Since I had come all this way to Rwanda, I just had to do a 2nd trek with the mountain gorillas. From day 1, at the very first Intrepid briefing, I had mentioned to the leader I wanted to do a 2nd one, but he was a bit vague on how to organise it. Now in Rwanda I spoke to Patrick again, who told me to speak to the driver, Theo, after the first gorilla trek.
The only problem Theo didn’t speak English very well.
I tried to tell him I wanted to do a 2nd trek, but he was not comprehending. On returning to the camp site, I desperately got Simon, our chef, to translate for me; and Theo, confirmed it was all good to go. I was not a 100% convinced.
I woke the next day and I was feeling human again. Surprisingly, I still felt like it was Christmas morning and I was very excited about getting a second chance to visit the gorillas. I got dressed into my jungle gear using my head torch as it was still dark and the rest of the Intrepid group were having a lie in. Then, after a quick breakfast, Theo was driving me back to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters.
It started off the same process as yesterday. Whilst Theo went off to sort out my gorilla permit; I took photos and emptied my bladder; and the welcome drummers and dancers were doing their thing. I waited patiently for Theo, but there was no sign of him. I remembered I had not paid for my permit, so I wandered over to the main office. That’s when I realised all was not well. There was no sign of Theo. I spoke to the guy at the front desk about paying and he just said sit down and wait. There was also a Chinese tour guide trying to get two of his clients on to a gorilla trek too.
So, I took a seat, not having a clue what was going on. The Chinese tour guide was making hundreds of phone calls and speaking back and fro, with the front desk man, in a language I could not understand. Outside I could see everyone else getting called by their guides and having their briefing. One by one the people outside were disappearing. I started panicking, maybe I wasn’t going to get my second chance to see the gorillas. Somewhere in the middle of the chaos, Theo briefly appeared, with his beaming smile, saying it’s all going be all ok. It was not looking ok at all from where I was sitting. I started crying with the emotion of it all. I kept saying to myself I should be grateful I got to see the gorillas yesterday and what will be will be, but it wasn’t really helping me.
Seeing I was upset, a guide came up to and told me I had not got a permit, but it is all ok. The Chinese tour guide had connections in high places and was speaking to the head of the national parks and some paperwork had to be sorted, but it was going to be all good. I really was not convinced, but at least someone had explained what was happening. Eventually, after all the other trekkers had driven away, I heard the wonderful words, “Please can you pay”. I quickly handed over my visa card and then prayed the transaction was going to go through, with the way this morning was turning out I was half expecting my bank to think it was a fraudulent overseas transaction. I was so relieved to see approved and when the guide asked me to sign the trekking consent form I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Way, way too much drama for 8am in the morning. I must remember TIA – THIS IS AFRICA!!!!
The Chinese tour guide approached me and asked would I be willing to share my jeep with him and his 2 clients. I was so relieved to be have got my gorilla permit and very grateful for his help, I happily said yes. I hate stereotyping people, but his clients were typical rich, Chinese business men. One of them thought he had the right to sit in the front of my jeep, but wonderful, smiley, Theo shifted him out my front seat and we were on our way to the start of the gorilla trek.
It started at the same village as yesterday, so back to the standard mountain gorilla trekking script. 40 minute drive to the start, another toilet stop, select porter, start trekking up the volcano to see the gorillas. However, I could not believe my eyes, the two wealthy Chinese men were not walking. They had wooden stretches, with mattresses, they were going to be carried up. They had 4 porters each. And they were off. The porters were like Speedy Gonzales. I struggled to keep up with them, but eventually the guide then told me to slow down. I looked around and realised there were 2 other westerners, who were walking. Glad to get my breath back, I continued the trek up at a more leisurely pace.
Today’s trek was medium, I am so glad I am feeling a lot better. The porter pointed out the spot where we had played with the gorillas the previous day. About another 10 minute trek and there was the Umubano family. They were on the move and had a new tourist group taking photos. We continued up. The trek was a lot tougher; it was steeper higher up and there were dense, stingy nettles. Every step I felt a sting and sharp barbs digging into my legs.
It bloody hurt!!!
I started thinking, after all the troubles and now in pain, why like everyone else in the group didn’t I just stick to one trek.
Eventually, the gorilla family were spotted and we were told to leave our belongings. This group was on the move and it was serious jungle bashing to keep up with them. When we caught up with the troop, they ignored us and turned their backs away from us. I thought they didn’t like us being there, but then the guide pointed out a rival gorilla group. They were just protecting their territory and were on guard. However, the rivals were the Umubano family, I felt a bit of a traitor after spending such a magical time with them yesterday.
It was a miracle, on seeing the gorillas, the Chinese business men could walk. They both had 2 cameras, one huge, fancy pancy SLR and an even bigger camera like professional journalists use. The men pushed in front of everyone, to ensure they got the best shots of the gorillas.
The gorillas starting walking again, one walked right past me, he must have been centimetres away from me. I did the hmming I learnt yesterday and he replied. There was no one else near me, he had to be talking to me. I couldn’t believe it, I had just communicated with a gorilla. I had said I was ok and not a threat, and he said the same back. It was absolutely incredible. Years ago, Siswi, an orangutan, grabbed my ankle (I should add friendly) and I have always held that touch of nature very close to my heart, but this actually beats that. I think this was the most amazing moment of my life. I was in tears with the interaction, so moved. That small hmm sound made all the hassles and stingy nettles worth it.
Our group continued following the troop through the dense jungle. The silverback was getting more agitated with the Umubano family. He run in front of me beating his chest. It was incredible to see. Even though he was showing his dominance to the rivals, again I felt completely comfortable amongst the gorillas. It felt as if we were part of the gorilla’s troop.
Unfortunately, the hour was soon up. This time I had to say good bye to the gorillas for good this time and head back down to civilisation. I drove back with the Chinese business men and I can’t believe how rude they were. I had kindly given them a lift and they didn’t even offer anything towards the $100 USD I had paid for the jeep. I can live without their money, but I was more annoyed they didn’t even tip my lovely, smiley driver (or any of the guides, trackers and porters); especially since on the journey back their tour leader had vomited out through the window and all down the side of jeep. Some people!!!!
Despite all the dramas and rude people, it was well worth it. What an incredible two days spent amongst gorillas and how many people can say they have spoken to a gorilla!!!