I announced a few weeks ago that I was gifted a trip to hike Mount Nyiragongo, the active volcano here in Virunga park. After consideration of the weather (lack of visibility=no view of the surrounding land) and my lack of proper gear… I decided to go see the mountain gorillas in the wild instead. Here are a few things I learned, and I think are important for anyone wanting to come visit. (I made a quick video of the trek… the link is below).
First things first, the cost of going to see the gorilla only includes the permit for the park. YOU must coordinate your transportation out there and back. They will provide this for you at a ridiculous about of money PER person. I recommend Baraka (means “blessing” in Swahili). He has his own safari Land Rover that can maneuver intense terrain. He is MUCH cheaper and he only charges for the car, not per person. It seats up to 8 passengers.
DO NOT FORGET YOUR PERMIT. I say this from experience. I forgot mine. We left the house at 5:55am to get on the road before all the traffic and people. At 6:30, after we’d made considerable time and passed the Goma check point, Baraka asked me if I remembered my permit. Ooops. Another reason I recommend him. He handled my oversight really well and was not rude. He graciously turned around and drove back through the growing traffic. (we still managed to get to the starting point early due to his mad driving skills!)
Word to the wise for fellow mouth breathers… don’t!!! Keep your mouth shut. Breath through your nose, but if you’re stuffed up and absolutely must breath through your mouth… cover your mouth! I swallowed two flying bugs of some sort. I was breathing hard from the hike. It’s not a simple hike, which leads me to my next point.
They are called MOUNTAIN gorillas for a reason. Don’t go into this thinking it will be a simple walk on flat ground or even slightly inclined terrain. At one point I thought I needed to be on belay! The hike was that vertical at times.(you are also climbing over vines, squatting and walking under thick canopy’s of bush. For obvious reasons, I did not film these parts. I was focused on not falling down the mountain)
Plus, once you start to get close to the gorillas (we track them from their last known spot), you are maneuvering through their beds the night before. So you are trying to avoid falling down the mountain… into their poop, which again leads me to my next bullet.
Gorillas poop A LOT! And not only that, they eat their hard poop to get all the nutrients that are still in the first round. Ewww. I was trying to take pictures of the baby and it started to eat… I decided that would not make the best shot and I also said a prayer that he would not throw it at me. Now, refer back to point #3… keep your mouth shut! So many doodoo flies. Everywhere.
When they say don’t look the silver back in the eyes, they mean it. Don’t do it. He doesn’t mess around and he is HUGE. He didn’t like me. I’m sure he sensed I was a strong, independent woman!;)
You are required to wear masks when around the gorillas. They are very sensitive to human bacteria/viruses, and don’t have the antibodies to fight it. A simple cold can easily kill a gorilla. Respect this and keep your mask on!
So with all that said… the trip was amazing! It was about a 2 hour drive out there. The view along the way is spectacular. At one point I just stopped trying to capture the beauty. It just isn’t possible for my iphone or my polaroid cube. Some pictures just need to remain in my mind. Seriously, the sunrise over the mountains; Mount Karisimbi (an inactive volcanoe) is simply gorgeous. GORGEOUS!
There is a large military presence all along the road once we pass the Goma check point or toll road, however you want to look at it. The fresh smell of mountain, rich (super rich) soil, and just the clean air outside of the city (not that Goma smells bad, it doesn’t usually). When the children along the road saw Randy (aka. Hollywood) and me coming in the car, they would extend their hands and yell “BonBon!” Apparently a lot of visitors bring candy to hand out along the way…Note to self. There were also a large amount of kids that just yelled “Morning” or “Good Afternoon” in English. A lot of ‘thumbs up’ from the little kids here.
Our group had 3 tourists and 3 guards/Park Rangers (2 with machetes and Jeremy with an AK-47). The gun is for poachers and protection of the gorillas. I’d like to think that it also served as protection for me… so I made sure to stay with Jeremy through out the hike. So before getting started, Randy (the documentary director from LA), Christian (my new friend, a reptologist from Trier, Germany) and I found a Jacksons Chameleon… very endangered species of Chameleon (according to Christian). So naturally I got to hold it!
At one point, Christian moved in on my strategic placement. I quickly took back my place in the hiking line, next to the guy with the gun. Ironically enough, Jeremy did not speak English. Christian speaks about as much French as I do… so I ended up translating for everyone. It was very entertaining. The two guards with the machetes only spoke Swahili… so my conversations with them were even more comical. I love it here.
Needless to say, being with the gorillas was surreal! The babies… THE BABIES! Oh my gosh. I just cant deal with the cuteness! There were two and I am in love. They are so little and fuzzy and curious and adorable. One of them came right up to me. I had to move back so he wouldn’t touch me. However, I was secretly wishing he would jump on my back and I would have a baby gorilla to take home.
Here is a short clip of the adventure I put together for your viewing pleasure. It was too big of a file for the blog 🙁 so make sure to click the link to watch. Enjoy… with the baby… wait for it. wait for it… (so cute, I just can’t handle the cuteness!)