Rwanda Guest Blog 2015

 

Charlotte Angus shares an unforgettable hour with mountain gorillas

After a few hours of walking we were less than 50 meters from the Kuryama Gorilla family we were visiting.  We had reached our destination.  I dumped my bags, snacks and walking stick and Trai helped me adjust the settings on my camera… it was time to meet the Gorillas.   

 

From the moment I had been asked by a friend if I ‘fancied walking with Gorillas’ I had never really been able to fully comprehend what this experience would offer.  I followed the guide through the forest, he moved some foliage and there was a Silverback. All I could think was ‘Oh My God! It is a F*****g Gorilla!  He was just 3 metres away, he was huge and magnificent and yes…definitely huge and there was nothing between him and me but a little bit of grass.

Once I started breathing again our amazing guide (who once worked with Dian Fossey – full marks to Trai for bagging us the best guide!) explained he wasn’t well and was staying a little away from the family, which was our cue to move a little further in to a clearing where more of the Gorilla family were sat. There was a mix of ages with one youngster showing off for his visitors under the watchful eye of the main Silverback. Before I knew it I felt so comfortable and absorbed with general goings on of the Gorillas, receiving some excellent explanations from our guide and trackers about how the families live, why they do what they do and valuable advice on keeping the Gorillas and ourselves safe throughout the magical hour we spent with them.

 

Our hour passed quickly, different family members came and went, the Silverback watched on and I was mesmerised by the sense of community: the fact the Silverback was clearly in charge and allowing us to be there; the wonderful bonds between the Gorillas; the passion the guide and trackers had for these amazing animals; and the fact the Gorillas aren’t aware they are meant to stay 7 metres away…. So you get such an intimate experience!

 

The guides explained the difference the money from our permits made to the Gorillas in the park and the local communities close by, through steering them to other livelihoods instead of hunting, allowing them to coexist peacefully together, which is so important for rebuilding Rwanda through tourism and preventing the Gorillas from becoming extinct. A huge part of me was devastated that these Gorillas with whom we share so much (more than 96% of the same DNA) had suffered at the hands of man. Another part was inspired by the huge step change a few passionate people had inspired because of their love for Gorillas.

 

Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of seeing Gorillas in the wild or their generosity in letting us spend time with them.  Without a kind invitation from a friend I would never have experienced the wonders of Rwanda, without a photographic holiday I would never have picked up a camera, had help from a professional to work-out how to get better photos and end up with memories and pictures that I am so proud of.  I have the bug… it might be an expensive hobby but it makes me feel alive.

 

This was just one hour of an amazing holiday and doesn’t even touch on some of the other amazing moments:

 

  • I always felt safe in Rwanda - their journey since the civil war is amazing!

  • Walking at altitude is doable, and there is always a strong porter (male or female) to pull you up the volcano if you need help

  • Golden monkeys move faster than the Gorillas… a real challenge for the novice photographer

  • This is the type of holiday where you are always living in the moment enjoying the experience – work, life and general trials and tribulations disappear

  • No matter how experienced (or not) you are at photography you have Trai on hand giving you the best hints and tips to get a decent picture!

  • Tagging Zanzibar on the end is a great way to carry the holiday forward

 

I left Africa with a list of personal achievements, photos that I am proud of and my family and friends are impressed by, and a reminder of the simple things in life that make me happy… if a friend asks you if you would like to walk with gorillas, I would highly recommend you say YES!