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The Hour My Heart Stopped

Kate sets off on what is promised to be “a trip of a lifetime” – Trekking to the Rwandan Mountain Gorillas

The thought had never crossed my mind; it had never appeared on my bucket list; it was not a ‘big wildlife tick’ I was yearning for; and yet suddenly two weeks after my wedding I found myself dusting off my hiking boots and preparing myself for what was sold as “a trip of a lifetime” – Trekking to the Rwandan Mountain Gorillas.

I had no idea what to expect, I had not done one minute of research on the country I was going to, or on the trek I was about to hike. To be fair my mind was full of white dresses and new lodges on the edge of the Rift Valley – who could blame me? And then it all happened: I landed in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, jumped in a Volcanoes Safaris vehicle and pretty much fell in love at first sight with this country.

Sabyinyo Volcano

Rwanda is unlike anywhere in Africa I have ever visited. It is so clean that you feel you could almost lick the road. It is so green that you feel like if you planted a Coke can something beautiful would grow. It is so busy that you feel like everyone is doing something or going somewhere. It is so friendly that you feel like you could walk the streets at night and be completely safe (you can, by the way). And did I mention the people? Warm, hospitable and yearning for more tourists.

And yet, I couldn’t help feeling slightly unsettled by Rwanda’s perfect appearance. In historical terms, it was just yesterday that the country experienced one of the most horrific human tragedies – the 1994 Genocide. You don’t mention this sad time to the Rwandese, understandably; but here and there it is made mention, and you notice how those beautiful friendly smiles sometimes just don’t quite reach all the way into their eyes.

Sunrise from Virunga Mountain Lodge

But other times they do – like when my mother and I first spotted two baby gorillas up ahead playing in the bamboo forest and turned to our guides with a look of utter amazement, and their happy expressions said it all “Yes, I know. This experience is about to change what you thought about wildlife forever”.

Scenes from trekking Rwandan mountain gorillas

We had started our trekking day with an early breakfast, I am talking 5:30am here, which was followed by a 7am arrival at the Volcanoes National Park where we met our two guides and headed off in a cosy group of 5 trekkers and 3 porters in search of our assigned gorilla family on the Sabyinyo Volcano. Two quite tough hours later, after trekking uphill through what felt like chocolate mousse, we saw them. Two little munchkins swinging from the bamboo saying “Look at me, look at me!” – and then it started, one of the most magical hours of my whole life.

Playful baby mountain gorillas

Now being somewhat of a bush-baby, I thought I knew what it was like to have your breath taken away by wildlife, and I have been very fortunate to have seen amazing animal sightings, but nothing could have prepared me for the gentle way in which a 200 kilogram silverback gorilla can welcome you into his family. You do feel he always has a beady eye on you while you take photograph after photograph of his 16-member strong family – who by the way are all utterly enchanting. Here are some of my highlights:

Watching a two-year-old gorilla get punch drunk on new bamboo shoots and sway and stagger around. Having a 170kg silverback gorilla walk past me within 10cm. Watching the baby gorillas rumble tumble with each other and then beat their chests just to make sure you are very scared. Seeing the oldest and largest silverback in the Virunga Massive. Seeing the youngest (3 month old) gorilla in the Virunga Massive. Realising how small an 8% difference in DNA really is, and lastly, hearing the low and gentle “hmph” of the gorillas as they talk to the guides.

Special moments with the troop

Knowing now what I didn’t know before dusting off my hiking boots, I can say this with certainty: the thought MUST cross your mind; it MUST jump to the top of your bucket list; and be assured it is THE ‘big wildlife tick’ you are yearning for. My gosh, it is a trip of a lifetime! In my mind I am starting a little plan to revisit that incredible country and those magical animals in a year or two – I fear I may have just started an addiction. After all a friend of mine has been 39 times and if I start soon maybe I will catch up with her one day.

Filed under: East Africa Travel

Tagged with:

East Africa , Gorilla Trekking , Mountain Gorillas , Rwanda , West of Angama Mara , Wildlife

About: Kate Fitzgerald Boyd

Kate was born in a chafing dish – well almost. The date she was due to arrive was perilously close to Christmas and her mother wasn’t taking any chances so out she came just in time for a decent Christmas dinner to be served to the guests at the hotel of her childhood. Back-of-house babies, they call them. And she has never looked back and now logs more air miles than she knows what to do with sharing the Angama Mara story far and wide.

Browse all articles by Kate Fitzgerald Boyd Meet the angama team

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Join the Conversation (3 comments)

Comments (3):

Marian Nelson

5 March 2016

I have been to Africa several times and I have to agree that the country took my breath away . Hiking with the gorillas is incredible . I'm saving up to return again . Bless Dian Fossey for putting her life out there to save these wonderful animals.

glenn oltmanns

10 January 2016

Kate this is a great blog and I love your enthusiasm - it makes it all the more an enticing idea.

James Fitzgerald

7 January 2016

You described it brilliantly - having done the same trip a few years ago I could relate to it all - even "licking the roads"! Well done Kate!

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