Visit the last mountain gorillas in Rwanda, their oasis
Encountering the last mountain gorillas face-to -face is one of the most memorable wildlife experiences I have ever known. Only a few hundred of these endangered giants survive divided into the more remote parts of the highlands between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although the primates live in protected national parks , the Rwanda tourist office organizes some restricted gorilla -tracking visits. I just could not miss such an opportunity ! Although the hefty fee ($ 250 plus another $ 25 to enter the park ) , it is the price of paying for ecotourism , since the revenue goes towards conservation efforts and local community projects .
As soon as possible , I went north of Kigali, the capital , are commonly used for public transport on the " Virunga express " , a service of Toyota mini-vans . The only white person in the van , squeezed in between way more passengers than the van was conceived , I spent the three-hour ride to admire the view.
Known as the "land of a thousand hills " , Rwanda is a land of subtle beauty. Even the steepest hills are terraced, with tiny plots quilting the reddish- brown earth . Shimmering eucalyptus trees lining the streets. Finally we reached the small town of Ruhengeri , above which appeared the huge mass of the Karisimbi volcano, turning blue in the late afternoon light .
The next morning, before sunrise, while the surrounding volcanoes were still veiled in a rosy mist , I shared a ride with other tourists to the Parc National des Volcans . The park was the starting point for the Dian Fossey , who told the primates studied here in the Virunga Mountains in two decades , as in her biography " Gorillas in the Mist."
At the entrance we were divided into small groups of 8 people and assigned guides. Every leader must be in contact with walkie- talkie with trackers on the slopes of the volcano , the visitors have been accustomed to the few groups of gorillas, the presence of people . We drive along pastures and fields , then into the dense rain forest. We tramped muddy paths. We clawed our way through the thicket of bamboo. We climbed over fallen tree trunks . We were sweating . Finally , after hiking more than two hours we reached a ridge . Before us lay the crater of the extinct volcano covered in thick , lush vegetation.
" The gorillas are down there ," said the guide , pointing to what looked like an impenetrable green. Working our way we came across the tracker. The family of a dozen people , after they had been just a little further on , so it was time to prepare for our meeting . Let our backpacks here . Take out only cameras flash. No clue. No shouting . No touching the animals. And our hushed group marched ahead excitedly.
All of a sudden , my first gorilla was there . Yes , right there! Only three steps ahead , just out of the way . An enormous mass of coarse black fur squat , peaceful, and her brown eyes looked in our direction. With her head to the side curiously excited , it looked like she was slightly amused. I walked right past , snapshots .
Then we saw a couple of teenagers playing in a clearing. They were instantly recognizable as youngsters by the hair stand straight up from the head, like teenagers ' brush cuts. They took each other on , rolled , shows her small Potbellies , scratched, nibbled at shoots . A small woman observed a fern leaf she had pulled , obviously considering whether to snack on .
All were totally unperturbed by their awed visitors . In fact, they clearly ignored us . For us, on the other hand, there was a moment of great intimacy with the gorillas , as if we were peeking through her living room window . Several feet away, I noticed a large black mass climbing a bamboo tube , which inevitably begun more and more until the gorilla and its perch turn both crashing to the ground .
Then a tracker pointed out the silverback , the dominant male of the group. His pointed head looked so solid that I thought I had not circled it with my arms - I had wanted to approach the huge animal. That would be unwise to have , of course , since the silverback is the leader of his group , watching over the females and juveniles in peace meetings and will defend it vigorously.
Before we knew it , our allotted hour with the gorillas was over. Still wonderstruck , we made our way down the mountain , so the gentle giants to their quiet life .