My dear husband just got back from his trip to the jungles of Africa and he has agreed to do a guest post for my blog. Here is his travelogue in three parts – this is Part 2 of 3. Read Part 1 here which covers how an unlikely group of three “in-laws” decided to go to Rwanda and covers their trip to Akagera National Park.
Mountain Gorilla Trek
Evidently everyone had slept well the night before after the long day in Akagera chasing the wildlife on a bumpy ride – my father-in-law (AM) and his brother-in-law (RNS) looked all ready for the highlight of the tour.
We started off after an early breakfast for the park headquarters a short drive away. Once there, our guide Enos from the tour company collected our passports to get our gorilla permits and our group allocation. RNS only started breathing again when he got is passport back.
We had reserved our permits through the tour company some 8 months in advance of our trek. Although each daily permit is quite expensive at USD 750/person, there is heavy demand for it. There are only 80 permits given per day and name on the permit needs to match that on the passport. The tourists are allocated to various mountain gorilla families – 8 tourists maximum to each family, either randomly or depending on preference mentioned for easy, medium or difficult treks.
Since AM wanted an easy trek we got allocated to a family which was supposedly located closeby that day. It was the Ntambara family for us – a family with one Silverback (alpha male and head of family) and around 9-10 other members including 1-2 little ones.
After patiently listening to a briefing by our guide Patience at park HQ we were off again in our own vehicles to a specific start point. The last 500 metres to the start point was an intense session of “African massage” – the 4WD just trundled through rocks then, with us getting well shaken up inside the car.
The start point was a village where we got a porter to help AM during the hike and to carry his backpack and RNS got one. We were given walking sticks which were beautifully carved on a single piece of wood – I bought mine at the end of the trek and brought it back as a souvenir.
Amongst the three of us, RNS aged 60, who incidentally has Type 2 diabetes but doesn’t need any insulin or other medication, was the fittest. He was off to a flying start at the beginning of the trek when I (in mid-30s) was still acclimatizing with walking uphill at a higher than normal altitude. It took me a good 5-10 minutes to get used to the thin air and lack of humidity and after that it was an easy trek up the mountain especially because the guide allowed us a lot of rest. AM, aged 62, had a difficult time, but helped by his porter, by the welcome rest breaks and by his own will, he made it ok. It was a 1.5 hour climb with the breaks. There were two other ladies in the 60-69 age bracket and one of them had broken an arm and had it in a plaster cast. It was the 2nd day of tracking for both of them and they did very well.
After the 1.5 hour climb, we had to leave everything (backpacks, water bottles, walking sticks, etc) except camera and wallet with our porters. A few metres up, we met with the tracker and ranger who had been up in the mountains since early morning following the family.
And then we came upon a juvenile male gorilla who was keeping a close watch as we advanced. The gorilla was all black – so black that there was hardly any contrast between the fur and the face. It was difficult to use auto-focus and take photos!
A few more metres up and we came to a small clearing where the Silverback was taking a nap along with a female gorilla. It was clearly their nap time after what must have been a hearty breakfast of leaves and branches and other raw vegetarian delicacies. We made a quarter-circle around the dozing couple and the cameras started going off clicking relentlessly. Our guide Patience also started making some odd throaty noises which he said was gorilla-speak. Due to this, first the female gorilla was up, and then gradually the Silverback got up and sat dazed for a while.
These beings share 98% of our DNA – so clearly, they are like humans in a lot of ways. One of them is the uneasiness of being stared at by 8 strangers making a continuous and odd tschick-tschik-tschik noises with their odd looking cameras. Even though these 10 families have been habituated with humans for one hour every day, still, this daily routine of being stared at and photographed must be a pain for even the most seasoned of gorillas. The Silverback finally got fed up and did something which apparently only happens a few times in front of tourists – he got up, stretched out full length, beat his chest to let out a quick, low bass, hollow dum-dum-dum-dum beat and then ran 5 metres away from the gawking horde breaking off branches like they were twigs and then sat down next to another female gorilla. All of that was over in 5 seconds so I couldn’t capture any of it in my camera.
There wasn’t much activity shown by the group after that. Only one hour is allowed with the gorilla family – beyond this they become irritated, and this was up quite quickly. We started back down and got to the start point in half hour.
I have read in a lot of reviews that meeting a gorilla for the first time can be a life changing experience but sadly it wasn’t so in my case. But I enjoyed seeing these beautiful creatures in their habitat and also loved the trek through the dense jungles of Africa which are so alluring on their own.
This is a logical place to break for the last post – Part 3, so I will write about the Golden Monkey Trek, Conservation and Some Notes on Rwanda in Part 3 which will be put up on Saturday 22nd October 2016.