“Excuse me, excuse me, coming through, coming through” said Intambara as he brushes ever so gently past me. Intambara was speaking Gorilla beringei beringei or otherwise known as gorilla speak.
I was standing in the middle of the rainforest of the now dormant volcano called Bisoke, watching the amazing mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Intambara is the 250kg silverback gorilla in this group of 17 gorillas. With his family around him and his now extended human family watching in wonder he soon settled down to enjoy some stinging nettles for a light snack.
Patrick our guide explained that the gorilla’s hands are hard and covered by a wax type substance that prevents them from getting stung. With my pinkie finger having just touched a stinging nettle I somehow wish we humans had the same.
With less than 900 mountain gorillas left in the wild living between Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo I feel ever so fortunate to be watching these incredible animals. Sharing 97% of the same DNA as humans I also feel that I am watching a little bit of my family!
Our day had begun a few hours earlier where we went to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters to check-in and get our permits. Our guide for our safari, Francis then went along with the other guides to start the delicate process of negotiations to which group went where to trek. Made up of three options, easy, medium and hard, we opted for a medium climb. Once our group was allocated we met our fellow trekkers taking the trekking group up to 8. Patrick then introduced us and explained the do’s and don’ts of gorilla trekking, later driving for about 40mins to the Besoki volcano to start the climb.
Taking the option of hiring a porter was the best decision I made all day.
He proved to be invaluable in assisting me up the steep slopes of Besoki.
We began our trek walking through small farms, growing mostly Irish potatoes. As we edged ever closer to the forest and buffalo fence, which forms the boundary of the park and the farm lands, we stop for a moment to take in the view. Rwanda is not called land of a thousand hills for nothing. I feel like I am halfway to heaven looking down on a spectacular landscape.
Further along and higher up we trek. Into the forest stopping every now and then to catch our breath whilst staring out to the land beyond us. Patrick then stops and jokes that Intambara called and says he can feel we are starting to tire so he is bringing his family to meet us.
Leaving our bags with the porters and taking only our cameras we continue on.
Before I know it Intambara is brushing past my leg. Strangely, I feel no fear, more of a reassuring comfort and welcome.
The rest of the family are dotted around. Some are climbing high into the bamboo trees to get the freshest and newest shoots. One of them underestimates his weight and comes tumbling out the tree with a thud as the bamboo snaps. The younger ones seem inquisitive and came well within the 7-metre minimum distance that we were told to stay away from them.
Rules to humans, easily broken by gorillas.
All too soon our hour is up. Intambara seems to be a good timekeeper as he stops for one last group family photoshoot before he heads off deeper into the forest with his family following behind.