It was quiet in the jungle.
The only sound we can hear is the ‘chink-chink’ of the machete as it sliced through the tangled vines curled around tall bamboo shoots which towered over us, swaying in the cooling breeze sweeping across the mountain top. As we trekked further into the forest, we had left behind the farms dotting the landscape, and the laughing children who had tumbled over each other in their excitement to reach us.
Our day had begun before dawn in the Ruhengeri Mountains, a string of extinct volcanoes which run along the north-western border of Rwanda. Driving through the darkness from our lodge, mist wrapped around us like a cloud, chilling the early morning air. As the sun peeks over the horizon we arrived at our destination. Parc National des Volcans, home to the largest primate species on earth - the Mountain Gorilla!
Park ranger, Patience, is being true to his moniker and stands waiting for us to gather our backpacks. “If you are stung by the stinging nettles, you must hold your pain on the inside,” he says, with a wide grin on his face, “The gorillas do not appreciate loud noises.” We set off with Patience and the rest of our guides on a winding, narrow track through the small farms at the base of the mountain. Our entourage grows, as local children rush to keep up with us and accompany us to the thick stone wall which separates their fields from the dense bamboo forest on the mountain slopes above.
“The young gorillas like to eat the fermented bamboo shoots,” explains Patience as we walk single file, hampered by clinging mud and thickets of vines. “To them, this is like rum, and they love to get tipsy!” The idea of a drunk gorilla makes me chuckle, as I imagine him ambling about the forest!
We trek higher up the mountain. The rangers will stay with the gorillas until they create a nest for the evening, in order to protect them from poaching. In recent years the gorilla population has slowly begun to grow, a positive sign for an endangered species. I drop to the back of our group as we press on to reach the clearing nearby where the gorillas are feeding. Not long now! Excitement builds and we know that our audience with these magnificent creatures isn’t far away. Suddenly Patience begins to grunt, speaking the gorilla's language to warn them of our approach.
A strange feeling sweeps over me and I stop - it feels as if I’m being followed! I slowly swivel my head, craning around to see who’s behind me. Hand outstretched, finger pointing, close to touching. A 300-kilogram silverback gorilla reaches towards my backpack, and I’m frozen on the spot before he retreats silently into the bush. My heart is pounding, adrenaline courses my veins and I turn to make eye contact with Patience.
“Welcome to Rwanda,” he says with a smile.
Blog & Image Copyright: Written by Alison O'Loughlin, Courtesy of Adventure World Travel