Virunga, Rwanda … And the Gorillas

Hey Queenie,

You little legend you!!  About bloody time you did your PhD.

Although not quite the standard setting for literary intellectuals (I’m thinking a library and Chesterfield wingbacks would be more appropriate), I think our favourite central London wine bar may have had more to do with your decision than my debunking to Ahhhfrica.

My last two years in London were punctuated with nights spent perched on stools, albeit precariously, propping up the bar at Shampers (and single handily doubling their turnover!!) talking books and authors.  Basis for any good thesis I reckon, ‘Rioja and Reading … Slurred’!

Anderton’s bottom really is very impressive and you can’t really blame Rich for eking what little enjoyment he can from what is essentially a chick flick – how is Geeeeeoooooorgeous Rich anyway?!

News from the Southern Hemisphere is that I’m now back in Kampala after an ass numbing, but totally fantastic 12 day tour of the Volcanoes Lodges … hair styling, nit picking and general frivolity with apes included.

We spent two nights in Kigali before heading up country to Virunga Lodge, which is a 3 and half hour drive from the city through spectacular scenery.  We did the whole 12 days in … wait for it … a combie … I shit you not!  We were like a dysfunctional girl group on tour, but without a stylist.

Virunga Lodge is named after a chain of volcanoes called the Virungas which run along the northern border of Rwanda and make up part of the Great Rift Valley.   There are eight Volcanoes altogether, but the most impressive are Nyiragongo, Gahinga and Sabyinyo, which literally translated means Old Man’s Teeth.

The drive to the lodge, while absolutely stunning is completely toe curling in the rainy season and had almost all of us cowering below window level – we resembled a group of Ostriches, bottoms high, heads buried!

It overlooks two fresh water lakes on either side and sits high at the end of a red ribbon of road that runs along the saddle of two mountains. The lodge is made up of eight bandas that cling to the side of the mountain and a main reception area with wrap around veranda and indoor log fire.  From the viewing deck you can see the three largest volcanoes, which disappear into the mist in the early evening only to reappear again with the moon.

Sales pitch much?!

We arrived late Thursday to some well watered guests and an ice cold beer (Papa they are still as good as ever).  Over a communal dinner a guest with staunch Texan accent recounted his recent trek, which involved being bitch slapped by a female Gorilla; she literally ran up behind him and slapped him on the ass!

SilverbackThis did not provide any comfort to ‘French’ who a) is an African virgin and therefore convinced she would in some way lose her life on this trip and b) doesn’t like animals … at all.  She and I were up early doors the next morning for our trek … the fear was palpable.

We trekked for 2 hours with ‘French’ turning a whiter shade of pale with every minute.  She was shaking by the time we had cameras poised for the first sighting, which inevitably turned out to be one of the biggest Silverbacks I’ve ever seen – couldn’t have been a cute cuddly baby could it, no the universe decided to scare the crap out of her with a monster sized ape!

I confess even I was a little clingy.  He sauntered out from nowhere forcing our group to scatter and under barked orders from the guide, fling ourselves in an Olympic fashion into the nearest bush.  He eyed us briefly with a distinct sense of satisfaction, now sprawled in trees and/or undergrowth, before flopping down near his brood, foot in tree, tummy in air and arms spread wide.

Once we’d regrouped and settled the guide suggested we move a little to get a better view.  While he glided over the vegetation like some sort of Shakespearean forest nymph in khaki I, pink faced and sweating, ended up waist deep in a fallen tree and subsequently unable to move without winch.  I decided it was best to stay put and readied my camera.

Turns out being trapped by a fallen tree with a group of curious youngsters is not an ideal situation – the view is great, but the proximity is not.  See you’re supposed to keep a minimum of 7 metres between you and it.  Trouble is when you’re stuck in a tree and the guide starts yelling to ‘keep the distance’ because said youngster is closing in for a hug, you’re torn between going in for a cuddle and peeing your pants.

I did my best to haul ass, but after several failed attempts and a lot of panting, the guide took matters into his own hands and dragged me with some force by my trousers.   I landed on top of him in a pile up … graceful it was not.

We spent an hour with the family, who number 21 and have a silverback and two blackbacks, and they are without doubt the most magnificent creatures I’ve ever seen.   They are so human in the way they interact with eachother and have a very dignified air … when Silverback is not farting like a trooper – it’s the vegetation you know.

I feel utterly privileged to have had witnessed the last remaining Mountain Gorillas in the world in the wild, and to have seen the care and attention given by the guides and trackers who protect them.

It was awe-inspiring.

Big love as always,

B x

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7 Responses to Virunga, Rwanda … And the Gorillas

  1. Duuuuude, this is awesome. (And even more awesome that I was tpying MY blog entry at exactly the same time. We are like, so connected, man.) I’ve saved it for tomorrow. It’s not half as interesting as gorillas. It sounds incredible, and I’m loving the image of you straddling a tree and trying to decide whether to hug a gorilla or run. What an incredible time you are having. What an honour. SO much love xxxxx

  2. Tessa says:

    Oh. My. God. Spectacular. Speechless. Crying. Laughing. Back later.

  3. Rob G says:

    Oh WOW!
    What an incredible experience.

  4. R says:

    Wow, such amazing photos you must have been soo close. Love the cowering in a combi, a hectic journey by all means, much like me worried on a london bus….

  5. Cheryl says:

    Wonderful retelling of events. I am/was enthralled at every turn. Leave it to a Texan to get “bitch slapped” by a she gorilla & have a great ‘tale’ to tell of it.

  6. Boring Accountant says:

    A lovely recounting xx

    I entirely agree that their society is a mirror for our own. The silverback slumping besides the tree and continuously farting reminds me of a member of my family (who shall remain nameless) after a hearty Christmas dinner… if you could persuade the gorilla to wear a half cocked christmas paper hat the image would be complete.

  7. Tessa says:

    I love Boring Accountant whoever he/she may be! That comment made me nod with recognition and then giggle furiously! In fact I love the whole entire world today because I definitely walked side by side up that mountain with you Boontjie. I felt the heat; smelled the rich vegetation of the rainforest; the tummy tingling excitement with that lovely fission of fear and then the sheer wonder that these primates look us in the eye and communicate their centuries-old stories. It is a revelation, an epiphany – an experience that could be repeated time and again and never fail to induce the same reaction of astonished awe and a kind of deep, atavistic love.

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