The planet is our home; we need to be more responsible. Here's what I do.
Get up at 4.00am
Meet your driver
Travel to the visitors centre
Join six other travellers
Climb through the potato fields
Climb a volcano
Trek into the jungle in darkest East Africa.
Avoid the bugs
Ignore the rain
Struggle with the altitude
Stay calm at the Kalashnikovs
Then maybe this is the trip for you.
After three hours we approached the spot.
We were instructed to leave our bags and belongings and just bring our cameras.
Round the corner I glanced at a tree. Sitting halfway up in the branches was a large black hairy creature, munching on a handful of bamboo shoots.
It was a female mountain gorilla.
The species is endangered. There are around 750 left in the world. They are significantly concentrated in this area where Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo meet.
Virunga National Park is a tiny, preserved area of rainforest.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, civil war still encroaches on the area and oil exploration is being attempted, but all three countries, in spite of their own difficulties, are trying very hard to preserve this fragile, primate population.
As part of the effort, local people who formally were poachers are now part of the support team, either as porters or entertaining dancers. The tourist trade has been developed and education has grown in the area. Students who do well locally are given the opportunity to visit the mountain as a reward.
There are eight gorilla groups on the mountain at varying distances from the visitors centre. Tourism is carefully controlled. Each group has a maximum of eight visitors per day who are permitted to spend just sixty precious minutes within sight of their allotted group.
They’ve got hidden talents too.
These gorillas are smart.
The female gorilla in the tree is part of a group of around thirteen animals. This group has two silverback brothers. Each is around two hundred kilograms.
This is the Kuryama gorilla clan led by a silverback named Vubu.
The main Silverback eyed us suspiciously. We kept our eyes low as the guides communicated with him. The rain was annoying and the while group were attempting to shelter.
Within minutes he thumped his chest and then drummed on his ribs, rising to his feet and calling a warning.
The tourists stood quietly, nervously, unsure of how this would pan out.
After a moment.
He’d made his point.
He squatted back down.
There was a rustling in the leaves above the silverback. Then the branches parted and a juvenile crashed down next to him. A teenage mishap.
The youngest of the group, a four month old baby needed attention from her dad. She spent time reaching out to him to get him to notice her.
In the past poaching was a serious problem. A baby like this one could be sold as a trophy, her father’s head and hands might be severed to grace a coffee table. For now they are safe, watched by their guards and protected.
But this troop was recently made famous when the younger males were found dismantling a trap intended to catch them.
All too soon the sixty minutes were past. The eight of us moved quietly away. The atmosphere was subdued. No one wanted to break the spell. It was truly breathtaking.
a blog by a multilingual expat-since-birth, linguist, researcher, mum of three, living in the Netherlands and writing about bilingualism, multiculturalism, parenting abroad, international life...