20 June 2006

mountain adventure

by Cecily
Getting to where the gorillas live is complicated. First you have to drive northwest from Kigali for about two hours. The road is a two-lane, two-way very twisty mountain highway. With pedestrians along the sides and buses full of people and gigantic trucks and lots and lots of blind corners.

Then you arrive at Ruhengeri and just before the soccer field you turn right. Now you are on a dirt road instead of a paved road, but it is still a relatively smooth dirt road at the beginning.

It gradually becomes less and less smooth. The road runs between and through several tiny villages, and the trip involves many adults looking at the car and many children waving and many other children chasing the car asking for money and/or water bottles.

Then there is an intersection, at which point the road goes from rocky to crater-y.

After a while you pass the park headquarters and then right after that is the guest house where we stayed.

So, you stay overnight somewhere and then at seven the next morning go over to the headquarters. Everyone stands around and drinks coffee and displays their identification and permits and chooses which group they will be with. There are eight groups of gorillas that tourists can see, and a couple of other ones that scientific researchers can see, and then a bunch more that no one is allowed to interact with because they are wild.

We picked the Amahoro group. It means "friendship". There are 15 gorillas in it. No one else was in our posse, it was just me and Emily and my parents and the guide.

THEN, you have to get back in the car and drive as far as you can to the base of the mountain. Now the roads are not even like roads, they are like a series of boulders. You better have a tough car to do this part in, or you will have to walk a very long way.

Then you park and get out of the car and meet a bunch of soldiers. The soldiers have machetes so they can hack their way through the jungle, because there are only "paths" in an extremely limited sense of the word.

You walk up the mountain. First it is through farm land with furrows and rows and workers and goats and always more children; now the children try to sell you crayon drawings of gorillas.

Then the farm land sort of peters out into just plain mountain, and then that changes to sort of dry forest with not much groundcover, and then very jungly land where the ground is covered in vines so every time you step it is sort of springy and you don't actually touch any earth.

walking in the jungle

This part of the walk has a lot of stinging nettles of various kinds. They hurt a lot in a burning, numb sort of way, and then eventually (like a day later) fades to just itching.

We saw the biggest earthworm I've ever seen, far bigger than I would have imagined earthworms could be. We didn't take a picture because I don't know why. And I wish we had. This worm was seriously an inch in diameter and two feet long. Other than its freakishly huge size, though, it looked exactly the same as any other puny, pathetic North American earthworm.

So, after a while of hacking through the jungle, the guide will tell you to stop and take off your backpacks and get out your cameras and organize yourselves. And don't point! And if a gorillas starts pounding its chest at you, look down and try to look penitent. And don't cough or sneeze at the gorillas because they are very susceptible to catching a cold.

And then there is more stomping through the jungle until suddenly, about four feet away, is a giant silverback mountain gorilla sitting on the ground eating leaves.


That was a disconcerting moment. I don't know what I thought would happen, but I didn't think we would just sort of wander around in the midst of a gorilla troup and every so often, there is another one right there! Oh look, there are two babies play-fighting right behind you!

We were close enough to touch them at several times. We didn't touch them because these gorillas could kill you if they wanted.

2 year olds are brave and curious

But, they didn't want to. They just wanted to eat. Some little juvenile 2-year-olds thought we were very interesting and they came right up to the camera. Another mama gorilla with her baby on her back wandered through us and we all had to quickly get out of the way.

this mama and her baby walked righ through our group of people

So we stood around for an hour and took pictures of things and looked at those gorillas. Then we hiked back down the mountain and drove back across all the boulders and back through the villages and turned left at the soccer field and along the twisty mountain highway to Kigali where we went into the house and took showers and watched Saudi Arabia get schooled by the Ukraine and went out for Indian food.

And went to bed.


  1. They seem nicer and more civilized than the "gorillas" in DC - GUY

  2. Cecily's family members10:33 PM, June 20, 2006

    Hello Cecily! those gorillas are really cool-looking and cute. also, i like your blog. hope to see you soon.

    Now that I am "on vacation" I have visited your blog daily!!! Lots of wonderful pictures of the gorillas.
    More later,

    Hi Cec--this is Uncle Jimbo. Glad to see you're seeing the world. See you later this summer.
    Jim M.

    hallohallohallo! We've reconnected to the web and now we can all say hello. I'm glad you got that close to a grrrilla. Will

    Hi Cecily! Have fun! I don't know what else to say but we'll see you soon! Nanni

    I'm not really sure what to type because I don't what to repeat what everyone else is saying to you. So I'll leave you with these words... don't talk to strangers, wash behind your ears, and be sure not to leave out any details in your blog! Jessie

  3. Hi family members! I am taking lots of pictures and videos and doing lots of fun experiments with editing software, so I hope you are prepared for nearly endless hours of watching me show you things. Hopefully I will have learned how to add some entertaining special effects by the time I get to Montana, so I can have the gorillas saying funny jokes to each other in speech bubbles or something...

    See you in 1 month