Today I had the pleasure of meeting the Umubano family, a group of mountain gorillas from Volcanoes National Park. The experience was really very special, a once in a life time opportunity.
After arriving at the entry to the park we disembarked the jeep and prepared for our hike up the mountain. A heavy mist rested over the mountain obscuring our view of the top, but did not deter us, stirring our excitement and sense of adventure even more. We set off, trudging through open fields passing women planting potatoes in the rich red earth. Once hitting the boder of the jungle we had a briefing before climbing down a steep ravine. The six foot ravine prevents elephants and antelope from traipsing through the local fields. From there, it was all up hill. After a few minutes climbing, our guides pointed out golden monkeys resting in the tree tops. I wondered about the animals present but unseen.
The stinging nettles were fierce, the first few stings shooting painful stings straight through my jeans. The path was hard going and rather slippery. I fell over at one point, not a graceful manoeuvre when you are trying to avoid the stinging nettles! After being carefully pulled to safety by our guides, the rangers directed us forward for about forty minutes before we were informed that we needed to leave our belongings under the vines and trees. We then proceeded to the left as the rangers slashed at the undergrowth to forge a path for us to follow. We heard the gorillas before we saw them. Their movements through the bush announcing that we were close.
At the guides instruction we all quieted our voices before a male gorilla pulled back the vines to reveal his magnificent face. The clicking of cameras and crunching of bamboo were the only sounds that could be heard in the still mountain air. We stopped in our tracks as the magic began to unfold. A mother and her baby nestled together under tangled vines. They were unperturbed by our presence, lounging happily in the morning sun. For one hour we observed the antics of these amazing creatures, the baby climbing over mother and vines, amusing us the whole time with his antics.
The silver back finally called an end to our visit by clearing a path for mother and baby to follow as he disappeared into the jungle. The juveniles continued to eat as we departed and made our way back downhill. I would have to say that this experience is right up there with the best of the best, a truly remarkable opportunity.