Travelogues: Visiting Africa’s Mountain Gorillas

When I was almost 16; I saw an article about the incredible rare mountain gorillas of central and East Africa. It’s something that stuck in my little brain, and later when I was thinking about exploring more of Africa in my vacation year, I contemplated and finally decided to go gorilla trekking and meet these amazing rare great Apes.

When finally the jungle my day of trekking started as early as 6:00am local time with a hearty breakfast because by 7:00am sharp along with my packed lunch I needed to be at the HQ of the Parc National des Volcans in Ruhengeri currently called Kinigi for briefing (A place where Dian Fossey worked and the setting for the film Gorillas in the Mist was done), and we were separated into ten groups of eight trekkers each.

Each trekking group of visitors was assigned a guide and potters to trek a gorilla family group and lead into the thick forest. The mountain I climbed formed the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda, and we were told the gorilla group had been spotted at 3000m. We started hiking through the jungle that contains the mud, the mist and this gave us quite an interesting experience.

At  about three hours of the trek, we found ourselves over 9,000m above sea level, sweaty, out of breath and having been scratched to pieces by the vegetation,  put your bags down, “our guide told us quietly” get out your cameras and be very quiet – a gorilla had been spotted! Looking up the steep slope, we could see the dark shape of a juvenile in a tree.

Getting closer slowly, our guide started making ‘soothing gorilla noises’ (or grunting loudly)! I was thrilled to see the dominant male and also the leader of the group, the Silverback, appeared to take exception to our presence, and started pounding his chest and roaring. Good enough we had been told to stand our ground- that he would do this to intimidate us, just to prove he was bigger and owned the territory, I wasn’t arguing with him — and then shortly he settle down.

Shortly after he had relaxed, a female emerged from the nearby bush behind us, and walked back to the group, brushing past the backs of our legs. Among the rules of the park authorities is that visitors may get no closer than seven meters to the gorillas – which brush past my trouser leg will stay in my mind as one of the most amazing experiences of my life and proud to be part of this Rwanda gorilla tour.

We enjoyed the next hour passed far too quickly – taking pictures (no flash, it apparently aggravates the animals) and just watching the children play in the tree branches. However they look intelligent, they care for their young, always pull them back whenever go too far or too close to spectators and I feel incredibly privileged to have spent that hour with these amazing Africa’s gentle giants. Standing before them makes one forget all the hassles encountered on your way up the mountain. Wow gorilla safaris into the jungle are exceptional.

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