On November 10th, I climbed into Virunga National Park near a volcano that borders 3 different countries (Uganda, DRC and Rwanda) to spend one hour with the fascinating mountain gorillas. The hike was beautiful, in lush green forest with enough of a trail so that unlike Nyungwe we didn't have to hack a path. It was steady going with breaks every now and again to appreciate the stunning view. I was sceptical about actually seeing any animals because Nyungwe had been such a disappointment when after 2 hours of hiking we were told to stop, unload our equipment and come to look at the massive beasts.
Seriously. We were about 15ft away from group 13 which included a silverback, several females, adolescents and half a dozen babies. The head of the silverback is what caught my eye first and I kept slapping my friend Charlotte on the arm- Do you see that?! Do you see that?! His head was the size of my microwave, don't know how else to put it- he's just MASSIVE! He was sitting chilling out with his pseudo-family around him. A female missing one hand from an encounter with a trap played nearby with a 2 year old. They wrestled and the little one pounced on her belly. Not sure who was getting the most enjoyment out of the experience the elder or the younger. A set of babies were playing with each other and my earlier jesting about "taking one home" became a somewhat serious consideration as these fuzzy stuffed animals made their cute grunts and did pouncing, somersaults and mini chest-beats. We snapped photos and marveled at the enormity and power encapsulated in the 400 pound sleeping silverback. Part of me wanted to see him do something and part of me was acutely aware that if he woke up and got aggravated in any way, we'd be toast. The guide kept making low guttaral grunts the entire time we were there and encouraged us not to point. When you are an uber-tourist and among five other girls, all you can do is point. Look at that! Did you see what that one just did! It was kinda funny. I couldn't NOT point I was so excited by it.
Then, the most awesome rare thing of all.. they mated. Two adult females had been vying for the sleeping giant's affection. One kept yawning and showing her teeth and the other was kinda sauntering around- you know gorilla flirting. So, big guy wakes up, walks over to the teethy one and proceeds to, you know, do it. The five of us were in fits of laughter and wonder and shock- only Kerry managed to get her camera in order and video the activity. There were strange noises, other gorillas watching too and within minutes a small shudder and it was done. He promptly walked back to his spot, lay down and fell asleep. Best drama of all was the "other woman" who hadn't been chosen threw a bit of a hissy fit, all the while dragging a 2 year old baby on her back. Fascinating! Apparently it is rare to see such an event and we were joking that although we hadn't actually hoped to witness exactly THAT, we should maybe sell our footage to National Geographic. Haha!
The hike down was hilarious. Just as soon as we turned to leave it began to pour rain. We slid, skiied, giggled and slipped our way down the hill. Whereas on the way up we often got caught or stung by the nettles and had to pick our way carefully, the way down was just like a muddy slip n' slide. We couldn't stop laughing though, we had just experienced one of those rare, once in a lifetime moments; an hour with one of the most amazing creatures in the world.