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Wow, what an experience

I was so excited about my trek with the gorillas that I woke up 5 times thinking I had slept in. At one stage I woke to what I thought was my butler waking me up. I heard something on my deck and sat up yelling out "I am awake" and then got up to get ready. When no one answered me back I became a little suspicious. I looked at my watch and realized it was only 3am. I couldn't believe it and it took me a while to get back to sleep.

I finally woke up at 6am feeling exhausted. I organized my camera equipment and packed the two backpacks I wanted to take with me. I was unusually anxious about the experience and not knowing how long I would be walking for so I wanted to eat as early as possible before leaving for the start of the trek.

I was accompanied by a staff member from the lodge to the start of the trek which is about a 400m walk from the lodge. When we arrived at the assembly area I was greeted with many different groups of people coming from the different lodges/camps. I was told I was walking with the R group, which comprised of 15 gorillas including a silverback, blackback, females, junior males and some babies. My ranger would be the guide I had from the previous day, which was interesting. I made arrangements to have two porters to help me with my bags and more importantly to give me a hand on the slippery slopes if necessary.

After a brief movie and then a talk from our ranger who introduced us to the gorilla group we would be trekking we then made our way back to our respective lodge vehicles. I was then driven to the start of our trek, which was about a 10 minute drive outside of the national park.

We started our walk from what looked like a churchyard and made our way through a banana plantation, passing people’s houses and then through a clearing before we started walking up a steep incline with a very narrow track. There was plenty of scrambling over rocks and up the track but with the help of my walking stick and a hand from my porter every so often I was able to make it up the mountain. We weren’t walking under the canopy of the national park because we were actually outside of the national park and in reclaimed land next to it. This meant that the sun was beating down on us as we made our way up and it was very hot indeed with a high humidity. The walk was done at quite a pace due to the lead group of two Italians from the Alpine region of The Dolomites literally running up the mountain.

By the time the rest of the group caught up with the leaders we had only a couple of minutes to get ourselves organized with cameras etc before we were due to meet the gorillas. Due to my cameras I was the last one in our group to go into where the gorillas were. The porters looked after our belongings whilst we were observing the gorillas. I was still recovering from the climb as we made our way close to where the gorillas were which meant that I didn’t feel comfortable pulling out the big camera which weighed 3kgs. Instead I spent the first 20 minutes taking video with my GoPro, which proved fortuitous because the gorillas were moving quite quickly and getting good photos would have been difficult.

The silverback made his way down the tree he was in and scurried off through the thick brush and then a number of other gorillas including a baby came down.  One of the friendlier gorillas made its way close to where I was standing and actually walked past me. She then got stuck because the group ahead of me was occupying the narrow track and she couldn’t get around. She decided to settle in front of them and enjoy a snack. The group ahead was within 2 metres of the gorilla due to the lack of space where we were. The rule of staying 7m away from the gorillas was absolutely impossible due to our location. Basically one false move where I was standing or the others in the group meant we would be rolling down the mountain. Due to my location at the back of the group it was very hard to get any photos of the gorilla. This was a shame because it meant I missed out on seeing any of the action.

The gorilla moved location and once again being at the back of the line and the location we were in meant I couldn’t see anything. After the initial group had 5 minutes with the gorilla I asked them to move up so that myself and another trekker could have a look. This didn’t go down too well with a number of the trekkers but I was insistent and they moved up. It helped that the trackers and a ranger were trying to cut their way through the scrub to go after the silverback. Most of the group ahead was adamant in trying to find the silverback who had quickly made off through the jungle when he came down from the tree. I was happy to stay with the female gorilla that was eating and looking relaxed sitting on the side of the track next to me.

Being so close to the gorilla and having some alone time with her was amazing and a very special experience. The gorilla was very calm and relaxed in front of me and this allowed for some brilliant photo and video opportunities. A blackback also came close to the female but stayed within the brush and was hard to see. The tracker tried to move some of the brush to get a better look but the ranger warned him to stop when the female gorilla left her spot and moved on to find the others in the family. The ranger said that the blackback gorilla could become aggressive when he is alone and close to humans. I was happy to just stay where I was and watch any behavior I was privileged to witness.

The rest of the group returned from unsuccessfully trying to trek the silverback. Our time was now very limited because we were only allowed one hour with the gorillas. Last photos were called and the ranger was asking people to move back towards where our porters were with our belongings. Some of the group were trying to stall the ending which I didn’t think was appropriate so I moved on and went back to my porters knowing it would take me some time to get organized with my cameras.

Once I was ready the porters and I were happy to start walking back down the mountain. This is where my experienced porter came in handy because he was able to provide me with a helping hand as we made our way down the track. Getting down the mountain was a breeze compared to going up and within 30 minutes we were at a scenic area to enjoy our lunches.

After we enjoyed our lunch with a view it was a quick walk down through the banana plantation and back to the meeting area where the cars from our respective lodges were waiting for us. The group made their way back to where we met at the start of the morning and we were given our certificates for completing the trek. I then gave a tip to the ranger, my two porters and the group consisting of the trackers/tourist police. I then made my way back to the lodge to enjoy the rest of the afternoon relaxing and going over the footage and photos from the trek.


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