Trekking in Rwanda Take Two

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.

Virunga cloud forest

photo credit: VB Tremper, 1995

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.

photo credit: VB Tremper, 1995

photo credit: VB Tremper, 1995

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.

Me at the end of a great trek, 1995

Me at the end of a great trek, 1995

“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?

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5 Comments

Filed under writing

5 responses to “Trekking in Rwanda Take Two

  1. Gail Aldous

    Great post! Great description! I would love to see panda bears, leopards, jaguars, tigers, snow leopards, cheetahs, African lions, elephants and mountain gorillas. Actually, it would be exciting to go on a safari! Here in the USA I would love to see mountain lions and wolves in the wild. I have see rescued Florida panthers in Florida that were beautiful and had the same mannerisms as my own cats at home. I have seen a coyote in the wild and black bears, and once I had to chase an opossum from my garage with a broom!

  2. Very exciting adventure! I had a moose wake me up once, stuck his head right in my tent. That was an adventure, but a very different kind.

  3. Catherine Johnson

    Wow, what a great story! Is there a gorilla in your day job then? 😉

  4. How cool! That would be quite the experience. I would travel all the way around the world and then some to meet a unicorn…but, uh, that may not be possible. 😉

  5. Leslie Rose

    So exotic. What an amazing experience, although gorillas freak me out.

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