Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Gorilla Trek

As I said in the post below, the Gorilla Trek was so incredible
 that it definitely deserved its own blog post so here it is!
Only about 800 mountain gorillas still exist today. 
They survive in only two locations in the world, 
one of them being the Virunga range of volcanic mountains 
on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Gorilla treks are highly regulated in order to protect these elusive creatures. 
The only way to visit these endangered great apes is through an organized tour. 
Only a very limited number of permits are sold per day and human interaction is restricted
 to one hour to minimalize interference with the mountain gorillas daily life.
As soon as we decided to visit the Wilkes in Rwanda, 
we signed up to see the gorillas up close and personal!
And that is exactly what we did!  
We met up with about 30 other gorilla trekkers at the forest's edge around 7am.
As the Park rangers were assembling the group and giving instructions regarding our gorilla visit, 
Karen and I took a moment to take a photo.
It had stormed the night before and still was a little rainy and wet 
so we came prepared with ponchos, hats and rain gear. 
We were entertained with a tradition tribal song and dance by some of the local villagers. 
Music and dance plays an important role in the traditions of all the people in Rwanda.
After being assigned to a group, and we were finished with introductions and instructions,
 we started our hike, which began as we walked through these beautiful fields.
With walking sticks in hand, we tromped through the muddy fields... 
and headed into the forest.
We walked past this gorgeous pond.
Our guide that day was awesome!  
He stopped and explained some of the local vegetation on the way.
As you can tell, he was full of lots of fun and information... 
and was quite entertaining!
Some of the images that we saw along the way.
Getting some last minute instruction from our guide 
when we get to the stone wall at the border of the Volcanoes National park.
Once we climb over the stone wall...
we found ourselves in the thick bamboo forest.
We definitely needed our walking sticks as we made our way through the slick mud.
We hiked for about 45 minutes and then we met up with the gorilla trackers,
who were ready to take us directly to the gorillas.
We hiked a bit further and came upon the "largest silverback in the world."
He was HUGE!!  And we were only about 10 feet away from him.
We began snapping pictures as fast as we could.
At first he had his back to us and then he turned and we got a good look at his face.
He didn't seem to mind that we were all staring and the cameras were clicking.
We turned around and there were a group of gorillas,
mamas and babies... so cute!
Look at the chocolate brown eyes of this little one.
And this one being carried on the back of his mom.
He kind of looked like a poodle!
Suddenly we were surrounded by a group of gorillas
and they just walked around the forest without a care.
And we tried to stay calm until the gorilla stood up and did one of those "tarzan" chest pumping thing.
I think we all ran towards the guide and tried to get out of the way.
As the momma walked by with her baby gorilla on her back.
The "silverback" (adult male gorilla) named for the silvery grey hairs on its back 
normally leads each group, serving as its chief protector and defender.
And then this Silverback was on the move...
and another little gorilla came skipping across the forest.
Look at this guy!  He is huge! It was if he was posing for the cameras!
I knelt down to get a photo with the "largest silverback in the world"
and then two more gorillas came around corner and got in the picture.
We just stood there and stared at the gorillas and took pictures and 
began to feel more and more comfortable about being extremely close to the gorillas!
 Mark, Brad and Karen felt very comfortable... 
 I mean, look how close they are to the gorillas!!
 And then this big guy wanted to get by us so as we stood still,
he walked right by us and I snapped this photo.
We were kind of huddled all together with Brad on the outside, closest to this guy.
Right after I took this picture, the gorilla reached up 
and kind of pushed Brad aside and walked on (photo below!)
It all happened so quick but Mark got video of the whole thing!
 A shot of the silverback after the shove, as he walks away.
Then the gorilla started climbing this tree...
it was so amazing to see this large animal...
climbing up the thick brush...
the whole thing swayed back and forth...
as he made his way to the top...
and once he got there...
he turned around...
and sat down, right in front of us.
He turned around and told the gorilla behind him to move out of the way...
and now he is ready for a real photo shoot with the group.
So we got started right away, posing with our favorite gorilla.
I can't believe that I let Dad get so close to the gorilla!!
I love how he just sat there and posed for us for about 20 minutes!
Look at his fingers.  They were unreal!  They looked like fake leather gloves.
I love this photo that Karen took.  Look at the detail in his face and his gorgeous brown eyes!
So as the gorilla sat there posing for us, we just had to take a bunch of pictures
 and see how close we can get to this gorilla and how many photos we can take.
And Karen and Brad getting in on the fun!
And this is my favorite photo with the four five of us together:)!
Oh, and I love these last two pictures of Mark and me, 
getting our final photo with the gorilla.
I think he finally decided that he was done with the photo shoot...
and we are too busy to notice that he gets up and starts walking right towards us.
Luckily, our photographer, Karen, gives us a heads up.
I turn around and he is right behind me and we ran!
Guess that's the end of picture taking:)!
Once we get a safe distance away, we turn around to find that
 he is sitting down again, just having a good time watching us.
I love the look on his face, as if he is saying, "Are we done yet?!"
And then he threw himself back into the brush and started laughing!!
It was as if he was performing for us the whole time and knew that it was time for us to leave.
 Our hour is up and this gorilla is done!
After our incredible visit with the gorillas, it is time to hike back through the bamboo jungle
 and this is what it looked like hiking through the dense forest!
Seeing the gorillas was fabulous but hiking through the forest was pretty cool too!
We are out of the forest and with a little help, we climb back over the stone wall.
Dad got ahold of another machete and went to town.
We were so lucky because the rain held off while we were on our hike
and just as we are making our way back it started raining a little.
We walked through the fields...
which looked like this...
and we passed by some children who were taking care of their livestock...
and this lady who was tending to her garden.
We are almost home and it's not even lunchtime.
It was a great trek and we are so glad that we got to share it with the Wilkes.


Kimber said...

Wow! That's crazy!

Kirstin said...

What an awesome experience! That is a treat of a lifetime, how fun!

deb said...

Glad I only accompanied you in your dreams...not sure I would have been as brave with them so close. Beautiful pictures! What an amazing trip!!!

v a n e s s a said...

woah, those pictures had me shaking in my boots. why was no one scared! amazing pictures, so beautiful.

Erica {let why lead} said...

Um, incredible is an understatement! Adding that to the bucket list right now!