In 1983 I read Gorillas in the Mist and became fascinated by Dian Fossey’s work. She was widely regarded as one of the most dedicated preservationists in history. Her life was ended with her murder in 1985, which is still unsolved. In 1987 I was traveling in Greece with my best friend JoAnn and had the pleasure to meet someone who knew Dian and her work with the majestic and unfortunately endangered mountain gorillas (while numbers are slowly increasing, there are only about 700 mountain gorillas in existence). Since our trip to Greece, visiting the Volcanoes National Park to explore the rainforest where Dian Fossey lived for 13 years became an important part our bucket list!
Unfortunately JoAnn who was my best friend of 27 years died of colon cancer in 2009 at the age of 48. We did not know that we would run out of time to plan a trip to Africa. She never did get to see the gorillas but a week before she passed away she held my hand and made me promise her I would wait no longer to go see them in Rwanda.
So in October 2009 after 22 years I checked Africa off my list and more specifically Gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Words cannot describe the experience! Gorilla trekking in Rwanda will always remain on my top 3 adventures of all time!
Awaking before dawn I could not contain my excitement on the first day of the trek. Considering a trek to see Rwanda’s endangered mountain gorillas can take anywhere from 2-12 hours and I wanted to ensure my batteries were fully charged. Excitement soon outweighed my sleepiness as we ventured in our SUV for the ride over to Volcanoes National Park. The local residents, who are so warm and inviting, were commuting by foot along the roadsides; kids welcomed us with enthusiastic waves and smiles.
About 3 and ½ hours into the trek, our guide said we were close; she could smell the gorillas. I sniffed the air, and noticed something sweet but not offensive. And then we saw a black blurry object moving through the bushes… I took the lead position, right behind our guide who at the age of fifteen was a porter for Dian Fossey. I was thrilled to hear his stories!
We passed through a thick section of foliage, and emerged into a small clearing. The guide waved us through, and we found the silverback resting against a tree, with the sun shining through the clearing. To me he looked like King Kong! It was truly an amazing and moving experience after waiting 22 years for this opportunity. After another minute or two, he was joined by three more gorillas – a female, her baby and an adolescent back black. They didn’t seem to care that we were there. We saw nine gorillas in total that day!!
The real treat was seeing a mama gorilla pass by us through the bush with her baby on board. Later the mama gorilla spent a few minutes sitting by the silverback in the group, which gave us a sense of the size difference between the male, female, and baby.
As our time wound down, and we were being led back through the foliage I was so busy listening to our guide reminisce about Dian Fossey and his experience with her that I did not see the young and curious back black gorilla behind me reaching out to grab the back of my sweat shirt. The guide was very quick to communicate to the gorilla seconds after he pulled on my shirt and the gorilla moved away. However in that moment I instantly knew how Dian Fossey could become so enamored with these gorillas. On an emotional level it felt remarkable to have experienced physical contact with such a rare animal in its natural habitat.
Although a bit pricy it was worth every penny and then some. We combined this adventure with a customized safari in Kenya, which also makes my top three adventures of all time followed by a relaxing beach trip in the Seychelles. Overall a trip of a lifetime thanks to Mike Haines and his expertise in African travel. In fact I fell totally in love with Africa and Mike is now planning our return, which will be to South Africa in 2013 for my 50th birthday!