Friday, 10 February 2012

Influencing Apes! Rwanda Revealed part 2

Rwanda is a lush country. The sun beats all year round but the rains arrive with regularity allowing the thousand hills of this remarkable nation to bloom and flourish. Tea, coffee, corn, maize and innumerable fruit and vegetable crops spring from the fertile soil in all directions and barely an inch of the earth is left untilled.

Higher up, in the heart of the Virunga mountains - a chain of volcanoes stretching along the border between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo - the environment takes on a denser rain forest quality, as giant bamboo, hagenia trees, shrubs of all varieties mosses and lichen all battle for dominance. And it's through this foliage that we trekked, ably assisted by our fantastic local Rangers.

Our mission? To spend an hour with Rwanda's famous Gorillas - this was something I had been dreaming about for months...

After two hours of pretty sweaty hiking - during which an advance tracking team constantly relayed the position of our target family group back to our rangers - I suddenly saw a dark shape in the distance, moving peacefully through the green. We had arrived and our minds were blown.

The infants and females were stunning. Playful, elegant and utterly oblivious to our presence. I was so busy snapping away that I initially failed to notice when the leader of the pack arrived. 

Let me say this in all honesty. Nothing can quite prepare you for coming face to face with a Silverback...

His name is Bwenge, which means "Intelligence" and watching this regal statesman of the forest go about his business, it is not difficult to understand why. You only have to look into a Silverback's eyes (something I was instructed NOT to do but simply couldn't stop myself!) to see the mind at work.

Then, suddenly I found myself shuffled to the front of the group, within a mere three metres of this living wonder. My delight should be evident to all!

A second after the photo above was taken Bwenge decided that he had had quite enough of my googly eyes and knuckled towards me. In the most uncool fashion imaginable I attempted to run to safety only to lose my footing and stumble into the bracken. Scrambling clear I felt both foolish and exhilarated for the Silverback had only been moving to a new eating spot, clearly favouring the greenery I'd been hiding in. He wasn't in the least threatened by my presence: in his eyes I was less bothersome than a mosquito!

Our hour of privilege finally came to an end and we all trekked down the mountain, grinning like idiots. There are only 13 gorilla groups living in the Virungas and only one visit to each family is allowed per day which makes this experience all the more special and one I heartily recommend, should you ever visit this remarkable country. Even better, team the visit with a trip to the Nyungwe Forest and the breathtaking canopy walk.

Now, I had always wanted to tell a story about a primate, and that dream was realised with Sid's adventures in Monkey Nuts Book 1 ... but this AMAZING experience has refueled my desire to generate another tale of ape-based action so watch this space for more news, friends!

- Robin