Up and in our jeeps at 6:30am. We drove to the gorilla meeting place. They allow 80 people per day to trek to the 10 different gorilla troups. Our group split up into a short and medium trek grouping...I am in the medium. The rest of my group are seasoned hikers...I am the virgin...but I know they will help me (well pretty sure anyhow).
The trackers talk first and discuss where the gorillas have been spotted. The our guides try to get their group the type of trek they have required. Then we get in the jeeps and drive to a parking area nearer to where we are going.
Okay...never think 'these are the bumpiest roads" like I did in the Mara because there are bumpier ones..and we were on some today. They are all jagged rocks and once I was thrown against the window...now that is bumpy, but I won't say that they are the bumpiest, as there is still tomorrow! However, I feel a little sheepish as I was getting tossed about, I saw people in very thin (or no)shoes walking along these 'roads' carrying things, and some were even riding their bikes...I am a Muzungo (white person).
We got to the lot and met up with our trackers. We had two guides and then we each had a porter to carry our bags. It is not that we couldn't carry them but when we pay the porters, it provides a job for them, so it is a courtesy and as I discovered a very great help on some parts of the trail.We each received a walking stick and we headed off through fields of potatoes, Phytheum(used for insecticides, cattle, goats,people and their farms, and again many children with smiles and waving. My heart was a little sad at the clothing and lack of shoes, but their joy and beautiful smiles was a joy.
After 40 minutes, we reached the stone wall that marks the perimeter of the National Park. Then after further instructions we went into the rain forest. There were bamboo, and eucalyptus trees as well as pine and many thick shrubs and hanging vines...a little different than the Rainforest Cafe restaurant...there were also stinging nettles and red ants. We saw elephant and Cape buffalo dung...how those large animals can squeeze between these trees is beyond me. it was very narrow in places.It was quite a climb up, but we were rewarded with beautiful panoramic views. Then we started our descent into the valley. I actually found this trickier on the footing than the climb up.
After an hour and a half we reached our gorilla troup Amohoro (means peace). We left our sticks and backpacks with the porters (I left John, my porter with some life savers to share) and in we went.I spotted one gorilla obscured by the trees on my right and then around the next corner was the head silverback, Umbuwe (which means Unity). He is 26 years old and even though there are 3 other silverbacks in this group he is the head. He will only lose this position upon his death..he cannot be challenged. There was a 3 year old with the silverback and he loved the attention. He was swinging aound and putting on quite a show. He almost grabbed my hand but the guides do a grunting sound that tells the youngster 'no'. The guides also make a low grunting sound and the gorillas do too, and that means everything is good.We continued on and saw more babies and silverbacks. There are 18 members in this troup.They eat 15% of their body weight a day and when they eat the bamboo shoots it is like gorilla beer and they get more playful when they consume this. There was one smaller gorilla playing with one about 3 times it's size and they were ro;lling and tumbling, grabbing each other by the top of the head and they were covered in leaves. The smaller one did a spinnerama discus type move everytime he approached the other to play. They made us laugh. They really seemed oblivious to us, but once in awhile would look up at us. If you are in their path they will just use their arms to push you out of the way...it is a playful gesture. There was some chest thumping and facial expressions that showed their loving and playful character.
The sheer size of the silverback was astounding and even though we were told to stay 7 meters way, we tried to obey, but the gorillas definitely had not received the memo...were sometimes less than a meter away! The hour went by so quickly and then we had to head back. One mini fall a few stings from the nettles and we were back in our vans. We finally got back around 2:30, tired and in awe of the experience we had just shared. What a gift.