rwanda can not really be compared with an election for the Church's of Denmark. Those elections is actually only held in about 10 percent in the parishes in the rest the seats are allocated without elections and in those parish which actually are having an election only 10 to 20 percent go out and vote. In Rwanda the process is a bit different it involves 5000 people coming to getter with drums being play at knight. This seem really interesting at first - of course having to get up at 5 the next morning to go gorilla hiking you would want some sleep but the drums went on for quite a while.
Finally the drumming stop for the night and we all went to sleep supposedly until 5 the next morning.
But the next morning the drumming started again - at 4 - no more sleep that night. After another hour of turning and twisting and being annoyed with drums it was time to get up and have breakfast and go to the national park to see the gorillas.
In the beging the exitement meant lots of heads, arms and legs in everybodys photos.
The trip there went on some off the roads in Rwanda which had not yet received any development aid and where quiet bumpy. At the visitor centre you could choose between different groups of gorillas you wanted to visit. I join those going to the high group of gorillas which is the biggest of the gorilla families and the group Dian Fossy originally observed.
The trek up there involved a very quick trip up hill through some potato fields.
The local guides were very fit and used to the trip - for the rest of us who in the last 2 weeks were not quite as fit - most of us had only had drinking as our main physical activity during those 2 weeks. With the addition of a bit of altitude (2500 meters) all of us struggled getting up the hill. I desperately needed a rest but would not be the one to call for it - luckily we had a smoker in the group and he finally had to stop and rest - the rest of us were pleased with that so we could catch our breath again. The guides on the other hand wanted to push on because the gorillas would be getting further away while we had our rest.
The big silverback the leader of the group.
Hence we pushed on leaving the potato fields and entering the forest. After getting to the forest we could relax a bit. The forest was so dense that our guide could not keep up the pace.
That forest were noting like anything else I have ever seen.
Its not jungle and there are not a lot of tall trees but a lot of 2-3 meters really dense vegetation. Walking along through the forest is a special experience given you can feel your feeds are not really touching the ground they are somewhat lifted away on scrubs that has been trampled down by the ones in front of you. We walked through the forest for about an hour being completely disorientated in process. The guides were starting to talk with two trekkers we apparently had in front of us. We had to be getting close to the gorillas - but still no sight of them.
Baby gorilla on a tree.
Then finally in the distance there they were 2 gorillas up in a tree - the reason I had come all the way to Rwanda.
Already exited it was time to get closer - in the begging the gorillas were on the move and we could not get really close. But then they started to settle down - the grownups eating and relaxing the youngsters playing around. Then we could get closer - the rule is you are not aloud to get closer than 7 meters from the gorillas. Off course none of us had a measuring tape so we could not tell for sure whether or not we got closer than seven meters - but an arms length - that's about 7 meters I guess.
Finally we got really close. Standing less than 2 meters from the big silverback leader of the entire group off 39 gorillas - that was amazing. Definitely my favoured animal moment ever. Just seeing him lying down with his offspring playing around on top of him that was worth the entire days trek - and made the whole trip just seem unforgettable.
After one hour we were supposed to return - but our guide were not really in a hurry so we stayed a bit longer. Still it felt way to short when we had to leave the gorillas to return down the hill and drive back to the mission.
At the mission it was time to relax we were supposed to have rooms available for the night - but the cleaners were working on African times hence the rooms were not ready hence there would be no afternoon nap after the trek. We had to stay up chatting and enjoying a couple of cold beers before diner.
When it was time for diner everybody could feel it had been a long day and people started to fall halfway asleep on top of there diner plates. At 8.30 in the evening the first had to surrender and go to bed. But the rest of us were determined after all it was New Years Eve we could simply not go to bed before midnight.
It was about time to get to the only nightclub in town. We arrived at paid an extraordinary entrance fee of no less than 1000 about 2$ and beers 870ml. cost no less than 4$, The place were virtually empty when we arrived but in the next couple of hours the local started to arrive - being very friendly chatting to the strange foreigners. One big surprise of the place where a complete ban of smoking inside - you had to step outside to smoke. I would not have expected an African country to be that progressive on smoking laws but they were.
As time passed on the music were playing out loud and the Africans - were starting to hit the dance floor going absolutely mad out there. We were taken part and watching from the sideline falling asleep which when you think about it is somewhat of an achievement considering the volume of the music - but after getting up at 4 and going gorilla hiking during the day everybody were mentally and physically drain. The party just kept going in the club and suddenly we looked at the watch and each other - it was 10 minutes past 12 - The New Year had come without anything happening. We all which each other happy new year had the rest of our beers and then it was a mutual understanding it was time to get back to the mission and go to bed. Back at the mission we all went straight to bed and it took only seconds before I fell asleep. This was a very different new years eve but perhaps also the most memorable New Year I have ever had - not for the usual parties but for the general experience of the day.