December 8, 2011
Gorilla Trek Winner: Her First Day with the Gorillas
(This is the second of a five-part series.)
I’m typing in the dining room while enjoying a glass of delicious white wine. There is a roaring fire behind me keeping me toasty. Sabyinyo Gorilla Lodge gives money back to the community. The lodge is beautiful and run by a husband and wife, Nars and Tracey. Nars is from South Africa and Tracey is from Zimbabwe. They are very friendly and kind. My cabin is beautiful with a fireplace, bathtub and separate shower, change room, etc.
Today was my first day of gorilla trekking. I was in a group with six other people (maximum of eight per gorilla family). Everyone was from my lodge so we all knew each other. The group asked for a gorilla family that was as close as possible. I suppose I was happy about that because I wasn’t sure how my joints would do. It turns out that I wouldn’t have any trouble at all.
It was pouring rain at breakfast so we thought we were in for a bad day. By the time we started trekking the sun was out and it was hot. I was stripped down to my t-shirt in no time. It was muddy from the rain but the lodge provided gaiters so that kept me clean from the knee to the shoe.
And so, the trek was great. It was much easier than the ones in Uganda. It was difficult at times but completely manageable. I took the prescription arthritis medication that the doc gave me and I was fine. Yay! I am seriously contemplating doing a longer trek tomorrow. Maybe I won’t request the farthest group but perhaps a medium group. I do love to tempt fate, you know!
I hired a porter for $10. He carried my backpack. which freed me up to just enjoy the hike and not worry about falling on my camera. Nars told me that many of the porters are ex-poachers who are now making an honest living from the gorillas. Habituated gorillas are 100 percent wild but they are used to humans.
We were assigned the Kwitonda Group. This is a migrant group from Democratic Republic of Congo. It has 22 members including four silverbacks ("president," "vice-president," "prime minister" and "secretary of state"). Of course the "prez" is in charge. There are many females and babies. The youngest is four weeks old. Too cute! We spent a fabulous hour with Kwitonda. We saw 17 out of 22 which was a treat.
The silverback, “prez,” didn’t concern himself with us much. There were some juveniles who romped around, played, beat their chest and all that wonderful gorilla behaviour. The adults were kind of lazy but we were lucky enough to have a mamma and four-week-old baby show up. It was very difficult to get a photo though (mine is a bit blurry) because she was, of course, very protective. For me, it was AWESOME. We were extremely close to these amazing great apes. It’s an absolute privilege to be in their presence, in their home. They are beautiful, loving animals. I loved every second of my time with them and I was humbled to be there.
Kathleen C. Rautiainen
Thanks to Fossey Fund supporter Baobab Expeditions for donating Kathleen’s gorilla trek.