We went to see the gorillas this morning. On strong recommendation from Julian, we picked the Susa gorilla family, which is the biggest but also the least accessible. It is also the same group studied by Diane Fossey during her time in Rwanda.
After more than an hour’s drive, partly on terribly rocky dirt roads that posed some real danger to the breakfast in our stomachs, we finally started our trek. The beginning of the path led us through a serene bamboo forest. Further up, we had to walk through thick stinging nettles and other scrub.
Then the walking path stopped, and the tracker (who had tracked down the exact location of the Susa family for us early morning) was using a massive machete to clear a path for us. At times we walked through scarily steep and unstable ground, every step a potential stumble or fall into a hole underneath the cut scrub and twigs. After over two hours of walking uphill, we finally spotted the gorillas.
Our guide had briefed us that we shouldn’t go closer than seven meters to the gorillas, but those beauties didn’t care. We watched them close-up from only two meters’ distance most times. At times, they got up and walked right up to us, touchingly close. Then the guide advised us how to move in order not to block their path and cause any danger.
In no case, we were advised to run away, because then the gorillas would come chasing after us. Our highlight was when one of the silverbacks got up, stopped amidst our group, less than 2 meters from me, and beat his chest—so cliché but seems they actually do that! My heart rate surely spiked in that second, and I just hoped the silverback wouldn’t jump on me.
However, as already warned by our guide, they just beat their chests to show off but mean no harm. Indeed, once the silverback was done with his little show-off, he just kept walking past me, touchingly close.
We were advised that we would be allowed to spend only one hour with the gorillas (the most expensive hour of my entire life—the trek costs USD750!), but our guide gave us extra time. All in all, we spent almost two hours with various members of the Susa gorilla family—including silverback three, two and even number one (who our guide finally managed to track down for us), as well as heaps of females and even some babies. What a unique and truly memorable experience!
On the way down, it rained heavily, and almost all of us slipped at times and landed in the mud. Our shoes and clothes were a total mess. However, the trek was definitely worthwhile, and we were all excited to have made the effort to see the Susa family.
Seeing the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat so close-up was definitely one of the highlights of our tour—if not one of my entire travelling history to date.
Thanks to Julian for making us see the Susa family, and thanks to Kim for organizing the transport!!!
Stage: Kinigi (Rwanda)
Partly sunny, partly overcast in the morning. It started raining heavily as soon as we finished our gorilla viewing and started to descend back down. What a muddy trek! Most of us slipped and fell at least once. Our shoes and clothes were totally destroyed. Sorry for the driver—we’ve sure been messing up his car!