Many travel experiences have taken my breath away - but there are few that changed my perspective on life… observing the rare Silverback Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitat in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is one of these.
Rudi and I both love Africa – we spent our honeymoon there and loved it so much that we created the Zambezi Queen Africa Safaris & Wildlife Cruise for our guests to enjoy! So, I was very pleased when he chose that destination to celebrate his important milestone birthday. But I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive when he said that he wanted to visit Rwanda and trek for two, to possibly six hours, in the Volcanoes National Park in order to hopefully catch site of the rare Silverback Mountain Gorillas in their protected natural habitat. Despite my apprehensions, I signed on for this adventure as it meant a lot to him.
The physical aspect of the trek itself didn’t worry me as I keep pretty active, but I was very anxious about how I would react in the jungle environment up close with these very large wild animals. Once we arrived at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Musanze, the experienced guides did an excellent evaluation of each person’s physical condition and placed us into small groups, prepared us for the trek through a muddy bamboo forest and instructed us on how to act when we encounter the gorillas. Our group was made up of eight persons ranging in age from 15 to 80.
After a three-hour trek, we were thrilled when our guide spotted a family of gorillas. The only words I can find to describe the setting is “incredibly peaceful”. We sat quietly as we watched the teenage gorillas play together under the watchful eye of “Lucky” – the head of the troop who sat no more than 10 feet away from Rudi and I. To my surprise, my anxiety disappeared as I was drawn into the stillness and natural beauty surrounding these magnificent animals.
All interaction is limited to one hour and it seemed to pass in a heartbeat. I couldn’t wait for our second trek the following day where once again we encountered a second family of gorillas, but this time they were higher in the trees. To my immense pleasure, I was chosen to receive a light tap on my shoulder as a baby gorilla playfully swung by.
It was an experience I will never forget. I applaud the people of Rwanda as they are doing an excellent job to ensure these magnificent, intelligent animals are respected and protected with controlled and limited access to their natural environment. We are proud to give our guests this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.