We have just had the most incredible experience of a lifetime, visiting a family of mountain gorillas in the wild on the slopes of a volcano in Rwanda. We woke up early and were joined by six other tourists (including two from Vancouver) for our trek into the forest. For the entire last year there were only around 1000 Canadians to visit here. The trek to find them in their natural habitat was difficult. The rangers that work here are talented at their job and it is impressive how they are able to track them as they wander freely in the wild. We had to tuck our pant legs into our socks to protect from the fire ants, and were constantly getting scraped by stinging nettles all the while dodging animal droppings on the paths. When we started to get close we could no longer use any established trails and a path was cut as we went through thick growth on very steep terrain. It was quite a challenge to climb this and we had to go a very long way. The reward for the effort though was so beyond our expectations and was quite a moving experience. We were positioned slightly above the gorilla family which came right up to us, including one massive 200kg silverback, seven females and a baby. Park regulations require visitors stay seven meters away from the gorillas. Our positioning on the hill at times put us from less than one meter away to only a few meters away from these beautiful animals.
It is fascinating to see these creatures go about their lives. Their DNA is 96% human and the similarities between us are interesting to observe. We were able to see them eating, occasionally pounding their chests, knocking down trees, and the big silverback even mounted one of his mates and proceeded to copulate for a number of minutes with us just a few meters away. She wandered off when he was done and he lay down with his hands propping his face to rest. The baby was particularly entertaining and was swinging on the trees. At one point one of the older females ran and knocked the tree down that the baby was in.
We watched in awe and relished this unbelievable encounter with the gorillas. I cannot imagine I will have a better wildlife experience for the rest of my life. What an amazing day.
Photos from our encounter can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=105780&id=673382190&l=b2a5ee0e50
We head south to Kigali tomorrow.