Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
Our guide for the gorilla trek, Frances, tells us we will be visiting the Amohoro group of 18 (which means ‘peace’ – befitting Rwanda’s thinking for its future). The largest gorilla group, called Susa, has 35 members. There are 10 habituated groups and 4 or 5 others. The park divides visitors into groups of 8 people. We trekked with a Canadian, Australian and a Brazilian couple. To get to the trailhead, we have a 4-wheeler that goes on the worst rocky road ever with villagers everyday watching the rich parade up the volcanoes. There are 25,000 visitors a year @ $750 per person for permits. This is not counting paying porters and tips for guides and hotels, drivers, food and buying handicrafts. One has to feel good about this because it supports the economy, protects the gorillas and proves that Dian Fossey’s work and murder was not in vain. There has been no poaching for ten years.
After bumping along, we arrive at the start and hire 2 porters dressed in blue jumpsuits. They very politely introduce themselves. In true ‘You are Loved’ form, my porter is named Valentine. He was so very sweet, holding my hand on the steep ups and downs! We are given a well-worn walking stick and start!
We begin by going through fields of daisies used to make pyrethrum insect repellant. It was heavenly. Potato blossoms and children yelling “hello, hello”!
We are joined by 3 guards with guns to protect us from buffalo and the occasional elephant. But the real threats are not animal but vegetable… stinging nettles taller than me and giant thistle (along with bamboo) are the favorite foods of the gorillas. We climb for 2 hours. Our guide stops, tells us we are here, leave backpacks and get out our cameras. The first one appears. I am so overwhelmed by this experience, I start crying. To see this giant, healthy and happy, in its true environment and not trapped in a cement cage behind bars is quite stunning. Funny enough – I find myself not scared at all. They ignore us. I shot a lot of video. What did we see! A silverback pushing a tree trunk toward us to show who is boss. A mother and tiny baby frolicking in the grass. Juveniles doing the monkey thing – swinging from branch to branch. The best was a huge male and female climbing and totally debarking a tree (for lunch!)
We were 5 feet away… Just watching for the allotted one magic hour! And like Cinderella, it was over! As we were going down, a guide asked “Are you satisfied”? I answered, “A thousand times yes!!!” These gorillas represented all that is possible… Especially in contrast to the rest of Rwanda’s past.