16 December, 2013
This was one of those treks where everything just falls into place and ends up being an absolutely amazing experience. The plan was to visit one of the closer families, but as is so often the case with a plan that involves wild free-roaming animals, nothing is set in stone and we ended up getting the opposite! Munyinya, the big Silverback and dominant male in this group decided to take his family further up the slopes and onto the ridge-line that joins Sabyinyo and Bisoke volcanoes. With it being the rainy season, the trek was muddy and slippery, which in turn gave everyone a good chuckle when someone else in the group lost their footing. I myself landed flat on my backside at least twice.
It took us one hour and fifty minutes to complete the 940ft climb to the gorillas. Spirits were high throughout the trek though. The age group varied from 38 to 70 years and everyone did remarkably well. Every so often you would here the “are we there yet?” or “and this was suppose to be the short hike?” and so often the guides response to these questions would be, “this is why they are called Mountain Gorillas”. There was quite the sigh of relief when we reached the trackers.
The first 20 minutes of the hour with the Gorillas were in the thick bamboo forest and this makes it very hard to photograph these guys. I put the camera down and just enjoyed watching the little ones get up to all sorts of mischief. I have not laughed this much for quite some time. The little ones would play a game of King of the Hill and every time one of them make it to the top, he would stand upright and give us an all-mighty chest beat before getting flung off and replaced by another.
Once they moved out of the bamboo into the open, it was magic! The lighting was perfect for photography and I managed to get a few keepers. Munyinya grabbed one of the infants and started grooming the little one. What an enormous Silverback!!! Munyinya in my opinion has to be one of the biggest Silverbacks in all the families I have visited. His fingers are almost the same size as the infant’s foot. Very characteristic of this Silverback is his tolerance of and love for his offspring. He is an amazing father. On several occasions I have seen him surrounded by babies with not a single mother in sight. The little ones will use him as a trampoline, jumping up and down on his back or pull his ears. The last time I tracked Hirwa, we watched the family cross a stream that came down in flood after a very heavy downpour. Kabatwa was pacing up and down the side of the stream holding both her twins in one arm. Munyinya saw this and went back to her, took the one infant and carried the little one across and then went back for the second one. Such a humbling and privileged sighting.
Our one hour came to an end and everyone left in absolute amazement. It is easy to understand why even the most experienced professional guides in Africa would class Mountain Gorilla trekking as the ultimate safari experience.
– by: Nelis Wolmarans