Tracking gorillas in Africa: Part 2

In our last instalment, Katie was trekking through the dense African rainforest in search of a family of elusive mountain gorillas. Here’s part 2 of her gorilla adventure!

In our briefing before the gorilla trek we were told that if the gorillas charge us we were not to run but when we came across our first member of the family I may have forgotten the rules.  The first one we saw happened to be big Papa the silverback and when we interrupted his leaf munching he turned around and took a few steps gesturing to me “You want some of this?”  It scared the living daylights out of me and I instantly turned around and ran faster than a Kenyan at the Olympics right into the man with the gun and stopped dead in my tracks.

I can’t believe how scared I was but then I realized all he was doing was letting us know that we were guests in his house. Once he was comfortable he led us farther down the mountain to the rest of his family.  We saw thirteen of the twenty six members and Godfrey told us we were lucky to see them lounging together as close as they were. There were six just relaxing, eating leaves and grooming each other. It was amazing. The other seven could be heard roaming around in the trees. We even saw a little one year-old who made my heart melt, he was adorable. Where they were all located at the bottom of the mountain was very muddy and it was really hard to step through without getting stuck. I was trying so hard to manoeuvre through the bushes to get some good shots with my camera but they really enjoyed hiding behind the trees. The guides were great though and they used the machetes to hack away the bushes to clear a shot. However, that seemed to make the gorillas nervous and they would start to move away. I got a few shots and put my camera in my pack to just enjoy being with them.

We were only allotted an hour because they are so susceptible to contracting human sickness. Our hour passed by in what seemed like seconds. I could have stood there knee deep in mud and admired them all day! After our visit with the family we trekked back up the mountain a bit and ate our lunch. By then I was so dehydrated and exhausted that I was not up for eating my sandwich I made earlier that morning.  All I ate was popcorn and drank a Lucozade energy juice box. Evan was also pretty exhausted and we both didn’t really feel like eating but we both knew if we made it seem like we were eating we could have a nice long rest before trekking all the way back. At one point during our lunches we were both laughing out of control not having a clue what either one of us was laughing about. I would have loved to have just curled up into a ball and had a nap right then and there but before we knew it we were on the move again to make it out before the sun set.

Up and over the mountain we went and while we were on our descent back down to the river, Godfrey let us know there was an elephant nearby. The words that came from the man with the machete were (and I quote) “If the man with the gun shoots, don’t be scared.” Well, I was instantly terrified.  I had seen elephant poop all over the place but had no desire to meet a wild one face to face. Next thing I heard was trees snapping and Godfrey running towards me with the machete in the air yelling “Run! Run! Run!” and I did. About ten feet back up the mountain, Evan and I both thought for some reason that we could hide from the elephant behind some trees. We were quickly hustled along by the man with the gun who gestured to us to run farther! Who were we trying to kid, this elephant could have easily taken out the flimsy little trees we were “hiding” behind. Thank goodness the elephant lost interest because after trekking up and over all these mountains I could barely lift my legs high enough to not get caught on all of the jungle debris on the ground.

Finally, we made it back down and now back up the other side of the mountain we first climbed down.  No joke, I have no idea how I found the strength to make it up that last stretch. Mt. Sinai was tough but this gorilla trek was the most physically exhausting thing I have ever done in my entire life. Godfrey though, God bless him had the patience of a Saint with me. I must have stopped every ten steps back up that mountain because I couldn’t catch my breath and my legs felt as if they were going to cave if I went too far. I almost pushed him down the mountain in the last little stretch of the climb. I asked him how much farther and he reassured me that just over that mound we would be there and when we got there we still had another bit to climb. By then I had hit rock bottom and just wanted to stay there until morning when I had the energy to get back up. I choked on a few tears and tried to catch my breath when suddenly a bunch of older woman ran barefoot past me up the mountain. I felt like such a baby and managed to push myself all the way to the top. Once we reached the top Godfrey let me know that the ladies were in their sixties!

By the time we were finished our entire journey it took over eight hours to complete. Godfrey also let us know that it was very unlucky to have them so far away and that they are normally much closer. Looking back, I am so proud of myself for accomplishing the trek and wouldn’t trade the hour we had with the gorillas for anything. Well you know maybe a million dollars but probably not. It was so incredible to be with the gorillas like that in their own environment. Zoos will never ever be the same and nor will the Moscow circus be as entertaining.

The plan that evening after everyone’s gorilla trek was to go out to some local bars for drinks to celebrate. By the time Evan and I arrived back at the campsite, dinner was waiting for us and so was the rest of the group. They all appeared to us to have consumed a ton of alcohol before we had even got there. Everyone was all showered, looking good and then we found out that they had been at the campsite drinking since noon! We found out that their gorilla “trek” was more of a gorilla stroll and it took them only twenty five minutes to find their family. They were even so lucky to have two of their group members get punted by the silverback and they captured it on video. It may be the funniest video I have seen since my Mum was stuck on the elephant in Nepal. Judy definitely “felt the love” and Sally took a tumble. I’m happy the group was OK with us going straight to bed because we barely had enough energy to even eat our dinner. Overall it was such an amazing day and if I have the opportunity to do it again I’m going to call and make a reservation with the gorillas at the edge of the rainforest for a visit.


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