Gorillas and the pissed

Trip Start Jul 24, 2012
Trip End Aug 19, 2012

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Where I stayed
Fatima Hostel

Flag of Rwanda  ,
Friday, August 10, 2012

(Erica) Everyone was up and ready by 5.30am and tucking in to a cold breakfast of cereal and bananas. The day that we had all been waiting for (and paid a hefty price for) had finally arrived – we were hopefully going to get to see and spend an hour with the 'Mountain Gorillas' of Rwanda in Parc National des Volcans on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes. I say hopefully because despite the trackers best efforts the Gorillas can travel up to 2km a day so on the occasion are not able to be found – I was praying that today was not going to be one of those days.  I grabbed two bananas for energy – we’ve basically been sat on a bus for 2 weeks and have hardly got any form of exercise whatsoever so despite the rumours that there was going to be an ‘easy’ group, a ‘medium’ group and an ‘extreme hardcore’ group, I figured that by my expert skills of deduction that anything with a name that includes ‘mountain’ in the title was going to be found fairly high up – hence hard work.

The vans arrived at 6am and we were taken 10km to the head quarters to get our permits and rather strangely we were treated to some cultural dancing by a large group of local people.  After an hour and the lyrics of the ‘thank you very much’ song ringing in our ears we were split into groups.  The first group was to be hardcore and Lara immediately stood up to the mark with everyone else hanging back a bit.  She was soon joined by some of the others – god only knows what was in store for them?  The next group was intermediate and we thought that maybe that would be about our level as we didn’t want to be bumping in to the Gorillas literally on the side of the road.  It would be nice to have a bit of a trek to them and feel like we’ve earned the right to see them.  We were joined in our group by Emma, Hannah, Ben, Ariel, Renee and Simon and met our guide who seemed lovely and who gave us a briefing on what we could expect from the trek and the family which we were going to be visiting.  He told us that we were going to track the son of Titus who is on the Rwandan 5000 Franc note.  He was the silverback in a family group of 9.  We were excited!

We got back in our vans and headed to our start point which was another half an hour away, the vans were in convoy until slowly they began to branch off and find their own start points to visit different families.  It is believed that there are about 100 family groups within the Parc National des Volcans on the Rwandan side and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on the Ugandan side.  We arrived at a small village and met Bernard our guides helper who gave us all wooden walking sticks, some which were carved with Gorillas and we set off on our way uphill.  We spent a while trekking through farmland and children who were playing in the fields all ran up and greeted us with ‘hello’!  They would repeat everything we said and some of the older ones would respond with ‘I’m fine thank you, how are you?

After some time climbing uphill, which was fairly hard work and had us all breathing heavily we came to a flat plateau and our guide told us we were 700m off the National Park.  The Gorillas had been known to come out of the perimeter of the park for Eucalyptus bark which is one of their favourite snacks but no sign of them today.  When we got to the boundary open land gave way to dense shrubbery and we started to follow a narrow path, obviously recently used by Buffalo as all the huge dollops of droppings proved – yikes!   Our guide told us it was possible that we would see other animals including Buffalo, Elephant and Golden Monkeys.  After trekking for about an hour and a half (getting stung by stinging nettles along the way) our guide told us that we had about another two and a half hours to go.  We were all okay with that until we walked a bit further and told us that we were in fact six minutes away!  Everyone just gawped at each other in amazement.  We were going to get to see them after all as the trackers had found them and they were close.

We walked a little further, all the while still uphill, and we came to a clearing and found the trackers themselves where we were asked to leave our bags and only take our cameras with us.  Our excitement was tangible.  Then we heard it.  The Gorillas.  We held our breath.  Walking through to the Gorillas nest we were suddenly all amazed at how close they were to us – less than two metres away.  I must admit at first I was quite apprehensive when one looked me right in the eye as we walked in.  This soon disappeared when we realised that they were more interested in munching their way through the bamboo than anything that we were doing.  The silverback was absolutely huge – much larger that I had imagined and sat keeping a watchful eye over us and his brood.  There were about three females with young one which took her son in to her arms and began preening him – including using a method somewhere which got a few giggles and grimaces from the group. Emma was a bit disturbed as the researcher who was studying the family and making observations kept whispering to her about what the other was doing in graphic detail and then asked her where she was staying!

