Ruhergeri and gorilla trekking

Woke before the alarm and got ready for our day of adventure ahead! We had breakfast and made a packed lunch and then set off to the gorilla research and veterinary centre. When we arrived there was a welcome of tribal dancing and music, they were brilliant. Then we had to get into groups which turned out to be a bit of a mess. I (Pheebs) had expressed concern over the altitude as I had problems with breathing in Ecuador. So, the driver tried to take me away from the group and put me with seven others who I didn’t know (without Andy). The groups could only be a maximum of 8 people you see. Of course we refused to be separated and the leaders didn’t understand why we wanted to split into a 4 and a 5 with another group. Clearly the driver had no common sense. Anyway, Chris very kindly offered to go with another group which we were all a bit guilty about but we thought of all of us she would be most OK with it. We finally met our guide Oliver who explained about the gorilla family ‘Ugenda’ we were to visit. We were then bundled into the back of the van again and headed off into the wilderness, some 40 minutes away, up the mountain. We arrived and were handed some walking sticks and offered porters which none of us felt we needed (although in retrospect perhaps it would have given them some income! I hadn’t thought about it at the time – we felt it was cheeky paying for someone to carry a small rucksack we could carry ourselves). We set off, initially through the farmland heading upwards to around 2700 meters. The going was tough and we all felt the lack of air (not just me (Pheebs)) so were puffing and panting. Luckily we had breaks and before too long we had made it to the park boundary which was basically a dry stone wall. We had expected 3-5 hours of trekking as Often and the crew had led us to believe so after just one hour we were overjoyed to hear the gorillas were only 30 minutes away. It was pretty good fun trekking through the virgin forest as we had to hack our way through bamboo corridors and giant stinging nettles. Then, miraculously, we were standing face to face with Ugenda’s second silverback, two females and a 6 month old baby. Wow! It was again humbling, strange, magnificent and nerve-wracking sitting just 3 meters away from the wild mountain gorillas of Rwanda. We could hardly believe it. We stayed there for about 20 minutes just quietly watching and taking pictures. There were not even slightly phased by our presence which felt good, and the guides made reassuring noises to calm them (the sound of scraping your throat). After some time we moved location a little to get a better view of the group of 14 in the family. The second in command was amusing himself with a young female (while the big man wasn’t looking) although the guide said she was not able to gestate yet (so it was just for fun). We continued to move around the group to find the number one silverback Ugenda. We found him but he was curled up snoozing. This was probably a blessing as at this point we were just two metres away and could literally have reached out and touched him. We completed the circle and passed by them all again after our hour was up but we were incredibly close at one stage. Sadly, we then had to leave them but I could rest assured knowing they are looked after so keenly by the researchers and trackers who spend almost their whole lives with them. We almost skipped back to the van and it was much easier on the old legs going down. As we passed the farms our guide spotted another chameleon which meant my (Pheebs) day was perfectly rounded off! Our driver then took us to some gift shops to buy some souvenirs before we were given our certificates. We headed back to the hotel and had our lunch while taking in the amazement of the morning. The rest of the afternoon involving drinking hot chocolate and eating cake, lazing around, snoozing, reading and showering. We then met the others for dinner and swapped happy stories with Chris who had a great time. Had a laugh with the crew over dinner, especially Bernard who is ridiculously funny! (We both had bad tum’s today so hope tomorrow is better!).