Tuesday, August 28, 2007

09 August: Kisoro to Virunga National Park to Kisoro

Today we were up at 4:50am and left camp around 6am after making our packed lunches and having a bite of breakfast. It was a bit of a drive to the Doctor Congo (so dubbed after our tour T-shirts had it printed: DR. Congo) border, over the Kisoro airport landing strip, and then they stamped our passports (5 & 6) and checked out Yellow Fever certificates and then we waited around for the Safari guys to sort themselves out. Then we drove thru rural DRC for another 2 hours with security escorts in our vehicles.Eventually we arrived at a mielie field and were told this was our stop. As part of our "Community Walk" we hiked thru mielie, sugar cane and banana fields and past mud huts for about an hour up to the ranger station to meet our guide Joseph and our jungle escorts (the reason we have to do the Community Walk is because the road is miles away from the edge of the jungle).Joseph (in the picture) and his team of French speaking guys with guns proceeded to take us up and into the dense jungle and into the Virunga National Park - there really was a reason for those machetes! The hike thru the jungle was long and slow-going and at around 3pm it poured with rain for about half an hour. After which, I was drenched. The waterproof label on my jacket turned out to be a fairly inaccurate description! This did not make the hiking any more pleasant.

About half an hour later, at 4pm in the afternoon, we were paused as the trackers tried to pick up the trail (which we'd already had to back-track once or twice) and suddenly a single youngish Gorilla ran past us, crying and looking for his troop. It was amazing. We were lucky to be able to follow him back to the rest of them.
The family we were visiting was made up of 12 Gorillas. First we spotted an adult female who "played" with us by sitting and watching while pulling at branches (to try and get some sort of reaction, I guess?). As we followed her, we saw the giant male Silverback, it was spectacular - he is massive!Our best experience was being able to watch 3 young Gorillas playing for almost half an hour. They were tumbling around, pulling at each other and beating their chests :) Our last sighting of them (you're only allowed to spend an hour with them) was watching the giant Silverback eating bamboo.

Seeing the Gorillas made the whole day's hiking and rain worthwhile -
although the day was far from over and we now had to hike back down thru the jungle & community back to the road to meet our transport. Although this should've been easier and more direct, since you no longer have to follow the Gorilla's path, it was more difficult because the rain had made everything muddy and we were far more prone to slipping - which I can tell you happened to almost everyone at least once!After more hours of hiking, we finally made it back to the car, it was now after 7pm and I was freezing and soaked. But the night was still young, we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us along bumpy, muddy rural roads. Then the night got frightening. We got stopped at a military roadblock for about an hour - well, that's what we thought it was when we drove past a guy holding a rocket launcher. Our guide & driver proceded to leave us in the car, alone, with no explanation.

It turned out to be fine tho, and was just a normal stop to pick up our security escort. Sheesh, our hearts started beating again and we wondered why they hadn't just mentioned that relief-giving fact when they left the car in the first place! But we survived (clearly, since here I am writing) and made it to the border. Where we had to wait a little longer for the stamps (7 & 8) and finally got back to the campsite at 00:15. It was a long but indescribable and unique day!

August 2013: I have entered this blog post into the Travelstart Blogger Experience Contest. It was, without doubt, one of the most wonderful (seeing the Gorillas) and frightening (the rocket launcher, obviously) days of my life!

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