While waiting for my first leg of the trip to Kigali, I got a phone call from ANL letting me know that Deborah (the pretty lady in the blue jacket who traveled with me) and myself were getting to use someone’s passes to go see the gorillas. Being the traveler I normally am, I would have known what i was getting into…but I didn’t. I was super excited to go the next day after arriving but had very little expectations since I had no clue how great it would be.
We woke up and left the next morning at 5 for our “should have been” two hour drive to the ranger station of the national park. I learned you must reserve your spot to hike to see the silverback gorillas in the natural habitat months in advance. Lucky for us someone cancelled and we jumped on the opportunity. Well, ANL jumped for me. So our driver was so very kind and we saw lots and lots of beautiful Rwandan countryside as we watched the sun rise…and get higher. We were to arrive at 7 and showed up in style at 9:30. The hiking groups had left and our little driver got chewed out by the game ranger. They told us we were way too late and it wouldn’t work. I wasn’t super disappointed since I had great conversations with the ladies and saw more of Rwanda…but God was began working how only He can.
The game warden called the groups and one was at the base of the ‘jungle’ so we busted out butts up to meet them since they decided to wait for us. So kind. We had several couriers with us carrying our stuff if we needed and we walked through fields and fields of potatoes. All hand planted and harvested, mind you.
Now if you see where the trees begin to get really dense, that’s where the group was waiting for us. Then the true fun began. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I packed zero hiking clothes…so I was taking on the jungle in my Simple sneakers, pink capri pants, and green hoodie. Awesome. When we found our group they were decked out in true hiking clothes, boots, gators, gloves, hats, and whatever else I probably would need. The guides tell us to leave our bags for the second part of the hike and only take cameras. I was gearing up for the extreme itchiness I would quickly encounter from the mammoth sized bull nettle that poked the bageebees out of my legs. (I had flashbacks of sliding down mountains in Guam on my butt in all the blade grass. That was not so awesome.)
The guides start into the jungle with the machete and off we went. Slow and very pokey. We stopped about 500 feet in to catch our breath and do wardrobe adjustments only to be shushed. The gorilla family was right in front of us under this huge tree.
I was psyching myself up for a long hot hike but we didn’t even break a sweat. (only later to learn there were groups sliding down cliffs on their butts to see gorillas…) And under the tree was the family. The papa silver back named Charles and the rest of his group. The longer we stood there the longer they let us get a tad closer. It was so incredible.
We were there an hour…but it seemed like 15 minutes. Watching this family interact was amazing. I found myself starting to smile at them hoping they would smile back. Hilarious. The details…their huge hands and feet. The nursing mamas. The babies. The wrestling teenagers. So many similarities to us. But yet still very different.
At one point they began walking around near us and one of them swung his arm and smacked my friend on the leg. I still can’t believe we got to be so close to these wild creatures. Thank you Diane Fossey.
What a day. On the way back we saw these huge huge bags of harvested potatoes amidst beautiful countryside. What a great start to my time in Rwanda. I love how God gives us such undeserving glimpses into his magnificent creation
without having to slide down cliffs to see it. In addition to the gorillas, a few of my favorite parts were being in the car with the ladies and having no distractions to our conversations. It was quite a perfect first day in Rwanda.