Africa – Trekking for Mountain gorillas

The alarm went off and I jumped out of bed… it’s gorilla day! I was excited! Seeing gorillas in their natural habitat has been a life long dream and I was so unbelievably excited that today was going to be the day!

We met the Senior Guide at the entrance to the park for the compulsory briefing to explain the day and advise us who our guide was and where we were going. It was a pretty relaxed briefing but only increased my excitement. We met our guide who told us we’d be visiting the Mubare¬†¬†Mountain Gorilla family, which consisted of 14 individuals including a reasonably friendly Silverback gorilla (called Kanyonyi) and a few babies and young gorillas.

We opted to each get a porter to carry our backpacks and this was a fantastic investment, not only did it help us out with the steep walk but it is recommended as it helps out the locals who are employed on average one day a month to be a porter, more during the peak times. For $15 USD plus any tips at the end, I highly encourage you to do this.

We set out walking through some of the villages before starting to head up the steep mountain in our search of the gorillas…

The humidity was pretty overbearing but it was the wet season after all. Plenty of short breaks and drinks of water helped keep us going, but it was the exciting experience waiting for us at the end that spurred us on. After around 45 minutes of walking we came across the first sign of gorillas… Poo! Our guide informed us that it was a day old and that the gorillas had passed through the area the day before, but still it was an exciting sign that indicated we were getting close.

Gorillas can travel about 10km per day, depending on how long they stop and feed, generally they move through the day while feeding and find a spot late afternoon to sleep for the night.

After around an hour of walking along a trail up steep mountain side, we headed off the track and began walking though the jungle with our guard and guide helping us by clearing some of the vegetation we were walking through with a machete. Dodging steep drop offs, slippery rocks, vines with thorns and thick stinging nettles with moderate success only helped us to appreciate what these guides, porters and guards do each day.

We heard how some people have trekked all day from 8am and didn’t get back until 10pm at night and how some people had trekked all day without seeing the gorillas, however, with the earlier signs of gorilla poo, we were confident that we’d see them eventually.

1610931_10153326610029493_5166269474796108811_nAfter an hour and a half we met up with the trackers who had been out since daybreak searching for the gorillas to help us have the experience we were after.

A few signs of forest elephants having been in the area recently left me feeling excited but also a bit nervous, knowing how aggressive the elephants can be.

Another 15 minutes of trekking through the thick forest and there it was… Our first gorilla sighting… a mum and baby sitting up in a tree feeding, they gave us a quick glance and kept on feasting away on the tree they were in. After taking a few photos we stood there in awe of these incredible animals at peace in their natural habitat.

We were so intent on watching the mum and baby that we almost didn’t notice just over the ledge we were standing at (and only 10 metres away) was the big male silverback gorilla! It was huge, seeing the size of its head was incredible.

Before we knew it, there were around 8 gorillas around us, feeding, resting and playing like we weren’t even there.

A bit of commotion from another couple of gorillas further through the forest caused the male silverback give a huge deep grunt before running towards where the commotion was coming from. It’s the male job to keep the family harmonious and clearly he was taking his role seriously!

Over the next hour we photographed, took videos and watched and observed these giants as they carried out their daily activities.

Although at times the gorillas were hidden amongst the thick forest with minimal light, we were fortunate enough to see all 14 family members from the Mubare family during the time we were there.

My excitement of what I had just witness was like nothing I had experienced… Sometimes when you have things that you have dreamed about for a long time and you’ve built it up in your head you can be left disappointed, however, I walked away today with a huge smile on my face and an even greater respect for these beautiful animals, having just experienced something that far exceeded my expectation.

The walk back through the forest and down the mountain was at times quite difficult, however, we all chatted most of the way down the mountain about this incredible experience and about the characteristics of each of the family members.

We returned back to the village and met our vehicle to take us back for our final farewells.

After a huge thankyou and farewell to our fantastic porters, Jeremiah and Jennifer (we highly recommend giving the porters an extra tip on top of the $15USD for the amazing job they do), we had a final debrief from our guide Rita who also presented us with a gorilla trekking certificate.

We talked about the day and shared a few laughs about a few of the funny moments that we had shared together during the trek.

That was it, our gorilla trek was over, but we had just created an amazing memory that will last us a lifetime!

So to Kanyonyi, Kyirinvi, Malaika, Kisho, Twesiima, Kikombe, Karungyi, Bugyenyi, Mitunu, Nyampazi and babies… Thankyou! I’ll never forget you all!