Yesterday with the Gorillas was incredible. We left at 5am with Henri, the Director of the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund. The trip to the ranger station is about two hours on roads–well it is hard to explain roads, other than you must have a 4×4 as the roads are dirt paths with many holes and rocks.
We arrived at the station and started off to the park entrance by foot. There were three of us with two guards and a guide. Although the park is open, the rangers are still very concerned with rebels and poachers. Over 100 Congolese rangers have died in the war trying to protect the gorillas. As we walked, the Volcano was in the distance with villagers out planting sweet potatoes, cabbage, corn, cassava and many other vegetables. The soil is very rich near the volcano. As I walk the children yell out “muzungu” — white person! We reach the park entrance and the ranger pulls out his Garmin GPS for the coordinates — they take the coordinates each half hour when they are tracking the gorillas. We were looking for the largest family, a group of 35 gorillas with 10 young gorillas. The trekking begins and this was very demanding — the guide led as he cut his way through the forest with a machete. We followed up the mountain, down the mountain and up again — we trekked for two hours looking for the family. The gorillas average about 4km of travel each day. When I first saw the female gorilla, she was in a tree six feet away enjoying a lunch of leaves and vines — it was spectacular. Then one of the curious babies came within two feet — I was able to film her playing and trying to figure me out. We kept watch of the family for about an hour and moved with them. The silverback, the male in charge, ended our trekking when he charged us. I got it on film. He was basically telling us enough — go away — so, we did and the long march back to the ranger station began.
I am leaving Eastern Congo in the morning — the month went too fast — will be taking a bus to Kigali then a flight to Uganda to work with colleagues at Makerere University. I am very sad to leave — the work has been difficult but my Congolese colleagues inspire me with their work and vision of peace.