The feelings I experienced before my first gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda were a complete mixture of excitement, anticipation, and eagerness with a few nerves mixed in for good measure. With nature impossible to predict, no one can tell you how long you’re going to be out trekking to find the gorillas, so there’s always a little bit of in trepidation too!
The evening before my trek, I stayed at Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, arriving in the dark after a long day of travelling and several site inspections. Feeling refreshed, I emerged from my comfortable cottage the next morning to be greeted by the most breath-taking sunrise over the volcanoes which dominate the park and surrounding scenery. The dappled sky with rich oranges, pinks, and reds slowly turned into a beautiful clear sunny March morning. I had a good breakfast, taking in the views in front of me, gathering my thoughts for the day ahead.
We arrived at the park headquarters and our guide went to see which group we had been assigned to. The Agashya group was the chosen one and following our briefing with our National Park guide Francis, we made our friendly introductions to the other participants of the trek. The Agashya group is allegedly a nice and easy group to trek to (there are other groups that are known for being a bit more challenging and these can be requested if you are up for a bit of an adventure).
We trotted off to our vehicles to drive to the start point of our trek. We immediately noticed that we were far better prepared than the other members of the group and were dressed with all the right equipment – gaiters, long sleeved tops, trousers that will dry quickly, gardening gloves in our little daypacks, and emergency snacks! As we set off, I did quietly think to myself ‘do we really need all this equipment?’! We were also the only two members of our group to hire porters and, as it turned out, I could not have been more pleased to have my porter who helped me through the literal (and emotional) ups and downs of the trek.
Our trek started off very pleasantly, through gentle slopes, beautiful green farmland and the occasional child waving cheerily at us. We reached the park wall and officially entered the national park, starting to walk through much thicker vegetation. Our guide then announced that the gorillas had descended into a crater – my heart sank a little as that meant we were also going to descend into a crater, but it was exciting all the same. As the trekking started to become a real adventure, our gaiters, walking poles, gardening gloves and attentive porters came into their own. We slipped and slid down almost vertical slopes, our guides hacked through enormous stinging nettles and it started to pour with rain. In all honesty though, the conditions made it all the more enjoyable and thrilling! At one point, I took a little breather and looked up. We could glimpse the trackers, who stay with the gorillas from early morning through to evening, and the gorillas themselves in the distance, on the opposite side of a steep valley and this only spurred me on. All we had to do was tackle this steep valley first! Although the trekking was strenuous – we were able to take it at our own pace. There were a mix of abilities in the group and that’s why it was so helpful to have a porter. They stayed with us the whole way and they looked out for us, every time we needed a little rest or encouragement or a hand down a slippery slope, they were there to help and after three hours, we made contact!
The actual hour you spend with the gorillas is so rewarding it goes by in a flash. If you have the time (and money – the permits have recently increased to US$1,500.00 per person), doing two treks really would be worthwhile. It is breath-taking getting so close to them and to see how strikingly comparative they are to us. I have vivid memories of their human-like hands, fingers and fingernails and their thoughtful eyes staring back at us, as we curiously gazed at them. We spent some time with a mother and baby, the baby rolling around on the mother’s chest and chewing some leaves, and we were incredibly lucky to witness the large Silverback mating with one of the females. At this point it started to absolutely pour with rain again and the gorillas moved off into thicker bush. We all huddled under the bush where the gorillas had just been and as I crouched down and sheltered myself from the rain, a young American couple sat together, almost grooming each other. A large Dutch man settled into the spot where the Silverback had just been and Mary commented that it really is quite believable that we are so closely related!
After the rain eased, we continued to trek even further into the vegetation to try and catch sight of the gorillas again. At one point, there was a steep drop which took some careful negotiation and slightly nerve-wracking literal leaps of faith. As the clumsy humans faffed around trying to get themselves down this slope, a rather more graceful gorilla decided he also wanted to take the same route. Mary and I were bringing up the rear of the group and we quickly realised that we could do nothing but move out of his way and quietly watch him as he slid elegantly down the slope next to us – a gentle reminder that we were very much visitors in the gorillas natural habitat.
So much for the ‘easy group’. Our trekking was tough, but it was a fantastic and a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. We ended the day with a sense of adventure and real accomplishment and it’s a feeling I will never forget.
Rwanda is a truly beautiful country, with so much more to offer than just the gorilla trekking. Many travellers pop in to Rwanda for just a few nights, solely for the gorilla trekking only. However the endless hills, numerous other primates, lush landscapes and smiling people make it such a special place to visit for an extended trip. After our gorilla trekking, we continued to explore the rest of the country, visiting Lake Kivu, Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park which Mary has written about in her trip report.
During Fran’s visit to Rwanda, she stayed at Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Cormoran Lodge, Nyungwe Top View Hotel, Flame Tree Village and Ruzizi Tented Lodge.
She site inspected the Marriot Kigali, Radisson Blu Kigali, Hotel des Mille Collines, Kigali Serena, Amakoro Songo Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Bisate Lodge, Lake Kivu Serena Hotel, Kivu Lodge, Moriah Hill Resort and Akagera Game Lodge.