We were able to spend an hour with the family and we were all just mesmerised by them, never forgetting what an honour it was to even see them.  By the time our guide told us last photos, we were all in love and just wanted to stay all day.  Sadly we couldn’t as the Gorillas could get anxious if they are viewed for any longer so with heavy hearts we made our way back to the clearing where we had left our belongings.  It had been one of the best experiences of our lives.  On the way back we had lunch – for Andrew the tinned tuna mayonnaise that we had bought turned out to be tuna salad which quite frankly looked like vomit.  Still we ate it with our eyes closed then had a couple of orange custard crèmes – mmm!

Back in the village we bought a little gorilla for two dollars as a souvenir from a man with a wooden table and gave Bernard, who had been a star and had helped myself and Ariel down all the slippery rocks – and was possibly the nicest boy we have ever met a twelve dollar tip – he was thrilled.  We stopped off at a gift store on the way back to camp where we were all presented  with a certificate for completing our trip which was a nice touch – they had huge Gorillas there which I would have loved to have bought as a doorstop but Andrew was a bit dubious of what they were made out of so, as with my birds nest ashtray in Beijing, I had to leave behind.

(Andrew taking over again after another half effort by my darling wife who has better things to do like sleep)

We got back to the hostel and being locked out of the dorms we sat upstairs comparing photo’s and videos of what has to be one of the most awesome travel experiences you can have. Well tonight was the big night out, Robyn’s leaving party and a big night in town. We headed off to a bar called Oasis first which served warm 720ml beers (at least they were warm by the time we got to them), for about 70p. We ate, Erica’s diahorrea hit and the toilets were unusable. Much to our surprise most other people also wanted to head back perhaps it was the early morning and the day we had had. We had a few more beers in the upstairs bar whilst we had to come back because Erica was unwell it was in fact me who had to go to bed first, a few of the fellow unwell where already there. I was glad I had left as bottles of shop bought rum had started to be smuggled into the bar and historically this had only led to trouble.

I woke up to a row outside our dorm and raised voices, one of which being Erica’s, I was going to get up and tell them to shut up in case others were trekking the next day it must have been about 01:30. Then the door burst open and it was several hugely drunken men who had come to try and get Ariel to tell more stories, the method of doing this was to rattle his bed singing "Ariel Ariel", the kiwi boys turned it into a haka and others were African drumming. At first I was somewhat annoyed but then they left. I guessed to head off to the bar again. I was hoping Erica wouldn’t be going ‘out’ at that time or falling asleep in the bar, anyone who knows Erica knows it can be dangerous to let her fall asleep in a public place without someone to carry her home.

As I tried to drift off I was woken by “ooh, ooh, ooh” (the impression of a monkey), oh my god what the hell was going on now I thought. It turned out the drunken monkeys had identified through intelligence that the guys who attacked our tents at the hippo camp had opted not to have a dorm but put up their tents outside the dorm. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening but when all had gone quite I decided I had to go and get rid of another load of diahorrea but opted to use the toilets near the bar rather than the less private ones near the dorm.

I exited dressed in shorts and hoodie and slowly trudged up the stone road, without light nor a torch. All of a sudden near the tents of the ‘monkey boys’ I noticed several figures gesturing to me to keep quiet, one armed with a brush while another was urinating on one of the tents. Then a shout “Oi, what do you think you’re doing”, as 4 or 5 mystery figures leg it in all directions one jumped a bush and smashed his face into the floor, others hidden behind bushes, I innocently just continued to walk my intended path as planned rather than act guilty and run and hide. As I reached the toilets I could feel flash lights on my back and I was stepping over bodies of drunks who were creased up in hysterics. I, in a sober and unwell mood was rather less amused. As I walked out of the toilet I was met with torch lights in my face and questions like “what do you think you are playing at”, “do you not think you have done enough”, “you better behave now”, “just go to bed and leave us alone”.  In a rather bad and unsympathetic mood “It wasn’t me, I’ve just got up to use the loo because I’m not well”. Obviously despite being true, that didn’t really wash and after a bit of being abused I went to bed still able to hear shouts and commands of guerrilla warfare in the back ground. It turned out one guy had chipped half his tooth out in the raid and I think I was the only one pinpointed for the crime, which worried me massively, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time does that now leave me open to even more escalated warfare, i.e. having human poo smeared on my tent, or finding the tent slashed and diahorrea all over my belongings. I’m terrified and very angry at a few of our group. I drifted off to sleep with the vague sound of monkey noises in the night air.
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