Gardening Gloves, Gaiters and Gorillas
03 February 2012
We’re a little bit in awe of this post by Olivia in our Africa team who recently went on the trip of a lifetime to see gorillas in Rwanda.
With the recent news that The Rwanda Development Board will be increasing gorilla permit prices from US$500 to US$750 per permit from 1st June 2012 – now is definitely the time to experience this for yourself.
We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
There is something about the gentle stare of a silverback gorilla that makes you stare back. Maybe it’s the beautiful deep amber of his eyes; maybe it’s the knowledge that is encapsulated in his gaze.
Or perhaps it’s just the fact that you are in the presence of an animal that, while being three times the weight of an average man, is happy simply to sit and regard you with a curious expression whilst greedily munching on the surrounding vegetation.
We were in the mountains of Rwanda, having trekked through farmland, boggy bamboo forests, and literally dragged ourselves up steep and slippery slopes, our hands protected by gardening gloves and our legs by gaiters. We were hot, exhausted and more than a little muddy. But all that melted away when we saw our first gorilla emerge from the ferns. Almost hidden in the lush, tropical greenness of the undergrowth, a fluffy black head with an impossibly shiny nose presented itself. And those eyes! I swear all our hearts stopped for a moment. The gorilla – a young female – was gloriously unperturbed by our presence, continuing to strip the leaves from thistles and feed on them. Before we knew it she had moved on uphill in search for more! Our guide explained that gorillas feed almost constantly, and with ruthless efficiency – and he wasn’t exaggerating!
We slowly followed the group, a large family with four females, lots of youngsters and of course the Daddy of them all, the Silverback. Majestic and commanding, he sat a little further up the hill, benignly watching over his large family while dextrously stripping the tastiest leaves from the thistles and nettles around us. For the silverbacks, ten kilos of vegetation makes for a tasty little snack, and they will soon return for more.
When walking with the gorillas, we were given a detailed safety briefing, and told not to get closer than five meters from the gorillas when we found them. We soon discovered that gorillas do not subscribe to guidelines. In fact, they ignore them completely. From the gorilla youngsters who scrambled and tumbled through the undergrowth, jostling us gently, to the adults who walked past within inches, pausing to regard us before continuing on their ambling way, we were mesmerized.
Spending an hour with mountain gorillas is almost a spiritual experience; you leave humbled, moved and spurred on to do something to help preserve their habitat, their very existence.
Our trip to Rwanda encompassed more than the gorillas though; another early walk took us into the beautiful bamboo forests at the foot of the volcano: home to troops of Golden monkeys, their shrill communication calls echoing through the tree canopy.
We had walked through bright emerald green tea plantations, stretching for miles and miles and resplendent in the morning mist, before slipping into the shadows of the forest not long after sunrise.
The Golden monkeys were surprisingly energetic and playfully performed for us as they swung from branch to branch, darting through the high branches as if playing hide and seek with one another.
Rwanda is a land of contrasts; previously known only for the terrible events of 1994, the country is now flourishing. The streets are clean and tidy; the people are friendly and the impression is one of business as usual. There is a ban on plastic bags in all forms, a blight in so many African countries – on arrival at the airport my duty-free bag was pounced upon and confiscated! We should really follow suit! On our trips through the country we passed colorful markets dotted along the road, clothes draped over fences, all for sale.
The ubiquitous Rwandan cattle, with their phenomenally large ivory-colored horns and auburn coats, wandered amongst the market-stalls. In one town we were told sternly not to pass a thin strip of plastic tape, draped rather forlornly from metal poles and weaving its way through a shanty town; this turned out to be the Congolese border!
On our last day en route to the airport, sad to be leaving ‘the land of a thousand hills’ behind, our guide pointed up and we all turned to look. On top of the sign for the airport, resplendent with a superb quiff, a long-crested eagle looked down at us.
One of the rarer birds in Rwanda, and a ‘crippler’ to many birdwatchers, he regarded us with a beady eye before spreading his wings and taking off in the direction of the misty forests – an eerily good luck sign amongst the superstitious – and the perfect ending my Rwandan adventure!