An early start today as we were getting picked up from the lodge at 0630 then a ride to the Volcanoes National Park where we would be allocated our guide and the gorilla group we would be visiting. there was local music and dancing while we waited for this process.
We had made a special request for the guide Francois Bigirimana. He is the oldest of the guides and worked with Dian Fossey for the 5 years before she was murdered. We were all very pleased when he was allocated to us and after a briefing we started on our trek to the Kuryama group. The walk started as a steep incline from getting out of the vehicles and didn’t stop. Initially it was over farmed land, children shouting hello and waving as we climbed the hill then we passed through a narrow gap in a high stone wall. This wall was built to prevent the elephants and buffalo from getting to the farm land from the jungle on the sides of the volcano. Through the wall we were faced with dense jungle though followed a narrow path towards an area where our gorilla group had been located by the trackers. The gorilla groups move location every evening and create a new nest where they sleep overnight. Along the route, Francois would talk about the foliage that the gorillas would eat and would demonstrate eating different plants in a way that gorillas would. He also demonstrated the 16 communication grunts and noises that gorillas made. This guy really could communicate with the gorillas.
Eventually we stopped and had to leave everything behind other than cameras, memory cards and spare batteries. We then started moving through the dense undergrowth, the trackers using machetes to clear a path, and suddenly we were among the family of gorillas. There were 2 silverbacks, several blackbucks, juveniles and a 3 month old baby. The rules are we are allowed to stay with the gorillas for 1 hour. This ensures the animals are away from human contact for 23 hours of the day. The trackers kept moving around and clearing areas to make other individuals easier to see. We were so close to them, sometimes very close. It was an incredible experience, I have spent time with many animals in my life but this was special, probably the best ever animal experience. It seemed such a privilege to sit with these gentle giants. I took hundreds of photographs, but sometimes I just watched them. This was the quickest hour of my life and before long we were on our trek back off the volcano. We walked about 8 miles in total, 4 miles up then 4 down and reached an altitude of almost 3000 metres. The air is thin at this height so we moved slowly ant took lots of breaks.
Enjoy the photos