Gorillas in the mist (and rain!)

I got woken up at 3am by one of the loudest thunderstorms I have ever heard.  For the first time in a long time I just wanted to hide underneath the bed covers – however the storm was so bad that some tiles had come off the roof of my hut and it was leaking so I had to get up and move all my clothes out of the way.  Then I got back to hiding under the covers!  Luckily my bed stayed dry.

After the horrendous storm I expected bad weather the next day too but to my surprise it was bright blue skies.  So along with Mark an Australian guy I met at breakfast (both of us had thought were the only ones staying there as we must have just missed each other the night before) we took out the hotels canoe and paddled out to the nearby island and got a good view of the Congo.  It is hard to imagine that there is now fighting going on just 5km away. 

From what I can gather some rebels have deserted from the army on gone on the run near the border.  The fighting is between them and the army but tens of thousands of civilians are leaving their homes to become refugees in Rwanda and live in a pretty depressing camp (I drove past it!) so things must be pretty bad over there.  I met an American couple, who had been in Congo in the mountains taking photos, who had just been evacuated out and they had heard gun fire as they were leaving.  Mark and I both agreed that 5km away from gunfire was as close as we wanted to get!

I left Gisenyi and travelled to Musanze which is the base for going gorilla tracking.  We had to meet at the park headquarters at 7am and then they are meant to allocate you based on fitness levels and the groups get to go to different families of gorillas (only a max of 56 permits are issued a day – 8 permits for 8 groups).  We got there and there was a local dance troop singing and dancing – felt very touristy and not what I expected – also I was very surprised by the amount of people who had turned up in jeans and trainers!  Idiots I bet they suffered! 

Now the groups clearly weren’t picked on fitness levels – my group seemed to be the first ones who arrived – there was 1 group that had 3 young fit looking guys with 5 unfit looking pensioners with make-up trowelled on their faces – I wonder how long that lasted!  In my group were a Dutch couple in their 20s, 2 Indian/UK guys in their mid 20s who turned up in jeans with no jackets and a German lady who was 47 with her 32 year old Rwandan boyfriend –plus me. 

We were trekking the Kwitunda group of gorillas, a family of 24 of them.  The day looked promising and dry but it soon started to rain – just as we had to climb over the fence and into the park proper.  The park proper didn’t really have paths so we had to cut our own.  This meant not just walking up hill (we were above 2,600mtrs when we started climbing) but pushing through bushes, thistles and nettles while climbing over trees.  We soon got very wet – I wish I had gaiters or waterproof trousers with me as that was the most uncomfortable aspect of the day.  I was the best equipped from my group (I had proper walking boots, tough poncho that covered me, my rucksack and the top of my legs plus walking poles) so the two Indian guys with jeans and no jackets must have been miserable! 

After hiking like this for a couple of hours we got close to them gorillas but it was really pouring now and our guide made us wait for over 30mins to see if it slowed up as gorillas don’t like rain and they hide in the bush.  This was when I started to get really cold – my boots started to get wet (up until that point I was the only one who had dry feet!) and my trousers got even wetter.  Finally when we were truly miserable we went to go see the gorillas.

Now you are not meant to get closer to them than 7metres however due to the terrain I don’t think we were ever further than 3 metres away from them!  They are amazing – huge creatures with hands that look just like ours.  We watched one male silverback breaking the bamboo off and then stripping it of its casing before eating it – he was a messy eater!  Bamboo is apparently known as gorilla beer!  If they eat too much they get drunk! 

After a while he moved off so we followed.  He then sat down to eat something else which was when the rain really started to hammer it down again.  We laughed as he tried to use a branch of a tree he had just pulled down as an umbrella.  He then sat there looking really miserable and sorry for himself – I know how he felt!  Nearby we also saw a female holding her young baby.  The baby really didn’t seem to like the rain either and was constantly hugging its mum.

The hour we were allowed to spend with them soon vanished.  The pictures I took weren’t great (I have had to delete most) as it was so wet and we weren’t allowed to use flash – but I think I have a few good ones.  We may have only seen 5 of the 24 gorillas but we saw them very close and the guide said we were very lucky as most of the time when it rains that hard they hide!

The journey back was very slippery and wet and I was glad I had two poles with me – they kept me on my feet several times when others went flying.  The Indian guys were really struggling by this point.  On the way we had crossed a small stream – it was now a fast flowing river that had burst its banks (shows just how wet it was) and we had to walk for ages around and then to walk though it –by then my feet were well and truly soaked!  I was pleased I was spending the night in Musanze rather than going to Kisoro as at least I was able to get a warm shower and dry clothes – the others all had a two hour drive back to Kigali in wet clothes!

When we got back to the cars it was 1pm so we had been in the rain for over 4 hours!  The Indian guy who had struggled the most tried to tell me that Kilimanjaro was a doddle in comparison to what we had just done (with the exception of summit day!) so there is hope for me then.  But for that trip I need proper waterproofs, more jumpers, socks, trousers and a warm down jacket!  When I next get internet I will be ordering some stuff!!!!!  I also need to re-waterproof my boots.  I currently have newspaper in them to try to dry them out but I’m not sure its working.  I think I am just going to have to take wet clothes with me when I move to Kisoro tomorrow.

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About becksupeverest

Took a leave of absence from work and decided to work as a volunteer in Tanzania based in Korogwe, a small town in the northeast of the country (combined with some travels around East Africa). The project is to look at the cost base, strategy and business plan of a tree nursery NGO - one of the Gatsby Foundation projects.
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