Because of the strict controls on gorilla tracking, our group is divided today to visit three different gorilla families. I am with a group of nine who visit a gorilla family at Ruhija. It is a bone-jarring two hour journey by van from our hotel, but in hindsight worth every bump and bounce.
We arrive for our 8am briefing, then get assigned porters and drive to the trailhead. The road is on a mountain ridge at just under 8,000 feet elevation, so our trek starts steeply downhill. The going is slow and treacherous, and one of our members has an asthma attack. We forge on without him, and the porters create a litter out of fresh-hewn poles and a woven basket. Eight strong men carry him to catch up with us at the point where we meet the gorillas.
When we first arrive a large silverback and several others are up in a tree. They are completely habituated to the presence of humans for one hour per day, so they go on about their daily activities – which at this point consist of eating and lounging. They gradually all come down out of the tree and move a short distance away. We whack through the brush to get to within sight of them again. Then we all sit for the longest time, just appreciating watching a small baby gorilla eat and peek up at us (we always stayed higher up on the hill than the gorillas so it is not possible for them to jump on us), and the silver-back watching over his brood.
The noises they make are beyond anything you have ever experienced. Just imagine the rumbling dinosaur sounds from Jurassic Park amplified through a fabulous Dolby sound system, and you might begin to get the idea. The growls and grumblings are like no other thing you have ever heard! And then there is the smell. The silverback has a pungent body odor worse than any human who hasn’t bathed in a month.
During the briefing we are told that one gorilla is very playful and likes to punch people. We discover that gorilla under a tree, and get very close to him. He decides to lunge out at us, and I am right in the front of our group next to one of the tracking guides. He takes his swing, and barely misses the guide, then spins around and sits down, seeming to think over his next move
I am just a few feet away from him, and he turns around and looks at us, and then away again. They he makes another lunge, barely misses the guide, and flops down flat on his stomach with his arms and hands splayed out towards us, just looking up. He soon moves away, and by this time we have already enjoyed more than one hour in close company with the family and it is time for us to leave.
We enjoy a picnic lunch in the forest with our guide and porters nearby, then climb back up to the road. We are just a couple of kilometers away from the briefing point, so three of us decide to walk back with an armed tracker and one porter. The scenery and company are excellent!
After saying goodbye to our porters and guide, and shopping for t-shirts, we begin the long drive back to our lodge where we gather with the other trackers and excitedly share stories. Every group had a fabulous experience, and great photos to share.
We have a briefing on the activities to come during our final few days of the safari, then have dinner and off to bed with thoughts of this unbelievable day!