I’ve had a lot going on with my day job, which isn’t going to let up until June (but there is an end!), and I have some freelance projects due. So, when something has to give, it’s the blog. I will have some posts throughout May, but I may not get to leave comments for you in return. I will be back eventually – I promise.
My intensive project at work has made me reminisce about Rwanda, so here’s a post from August 2009 which is based on one of my happiest memories in Rwanda.
It all starts by climbing through cold, misty potato fields in the early morning toward a thick bamboo forest.
Scrambling across slippery nettles, I accidentally touch a leathery leaf and get stung. I climb farther between massive, moss-covered East African rosewood trees (hagenia) with reddish bark and a wide canopy of foliage that blocks out the sun.
I am in the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda, a central African country smaller than the state of Maryland. And I am about to meet the inhabitants of the park’s rainforest.
For an hour or so (it may even take as long as four hours) my Rwandan guide, fellow trekkers, and I follow nests made with nearby vegetation, such as hagenia branches and bamboo leaves. The damp earth smells spicy from nettles and leaves. Eventually our guide will point out the nests constructed just the night before. That means we’re getting closer.
The forest is so dense that I can’t see very far in any direction. I can’t see the town of Ruhengeri below. I can’t see the six volcanoes of the Virunga chain that make up the national park. And I can no longer see the potato fields that I walked through earlier.
Then I hear twigs snapping and leaf-munching. Right in front of me is black fur, long arms reaching to the ground, and an expressive, almost human face. I’m looking at a mountain gorilla, an endangered species of great ape.
I hear more noises to my right and realize that there is a whole family of gorillas within feet of me. This particular family includes about ten individuals, and is led by one dominant male gorilla, called a silverback because of the silver streak on his back.
The silverback gorilla watches me.
“Don’t get him angry!” the guide says. “He is the defender of the family and will roar and beat his chest, and possibly charge at you if he finds you threatening.”
“I thought gorillas are very tolerant of people,” I say.
“Sure, just don’t look him in the eye, and move slowly and carefully. Don’t give him any reason to get mad.”
Too quickly my hour with the great apes is up and I must leave the forest. Sliding back down the mountain through the cloud forest, fragrant bamboo trees, and potato fields, I smile. I may be sweaty and aching, but I will never forget the trek that brought me face to face with a mountain gorilla.
What animal would you travel halfway around the world (or farther!) to visit?