Rwanda: genocide museum–volcanos—mountain gorillas. Impossible. And yet, there we were.
The steep fee for visiting the gorillas covers guides, bearers, walking sticks, and a tracker to keep base camp apprised of the location of the various groups of gorillas, which are continually on the move.
To get to any group, one climbs a volcano. The sides are steep, muddy, and full of boulders. Confession: I have never been any good at climbing. Even short hills leave me puffing. And I am slooow.
We were divided into small groups, and off we started, well prepared with hiking boots, gaiters, water, long sleeves, and bug repellant. The groups must stay together, so the slowest is as fast as they go. And, ta-dah: that would be me. Oh, I could make the climb, but it would take me twice as long as the rest.
Enter the bearers. Despite each carrying the gear of another person, two bearers took me by my armpits, hoisted me up onto boulders and plopped me down into the mud, which they dragged me through if it were gummy. It was all gummy. I was behind the group—Rich said often my feet didn’t touch ground—but those amazing men moved me on up to the thick bamboo…
…and our gorilla group. It consisted of a group of rowdy teenagers, sparring and showing off; many females; a couple of babies; and the majestic silverback. We were allowed to visit for one hour.
So close. Those giants were daunting and appealing, so much like us—and yet so alien. We wandered around observing, hoping not to irritate the animals who had learned to tolerate the bother of an hour’s interruption every day. They knew and we knew tolerance was a very tenuous agreement which could be snapped in an instant.
The youngest baby grabbed a vine and swung closer and closer to his dad, the giant silverback, trying to rest. When the baby finally made contact, the patriarch caught him oh-so-gently and sent him toward his mother. Then one of the young males made an inappropriate move toward a female. In an instant the silverback was up, had brushed past one of our group, and was yards beyond us taking charge before we could even gasp.
We were amazed to learn our hour was up. It seemed like mere minutes; it seemed like we’d lived a lifetime. We were quiet on the way down the volcano slope as we went back to our forever-changed lives. And the gorillas just were, as they always have been.