Trip Start Jan 28, 2009
30Trip End Feb 16, 2009
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The following day was an extremely long drive. The distances that we travel really aren't the far, its just the roads are terrible (or adventurous depending on how you see things). We left the campsite at 4 am to avoid Kampala traffic. We stopped on the side of the road and made breakfast about 7:30 am and also made some bag lunchs to eat on the drive. We finally got to Kabale(Uganda/Rwanda border town) around 1 pm. From here we all piled into a small van for the drive to Rwanda. We were only allowed to take an overnight bag for the 2 days in Rwanda. The mostly dirt road took us over beautiful green mountain of thick forest. In Uganda they call this landscape the impenatrable forest and I can see why. It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the Rwanda border. It had started to rain and that slowed our progress quite a bit. At one point we all had to lean to the right side of the van to get enough traction to avoid getting stuck in a puddle that almost covered the tires. The border crossing was good...apparently American do not have to pay for a visa into Rwanda. It saved me $60! From here we drove another 2 hours to a town called Fatima. We stayed at a hostel/hotel run by a Catholic monestary. This will be the only nights on the tour I get a bed. They fit our entire group into one large hostel room with bunk beds. The hostel also prepared dinner for us. It was also a traditional meal of pork with a mustard sauce...really good food! I pretty much went to bed after dinner. Long driving days make me tired.
The next morning we had breakfast at 6 am and were off to volcanos national park by 6:30. Volcanos national park consist of dense rain forest situated along 5 extinct volcanos. It is also home to half of the world's remaining mountain gorilla population. There are only about 750 gorillas left in the wild and they are mostly very well protected. Unfortunatly the gorillas are also found in Congo which is not very stable. A few years ago someone executed several of the gorillas. It is believed that some of the local farmers did it because they do not have access to the land the gorillas live on. The crime of killing a gorilla is punishable by death in all these countries. Anyway, they took us to the park headquarter and divided us into groups. They only allow 8 people per group with a guide and several armed military escorts. The military escorts are not there because the region is unstable. They are there to protect us from other animals like buffalo and elephants that live in the park and can be dangerous. They are intructed to shoot into the air to scare off the animals if they come too close...not kill them. I was very lucky...my group only had 5 people in it! To minimize impact on the gorillas, you only get to spend one hour observing them once you find them. We were assigned to the Bwenge group...the gorillas usually live in small groups of 10-20 gorillas. We all loaded back in the van and they drove us to our starting point in a small village on the edge of the park. The trekking is done by hiking to where the gorillas were on the previous day and tracking them from there. The starting point changes all the time so the people in these villages do not necessarily see a lot of white people. The people in the villages just stare at you with a bewildered look. The guide said to do something goofy and then they will smile at you...they are very nice people, just puzzled with the white skin. We had to hike straight up (we climbed 800 meters) a mountain for almost an hour through farms before we got to the boundry of the park. From there we entered the actual park where the dense rain forest started. We followed a buffalo path that was pure mud for a long time. My feet were siking in so bad that my shoe would have been sucked off my foot if it wasn't tied on so tight. The other obstacle were these bushes called stinging nettles. They have really fine hairs on them that get into your skin and sting badly and cause a welt to form for about 20 minutes. Cloths are somewhat protective but if you get in too many they just go through your pants. Since the gorillas constantly move, you can hike anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours to find them. It took my group just about 2 1/2 hours which is a nice walk through the landscape. When we got close we had to leave everything except our cameras with the escort because apparently the gorillas are very curious and the young ones sometimes steal the bags and go through them. My first sight of the gorillas was the silverback with two females and a baby. The baby started to come up to us and was playing and rolling around but then retreated back to the mother. The silverback walked towards us and then changed direction and disappeared into the forest. We sat here for quite awhile and then moved toward the others in the group. We found several more younger males and females and a newborn. The nettles were killing my legs but I didn't really care because this is awesome! The gorillas are huge and so human like. We eventually found the silverback again and watched him lounge and eat in a bunch of trees. I think overall we saw about 10 gorillas. They are amazing creatures. You are suppose to maintain a distance of 20 feet from them but the forest is so thick that this is nearly impossible. At certain points they were no more than 5-8 feet from our group. The gorillas also sometimes touch you but we didn't have any close encounters in my group. This is by far one of the coolest experiences of my life! The hike back down the mountain took just over an hour. We stopped just outside the park and had a bag lunch on the mountain side that overlooked the valley...the landscape here is beautiful. By the time we got back to the hostel, I was dirty, covered in mud, and tired....it was a perfect day! The hostle fixed us dinner again and the group had a few drinks to celebrate. Then off to bed for another adventure tomorrow!