I was shaking with excitement and my stomach was in knots as I locked eyes with Agashya, the Silverback of Group 13. This was on the Rwandan side of the Virunga Mountains, where half of the remaining 700 mountain gorillas live. And for over an hour, we had trekked up a volcano, cautiously avoiding steep drop-offs and cutting through dense foliage with machetes, to reach them.
Although we were instructed to keep at least 7 meters away, the playful young ones made that rule impossible to follow as they kept running by our legs. Less delightful was when Agashya decided to walk right by me; I was aware he could’ve killed me with one blow. Luckily he ignored my presence like all the others and lay down before giving me a brief stare.
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Hiking Virunga Volcanic Mountains in Rwanda in search of endangered Mountain Gorillas
I spent a week in Rwanda with Terra Incognita Ecotours where we were able to trek through the Volcanic Mountains in Rwanda in search of the most endangered mammal on the planet - Mountain Gorillas! We spent two days trekking the gorillas and were able to spend time with two families - they are the most incredible species on earth, in my opinion. Terra Incognita Ecotours made sure that all of our activities were eco-friendly and that we contributed directly back to the community while we were there. We hired porters to help us during the hike, which is a lucrative paycheck for local Rwandans, who typically live on just $2 per day for an entire family. We purchased goods from local craftsmen and women and we donated to the local school children. Rwandans are some of the warmest and friendliest people on the planet and they made a huge impact on our tour group. Along with hiking to view wild Mountain Gorillas, we were able to see Golden Monkeys and we hiked for hours through the dense forest to visit Dian Fossey's grave and original campsite. If it weren't for her, Mountain Gorillas would have gone extinct decades ago. This was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience that I encourage everyone to do!
How can you really explain it? To sit on the side of a mountain as the gorilla family moves about you carrying on the business of their lives. As a kid I read about Dianne Fossey and her work with the gorillas, but never did I think I would be able to see them for myself in their home habitat. Their different personalities were so evident from the playfulness of the babies, the watchfulness of the moms, and the stature of the silverback. I did not expect them to brush me as they moved about, or to be shoved by the silverback as I wasn't able to move out of his way fast enough as he rushed by. WOW!
The trackers and rangers were so knowledgeable and with only eight visitors taken to meet a gorilla family at a time, it really maintains the intimacy of being among these soulful creatures. The travel arrangements made by Deeper Africa for this solo traveler were wonderful from start to finish and provided me with an opportunity to experience something I never though I would.
We had asked for a group of mountain gorillas "close" to the park wall since we're over 70. The guides arranged it, but no one told the gorillas so we had a 6 and a half hour hike from an elevation of 9,000 feet to over 10,000 feet. No trail, just a steep climb through the thick muddy jungle. Thankfully, we had two porters who carried our day packs and helped us on the steepest portions. It was exhausting and worth all the effort. Once in a lifetime! We spent an hour in a vine-covered crater surrounded by 14 gorillas. When the silverback appeared, I was just a bit nervous. He stared at us from 12 feet away, and I wondered if he was threatening or threatened (neither would be a good thing). No problem. He yawned, leaned back, and took a nap. Then a baby brushed my wife's boot, looked at her as if saying "aren't I cute", and somersaulted down the hill.