Guest post by Krissy David. You might remember Krissy from our Tomorrowland VIP experience. Well Krissy is back and contributing with a series of posts from Africa. First up a close encounter with a silverback gorilla
We’ve all got our list of top travel experiences,
whether it’s challenging yourself to scale a mountain, taking in the history of a prominent place or simply being blown away by the sights of somewhere new. My number one experience is a close encounter with a silverback gorilla in Rwanda. It was hands-down the best thing I had ever done – an experience so overwhelming that it brought me to tears.
As part of my tour with Intrepid, we visited Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda to trek with mountain gorillas. There are only approx. 900 left in the world, so it was a huge privilege to be able trek with such rare animals in the wild. Although it wasn’t cheap – the permit alone cost US$795 for just one hour of face-time with the gorillas.
Our guide was Mr D who gave us a comprehensive briefing on gorilla behaviour – the good sounds they make when they’re feeling comfortable and the not-so-good ones when they’re feeling threatened, and what to do if they approach you. So we trekked up a steep mountain, crossing small farming villages with our guide and our porters (ex-poachers who have now been given a new opportunity to make money).
The trek was just under two hours, but depending on the family you’re visiting, it can be up to six hours. It was magically when we first saw them – we heard their grunts in the distance, then the mist had opened to reveal three baby gorillas playing and eating. Then we met Bwenge the silverback gorilla, a presence of strength and authority within the family. He was relaxed at first, as our cameras clicked away. We managed to get within three metres to take a few photos with him. Just as we felt he was comfortable in our presence, he startled us with huffing and puffing grunts which meant he wasn’t happy.
He turned towards us and stood one metre in front of me – it was overwhelming and I was filled with a rush of fear and excitement. It’s at this point where the major part of this video was filmed. You can hear how intense this experience was by my deep breathing.
We were then asked to move as we were too close. Then just as we moved away he followed us and this time he came at us faster and with more force to display his dominance. When gorillas feel threatened, we were taught to show our submission by lowering to the ground and avoiding eye contact. Which is exactly what we did when Bwenge challenged Julian, one of the guys in our group. Bwenge stood over him, as Julian crawled into foetal position and avoided eye contact.
After about 30 seconds Bwenge then headed in my direction and grunted as he walked passed, just inches from a few of us huddled on the ground. That close-encounter still brings an excited rush every time I remember it. This is a must-do experience for the avid traveller.