This weekend we travelled to Ruhengeri to visit the world's entire population of mountain gorillas, that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is quite a well-organized system: 5 groups of 8 people apply for permits, which allows them 1 hour of one-on-one time with the gorillas. The permits are very expensive ($500), divided into the gorilla conservation and research, local community projects, and the cost of guides and trackers. Prior to this system, the gorillas were significantly threatened by poachers. Rather than tossing these poachers in jail, the national park has hired them as trackers (after all, who better to understand the mountain areas and gorilla habitat). Each day the trackers identify the location of various gorilla groups, consisting of a silverback (alpha male), several females, juvenile males, and a couple of babies.
The hike to see the gorillas was 2 hours of trekking through thick jungle, cutting our path with a machete. There are no roads, and the existing paths are narrow pathways of sinking mud. But it was all worth it to spend time with these gorilla families. Gorillas are hilarious. The young males lie around lazily, scratching themselves, until they decide to thump the next guy on the chest, and wrestle rather violently for a few minutes. Then they return to lolling around on their backs.
At one point, a gorilla reached out and grabbed Patty's blue windbreaker that she
had tied around her waist. (We think it might have been going after her wallet). You're not supposed to react or behave aggressively towards them, so fortunately the guide pulled her away immediately. Still a scary moment!
As usual, we soaked up the beautiful Rwandan countryside along the way. Children in the Ruhengeri area are a bit more used to mzungus (tourists), and are a bit more aggressive about asking for money (or pens, or water bottles), which Patty felt was worse than when she visited 18 months ago. However, there were also lots of friendly local people going about their business, carrying impossibly heavy loads on their heads (50kg sack of potatoes, giant yellow jerry-can full of water).
An exhausting and wonderful day.