Wednesday, December 9, 2009

October 18, 2009: Mizungus in the Mist

It is 6:30 at night and we are driving back to Gashora - it is dark and as we drive the people walking along the side of the highway appear out of nowhere. With no street lights driving takes an extra challenge. We started the morning at 7 am. We had a 15 minute hike up through the villages and farms that led to the Volcano National Park. When we entered the park our guide was joined by several forest rangers with rifles and machetes. One of the guys holding a machete was Simon. It seemed like a good idea to do what Simon said!
Once we entered the park the going got a bit tougher. It was raining quite hard at times and the ground was quite soaked. At times we were almost crawling through the jungle growth. My backpack kept getting caught and the vines were grabbing at my arms. Where were the guys with the machetes?
We hiked for another hour through the park - feet sinking ankle deep in the mud and because we were at 3800 meters elevation the breathing was tougher than normal.
Finally, we reached a small opening where the guides pointed out a large Gorilla dropping. As we made our way through the next few steps we waded hip deep into a field of nettles. I got stung so many times that my legs were on fire! We came around a bush and were 7 meters from a female gorilla! It was amazing to be thinking about getting my camera focused when my brain was shouting ouch as a result of the burning around my knees!
We spent an hour with our family of gorillas. The silverback was named Charles. He was a majestic fellow but looked a bit bedraggled with all the rain. There were two females with young and a young male that we saw. For the most part Charles ignored us but he grunted some warnings that our guides mimicked. We later learned that his grunts were meant to signal to his family that all was ok. The guides grunting back was their way of building trust and agreeing that all is OK.
After taking hundreds of pixtures we had to leave. Charles rolled on his back and lifted his arms. What a stench! It was a strange bitter smell that pushed back the Eucalyptus-like smell the various flowers and bushes combined to create.
Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa - which has pushed the gorillas into the mountains and it means every part of the country is used for agriculture. The land of a tousand hills is beautiful. Hard to imagine a genocide in such a beautiful land.

Nick Foster
DWC Team Leader

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