TRAVEL DIARIES: GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA

If you read yesterday’s post, then you know that on Tuesday, we headed to Kigali, Rwanda to meet up with Laren’s colleague and our great friend Shannon … who is easily the most generous person that we both know. (She took us to South Africa in 2011 and then to Necker Island in 2012, both of which were life-changing experiences.) Well, she’s done it again, folks. This time, she invited both of us along to gorilla trek with her, her husband Sam, and their good friends Carlos and Gi, who were visiting from The States. Hiking for gorillas in the beautiful, lush Rwandan rainforest as my birthday present? A dream come true …

We all piled into the car around 3:30am and began the super windy drive from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park, which is also where I hiked Bisoke Volcano with a friend a couple months ago. We arrived just as the sun rose. The green, rolling hills in the mist and drizzle resembled Scotland perhaps more than typical sub-Saharan Africa, but it was perfectly cool, beautiful trekking weather. And so the hike to find the gorillas began …

After a couple hours of trekking through the mud, enjoying whisper-only conversation and stellar scenery all around us, we finally reached what we’d been looking for: a family of 23 gorillas sat just beyond the ridge; eating, playing and making distinct gorilla noises — grunts and pops — that echoed throughout the valley. Considering that there are only an estimated 880 mountain gorillas in the entire world, being able to see an entire family in their natural habit was completely awe-inspiring.

For a full hour we watched the gorillas, at times being no more than a few feet from them. One particular young male was especially frisky, showing off and pounding his chest at us, often moving quickly through the group, forcing us to get out of the way fast. And in one case, when we didn’t, he grabbed Carlos’ jacket and then gave Laren a strong push out of the way as well. We all couldn’t help but laugh at this human-like temper (and the fact that the men had been put in their place.) It was a moment none of us will ever forget.

Gorillas are truly fascinating and endearing animals to watch. An hour with them felt like 5 minutes. Thank you, Shannon, for one of the most memorable and beautiful gifts I’ve ever received!

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