Rwanda is where the real “Africa Adventure” starts. I trek with Mountain Gorillas in the wild and get inspired by creatures and habitats that changed the way I look at the world.
It’s 4:30 am, and we drive towards the Parc National des Volcans – Africa’s oldest national park. The journey takes three hours until we arrive at the only place in the world where we can still watch Mountain Gorillas in the wild. Established in 1925 with the purpose of protecting its population of Mountain Gorillas, the Parc National des Volcans is dominated by six extinct volcanos. It’s an important party on a cross-border conservation policy that includes Uganda’s Virunga National Park and Congo’s Mgahinga National Park. The Gorillas are critically endangered, and their precise habitat requirements mean this is the only place on earth where we can still find these creatures – there are only about 800 Mountain gorillas left.We are accompanied by armed guards and Trackers who guarantee our safety. The trekking takes place at an altitude of 3000 meters. As we walk towards the forest, we look upon what is surely one of the Earth’s most gorgeous landscapes – The Virunga volcanoes. We expect to find the big animals at any minute. After trekking for three hours, we spot the first Gorilla family – Isabukuru. They are around 18, among females, babies and silverbacks.
We are suddenly so close to each other. Gorillas and humans side by side – the most natural thing in the world. I obey the ranger’s safety instructions: as the Gorillas get closer to me, I show them submission by sitting and looking down. A huge silverbacks lack stares at me and I, of course, stare at him in return. I enjoy looking into their amber eyes. I am so comfortable in their company; I feel they are confident that I am not a threat. I portray these charismatic and intelligent species in their real light.I could have spent hours in the forest with the Gorillas, but time is restricted. To minimise stress on the animals, visitors are only allowed 60 minutes with the gorillas. We want to make sure, above all, we don’t disturb their routine.
Still overwhelmed, we head to the Virunga Lodge. The location, on a peak between Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo, great inland seas untouched tourism, is something beyond comprehension. The main lodge, with the common area, is built of stone like some fortified castle, from it, there are stunning views of five of the national park’s volcanoes, impertinent -looking peaks lined up in a grand procession.
We do a second Gorilla trek in the next day. And this time, It’s even more spectacular. Max, my better half, and I are completely alone with the Rangers (usually you’re in a group of up to eight people) as we trek on a different section of the forest. The vegetation and landscape are very different now. The whole experience is entirely new. We encounter the Gorilla Umubano family just after one-hour trekking and follow them around the forest. Staring at these amazing creatures gives me a glimpse into my very nature. It is the most intimate of wildlife encounters.The Mountain Gorillas are surely the main reason why one travels to Rwanda. However, Kigali, the capital, despite lacking the wildlife and the beautiful scenery, is where I learned about the complex history of this fascinating country.
It wasn’t until I visited the Genocide museum in Kigali that I realized how I needed to understand the events of 1994 to comprehend modern Rwanda. In just 100 days in that year, some 800,000 people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists. Hutus targeted members of the minority Tutsi community, as well their political opponents and their families. Rwanda’s genocide turned out to be one of the most violent events in history.
I hope to encourage more people to visit this breathtaking country while understanding the challenging context out of which renewal was born. In Rwanda, I first feel in love with Gorillas, but then I was reminded what matters in the Africa conservation crisis: the people, not only the animals.
From October 9th to 12th, 2015 (3 days trip)
We traveled in Rwanda from October 9th to October 12th, 2015 (3-day trip). Journeys by Design, a luxury travel agency specialized in trips to Africa, organized our itinerary. The highlight of our trip was the trekking with Gorillas with Primate Safaris. Stayed at Serena hotel and Virunga lodge. In Kigali, had dinner at Heaven restaurant. We flew from Seychelles to Kigali via Nairobi with Air Kenya and Rwanda Air.
In the bag: Mosquito repellent; Sunscreen; Trekking shoes (I wore the Timberlands); Gloves; Raining jacket; Long sleeves and comfortable pants. Avoid black clothes because they attract mosquitos.
Watch: Gorillas in the mist; Hotel Rwanda.
Read: Into the Virungas; Gorillas in the mist; Collapse.