We left our Kigali accommodation before dawn to make the windy drive up to Ruhengeri, the base from which we embark on our gorilla trek. Rwanda is an incredibly beautiful country, which is true to its title the Switzerland of Africa or “the land of a thousand hills”. It also has a surprising quietness about it that its Kenyan counterpart can only dream of.
The very early morning drive up the mountains past sleepy villages where families and communities were beginning to stir to start a new day was surprisingly enjoyable once the early morning’s caffeine kicked in. A few opportunities were taken to stop for photographs and to take in the beautiful sights of the many hills with the fresh morning light spilling onto them.
Once you reach Ruhengeri you know you’re not far from the gorillas and their home, Park National des Volcans, as all around are green extinct volcanoes with almost every one of them wearing, what appears to be, a cloud hat, perched neatly and symmetrically on top - a truly incredible sight.
Upon being split into your trekking groups at the base meeting point, you are then driven by your guide to the gorilla trek starting point, which for us was a short drive through small villages to the edge of the National Park, which wasn’t without numerous small children running alongside our vehicle trying their darndest to sell us home-made drawings of their neighbours, the mountain gorillas.
We trekked through bamboo forest, with golden monkeys darting above us, and through more lush forest before it came. You could smell them before you see them, rustling about in the thick vegetation. Nothing can prepare you for the feeling you get when confronted with a band of gorillas. From babies through to the very large Silverback, you can’t help but stare at them.
They are beautiful, and incredibly calm in our presence, all except the babies who can’t help but run about and taunt their parents and extended family while their elders eat, preen and just seemingly relax. They appear as interested in us and our ostensibly weird ways as we were with them.
It’s easy to forget that there are no fences to separate man from animal especially in the company of the older gorillas, as they are so relaxed in our company. The hour in their presence flies by, with equal time spent being in awe of these great animals and taking photos to ensure this incredible moment will never be forgotten.
The walk back was spent mostly in silence for our group of eight trekkers with some quality time to reflect upon this; for most; once in a lifetime experience. Before we got back to our vehicles and crossed the rocky fence which separates the National Park and the local farmland, our guide, thanked us for visiting the mountain gorillas and for coming to Rwanda – his land of a thousand hills!