My daughter and I did a one day gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park (Amahoro Tours).
On arrival at the park headquarters, we were entertained by a local dance troupe. We were put in a group of 8. On meeting our leader (Oliver) we were advised we would be tracking the Susa Group. "This is the largest group of gorillas in the world and the one originally studied by Dr. Dian Fossey." After a briefing which included an introduction to the Susa family's 'family tree', we were driven about an hour to the 'parking lot' which would be the starting point of our trek.
Our treking group was female dominated (one token male) and generally younger. I am 59 years old (and in relatively good shape) so I was by far the oldest member of the group. I didn't check the time when we set out so I'm not really sure how long it took us to get to the edge of the park. From the parking lot, we walked UP a hill through cultivated/planted fields. The ground is rough - and some in our party found it hard going (if you aren't in great shape, definitely hire a porter to carry your bag). We had been provided with a walking stick which was invaluable when negotiating some of the boulders and steeper parts of the trail. Good walking boots/shoes are also essential.
The edge of the park is marked by a low stone wall. We were met here by several trackers who advised us that the gorillas were quite close to the edge of the park. (I don't think it had taken us 90 minutes, if that, to reach this point. The scenery is so incredibly beautiful - looking up at the mountains and back down into the valley - time seems to stand still.)
We were given further reminders of the gorilla watching protocol i.e. stay at least 7 metres from the gorillas, and then we headed into the park. After a very short walk, we arrived at a bit of a clearing and found at least 20 gorillas enjoying breakfast. Once you actually reach the gorillas, you are allowed to spend one hour with them.
The gorillas were totally unfazed by our arrival and continued to forage. The gorillas were feeding on the stalks of the bamboo trees which they climbed until the tree could not support their weight and it broke off allowing them to get at the interior of the stalks.
Our guides kept a close eye on the gorillas, which was quite comforting as we seemed to be surrounded at times. There were three baby gorillas in the group including a pair of twins. Surprisingly, the mothers were equally unfazed by our presence. We were moved through the area occupied by the gorillas to allow us to view more of the gorillas. At one point, a smaller female gorilla decided to walk through our group - these are wild animals! We had been advised that although we were to maintain a 7 metre distance, the gorillas don't always obey the rules.
We had lots of time to take photos. There are 3 silverbacks in the Susa group. We saw the dominant male and the #2 male. Incredibly large and beautiful animals. One of the males got quite agitated at one point - with another gorilla - and in true gorilla fashion pounded on his chest before retreating into the jungle.
Our hour was over much too quickly and almost on cue, the gorillas themselves headed off into the jungle. Surprisingly, via the same route we were to take back to the edge of the park. When we got back to the wall surrounding the park, we found that the gorillas had got there before us and were waiting just outside the park to bid us a final farewell. This gave us an opportunity for more photos in the more open area outside the park boundary.
The walk back down the mountain after the trek seemed much shorter. I think the fact we were all chattering about our adventure made the trip that much easier.
All in all, this was the most amazing thing I have ever done in my life! It is so incredible to be able to get so close to these animals in their natural habitat.
If you have the opportunity to visit Volcanoes National Park, do not miss the chance to see these magnificent creatures.
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