Thursday 14 November 2019
Today is the main highlight of the week – gorilla trekking. We’ve been told over and over how difficult it is going to be. I’m so nervous that I didn’t sleep after 3.30am.
We had to be up and leave at 7am. There was a meeting at the park headquarters at 8am for a briefing.
The briefing was in a small stone hut, in the middle of the forest. And completely pointless – all they told us was about the other tours that are offered. Nothing about the gorilla trek or rules around it!
But we were given our groups. There are 1000 mountain gorilla left. They can only live in the wild and do not survive in zoos. The gorilla in zoos are lowland gorillas. In this area of the park there are 7 families, each of around 10 members each. Only 8 people are allowed to visit each gorilla family and you get to stay with them for 1 hour.
As our group was 11, we were split into two groups. I was in a group of 4 from our group and 4 other Italian people joined us. We also had 2 armed guards and were advised to hire a porter each.
The porters are from local villages and on a rota such that they will work about twice per month. They help with carrying bags and helping you up the steep slippery, muddy slopes. They cost $15 each.
My walk didn’t start at the main park entrance. We had to drive about half an hour to another village, then we started from there.
The villages are Pygmy people. These people lived in the forest before conservation efforts of the gorillas began, then the people were rehomed and given land around the forest.
It had been raining earlier in the morning and so was already slippery – just a mud path through the town, winding around the side of a hill.
After about half an hour, we reached the edge of the forest. This started off ok – flat (but very muddy path). Again for about half an hour. But then we started the climb upwards. Up the mountain. Across slippery muddy ground, climbing over tree roots and vines. Pushing through branches and bushes.
The trackers infront had already ‘cleared’ a ‘path’. But it was far from – we were literally climbing through the forest. It wasn’t hard in the sense that you needed to be that fit – I wasn’t puffed out, but it was an effort to clamber through.
After about an hour, we were there! The trackers head into the forest early in the morning to find where the gorillas have made their nest from the previous nights sleep, then follow the new tracks and broken bushes to find them. Then stay with them until we arrive.
We had a family of 10. There were 7 around – but I only saw 5 of them. A silverback (the oldest male), a female, another female with a 4 month old baby (the youngest in this area of the forest) and a 3 year old male.
It was cramped. We were perched on a hill of mud, surrounded by trees and vines. Of course I fell and ended up with a branch in my leg.
We were so close. They didn’t care. They just carried on laying around. The young male picking through the fur of the silverback. The silverback yawning every now and then. And the baby playing – although hiding in the trees so I couldn’t see very well.
An hour zoomed by. And it was time to leave. It took around 2 hours on the way back. And it rained the whole way. I slid far too many times. Covered in wet mud.
By the time we got back it was 2pm and we had been going for just over 5 hours.
There were little craft shops in the village – I bought a gorilla carved walking stick!
Then back to our lodge – and I barely moved for the rest of the afternoon!
Around 6pm, the local villagers come up to the lodge to sing and dance. It’s rather awkward – they are clearly poor. They have no running water, no electricity. And we are staying in a fairly expensive lodge, paying a lot of money to see gorillas. And they are asking us for money.
Dinner tonight was good. They made me a whole massive plate of vegan food! Lentils, chickpeas and rice. There was nothing wrong with the normal buffet, but was nice of them!