My experience in October 2017, by Rosie
Setting off from Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, the side of the road is a constant and colourful parade of people, carting water, moving animals, feeding children, sweeping the (dirt) gutters, picking up rubbish, buying produce, playing music…
After the horrors of the 90s, Rwanda is going places, with new industry, foreign investment and social security schemes being introduced.
This is, for the most part, due to their gorilla tourism and conservation industry.
Gorilla tourism is Rwanda’s main industry, generating $75 million in revenue between 2006 – 13. While most of this revenue is plunged in to gorilla conservation, 5% is given to communities around the country, which means all Rwandans have a reason to love these mountain creatures.
So what is it like to trek for Gorillas in Rwanda? In October, I had the privilege of escorting a small group of women to the mountains bordering Rwanda, Uganda and The Democratic Republic of Congo, in search of Gorillas.
The Volcanoes National Park is a 3 hour drive from Kigali, and by the time we arrived at our lodge, the temperature had dropped, and the thick mist had rolled in, meaning we could barely see the imposing mountains we had been driving towards all morning.
Staying at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is a treat. Aside from being luxurious, with fabulous staff, food and accommodation, it is intimate, with only a handful of guests staying at a time. You could feel the excitement and anticipation at the dinner table, as everyone in the dining room, from all corners of the globe, was here for one reason – to see the rare mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Nerves and apprehension got the better of us after dinner, and despite the allure of a nightcap by the fire in the lounge, and we turned in for an early night.
The next morning, we woke early (with a fresh pot of coffee and a bikkie brought to our room – I love Africa!), and got ready for the big trek. Hiking boots, gaters, rain coats, high energy snacks, cameras, spare batteries, the works.
We were taken to a central meeting point, where all Gorilla trekkers for the day are collected, split into small groups and matched with gorilla families. Trekkers are also matched with a local porter, who will assist you in carrying your belongings, holding your hand and giving you a ‘royal push’ if you ever need it! My porter, ‘Dieu-Donné’ lived up to his name, and truly was a gift from God in some of the tough muddy parts of the track!
Francois Bigirimana was our Guide, and he introduced himself to us by saying ‘today, you have the privilege of meeting my friends. I have known this Gorilla family for over 20 years.’ We later discovered that he was Dian Fossey’s tracker during her research in the seventies. He has lived with a Gorilla family, and communicates with them through grunts and shrieks. As he says, he ‘speaks Gorilla.’
He is certainly a character too!
We had walked, gently uphill for about 1.5 hours, when we first saw a Gorilla, just 5 metres away! I’ll never forget the feeling I had of coming across this gentle giant in the middle of the forest. Awe, reverence, wonder, and a bit of relief!
Our small group stood in a little clearing and watched the family of thirteen gorillas for one magic hour.
We had joked with Francois earlier and submitted our request to see a silverback and a baby. He did not disappoint, as this gorilla family boasted two silverbacks (including Guhonda, the largest silverback in the world, weighing 220kgs!), and no fewer than three gorilla babies!
We were privileged to have a glimpse of their daily life – children playing, older ones eating bamboo, mothers gossiping, while watching or suckling their young, and the silverback lying around, watching over his family. For a precious hour, we were transported to another world.
I’ll let the images speak for themselves. Blog continues after photo gallery.
Trekking for gorillas in Rwanda is not a cheap exercise. However, you’ll have the honour of observing these fascinating creatures’ lives in the wild, and knowing you’re assisting in the conservation of the mountain gorillas, and the livelihood of everyday Rwandans.
That evening back at the lodge, the energy was lively and infectious. Everyone had their own stories to tell about their incredible gorilla encounters, and we swapped photos and celebrated with new friends into the night.
Make it happen
• You can get to Rwanda via Johannesburg with South African Airways, or via Nairobi with Emirates or Qatar Airways
• A visa is required for Rwanda. This is obtained on arrival for $USD 30 for Australian passport holders
• Gorilla permits are extremely limited, and must be secured well in advance. These currently cost $USD 1500.00 per person, and are valid for one entry into the National Park, and one hour with the gorillas.
• A visit to see the Gorillas works really well combined with a safari in east Africa, and a few nights in Kigali
Contact Rosie for further information on gorilla tracking, and African safaris.
For short video clips of our experience with the gorillas, click here0