A close encounter with mountain gorillas – Meet the Hirwa family
After a night in Kigali at the very comfortable Serena Hotel and a more than touching visit to the Genocide museum I left the city behind and headed to the Parc National des Volcans in the north-east corner of the country. The drive only takes 2 hrs 30 min and is a brilliant opportunity for our driver-guide to introduce Rwanda.
It’s easy to see why Rwanda is called the “Land of the Thousand Hills”.
The next day we made our way to the Parc National des Volcans (PNV)’s headquarter and the excitement was certainly increasing by the minute. There is a lovely atmosphere at the Headquarter…everybody is all kitted out with walking equipment & quietly excited by what the day ahead is about to bring …
After a quick cup of tea we meet our guides who gave us a brief on the gorilla group we were about to track. Meet the Hirwa family!
After a short drive to our trek starting point we met our porters and accompanied by our guides we were ready to go. The porters will carry your backpack and any other equipment for a small fee (usually around USD10 per porter). I found my porter’s help invaluable, holding my hand at time, giving a bit of a push at other times etc…and it also is very beneficial to support the porters who are former poachers and prevent more poaching.
The first part of the walk took us through a forest of eucalyptus trees, we then walked past potato crops and met a group of children collecting twigs who were very keen to practice their English. We all found ourselves a little of out of breath but the regular stops that we made for our guides to brief us on the gorillas and what to do/what not to do quickly helped us to adjust to the altitude. In no time we got used to the pace and to the altitude.
We reached the buffalo wall which is there to keep cattle and people away from the parc and we entered the parc through a hole in the wall.
We trekked for an hour and a half through the thick bamboo forest and lush vegetation. When we saw the trackers we realised that the gorillas were near. And we found them…
Very naively for some reason I expected them to be sitting nicely in a circle in a clearing whilst we observe them…well my experience was very different and a million times better. The group was in the thick bush flattening the bushes as they walked on them. Because of their location we couldn’t keep to the recommended 7 meter distance between them and us and they were at the most a few meters away from us. My heart was beating fast but they are so fascinating that I couldn’t keep my eyes off them. This showy, entertaining and very active group was unphased by our presence and went on conducting their daily tasks – grooming each other, pushing and having a play, eating fresh young shoots… the twins were enjoying rolly – pollies exactly in the same way that my 3 year-old does! One of the twins treated us to a fine beating of the chest…One of juveniles was also balancing on a very tall bamboo shoot above our heads and the creaking sounds of the bamboo bending under his weight made the whole experience even more atmospheric!
The hour spent with the gorillas was utterly overwhelming and went in a flash. It was an extraordinary privilege to be able to observe them in the wild in their habitat.
Gorilla trekking is one the best wildlife experiences if not the best wildlife experience. It is a deeply touching and exhilarating experience and few of us in the group were nearly in tears! I loved every second from being able to scrunatise their leathery fingers to feeling hair raising at the back of my neck when the silverback made his entrance.