Day 12 – July 19, 2017 – Volcanoes National Park

We were up at 5:15 am to get dressed and ready for our gorilla trek. It was cold, so we dressed in layers and brought gloves and a raincoat as instructed. After a long, bumpy ride higher up into the hills, we arrived at the starting point of our jungle climb. We were given walking sticks and we hired a porter to carry my backpack. This turned out to be a good idea; the climb was steeper than Kilimanjaro.

With our group of 8 plus our guide and the porters, we started the climb. The first 30 minutes or so were pretty easy, but then we entered the jungle and the climb turned very steep, dusty, rocky, slippery and difficult. The jungle looked and felt like a jungle should; huge leafy plants, large trees and vines hanging everywhere. We climbed for another 2 hours, meeting up with trackers along the way when we got close to the gorilla family we were visiting. Each group is assigned a gorilla family to visit, and thanks to the trackers who set out early in the morning, we know exactly where to find our family.

When we got close, we had to leave our packs behind with the porters, and put on our raincoats and gloves (to avoid the stinging nettles). We were now climbing through jungle that the guides had to hack their way through with a machete. It was even steeper and more difficult than before, where we were more or less still on a path. No path to follow now, we just followed the guides and helped each other up. Within a few minutes, we came right up to our first gorilla. He was sitting and eating, like a machine. Pulling down plants, ripping them out of the ground and munching on them. We were no more than 3 feet away from him, and he seemed to care not a bit that we were right in front of him. We took turns and got in front of him for pictures, and then just watched him eat. When he had eaten enough, he just rolled on his back to rest and digest. We moved on to find the next gorillas in the family.

We worked our way to a group of 3 gorillas; a mom, a young juvenile gorilla and a 6-month-old baby. This was incredible. We sat and watched this group of 3 for a long time, enjoying the adorable antics of the baby and the way he crawled all over his mother. We took tons of pictures and videos, even catching the baby smiling and sticking out its tongue. Again, we were sitting no more than 3 feet away from them. We could have stayed with this group forever, they were just remarkable to watch.

When we tore ourselves away, we went to find the silverback – the dominant male in the group, and the father of the 2 children we just saw. We found him lying on his side and resting; he was huge. One of our guides was hacking through the vines with a machete near the silverback, and suddenly he jumped up and growled through the brush at the guide. We stood still and he calmed down. I have a feeling the guide did that on purpose, to rouse him from his rest so that we could really see him. It worked because he was now sitting up and we could see his silver back clearly. This male was around 20 years old and would live to be around 40 or a little younger. The females live longer, until 48 or so, because they have less stress than the males. Similar to the elephants, young males are pushed out of the group when they reach sexual maturity so that they don’t inbreed with their sisters. They have to find a new family to join.

We continued on to watch the last member of this gorilla family. He was eating large plants, and appeared oblivious to us. After over an hour with the gorillas, watching them and taking pictures, we headed back to where our porters were with our backpacks to begin the trek back down. The downhill trek went faster, but was steep, slippery and very dusty. We were breathing in dust and our shoes were completely coated and filthy. Once we arrived back at the lodge, we had lunch, they cleaned our shoes and we headed back to the Kigali Serena for our last night. Hard to believe this adventure was over, but we ended with the most amazing adventure of all.

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