The Gorillas of Virunga

May 5, 2010

Moved.

I am moved to tears.

Today, we saw the gorillas. In the wild. No enclosures, glass, walls or cages. Just the gorillas in their natural habitat. Just the gorillas…and us.

We awoke for breakfast at 6am, then set about preparing for our hike. Long hiking pants, trail shoes, gaiters (to protect from the stinging nettles and ants), light hiking shirt, rain jacket, hat, and camera. Our guide John sat us down beforehand to fill out the trek log and to give us our initial briefing. We learned about the gorilla group we were going to visit, the rules of Virunga National Park, the regulations of visiting the gorillas (masks, keeping a certain distance, what to do if a gorilla charges, etc.), and any other pertinent information.

Then, we began.

John said the hike should be about an hour – shorter than I had originally thought. Our group consisted of our guide John, our porter/bushwacker, an extra guard armed with a rifle, Kyle and me. Seemed like the perfect tour size to me. 🙂

 

The hike through the jungle was exciting and incredible lush and beautiful. We followed a well-worn path, taking various forks. We traveled at a quick pace, over fallen trees and angry ants, past clumps of bamboo and brightly-colored orchids. Up and up into the mountainous jungle, through the mud and muck. Closer and closer to the gorillas.

John begins pointing out signs of the group: broken bamboo they have pulled down and peeled apart, beds made atop the leafy branches of trees, huge fly-covered gorilla poop the size of grapefruits. Oh my! That came from a very large animal!

We’re getting close.

John says he can hear them. I strain to listen, but hear only the birds. He spots something in the trees. I can make out a dark shape and my heart begins to pound in my chest. We circle around until, finally, John stops us and points again. I move closer and look. A gorilla, a female, rests atop a bed of leaves and branches made atop nearby trees. She’s big. My heart races as we follow John even closer.

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“Silverback” he whispers softly. 10 feet in front of us sits a huge silverback. And he’s staring right back at me. My heart goes from racing in my chest to stopping mid-beat.

and time stands still.

I stare at him and he stares back.

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He’s looking at me; sees me; recognizes me. I feel an intense connection to this creature. There are so many emotions flooding through my body. I am overwhelmed and numb. John reminds me that I am holding a camera and slowly I begin to snap pictures.

With our hygienic masks in place to protect both us and the gorillas, we spent the next hour of our lives alone with mountain gorillas in the wild.

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~ by Rachel on May 12, 2012.

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