Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda, Volcanoes' National Park
There is no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this.
On this Saturday morning, we were up by 5am to prepare for what would be the greatest experience of my life. The evening before, we had our pre-trekking briefing from the resident conservationist about what to expect and how to conduct ourselves with the mountain gorillas. To be fully authorized for the hike, we also needed to test negative for Covid-19 a few days before and wear face-masks during the hike because gorillas are very vulnerable to diseases passed by humans.
Singita Kwitonda which is the lodge we were staying in, ensured we were well equipped with the right gear, and the meals were pre-packed with all our different dietary requirements. During this trip, the weather was mostly misty but on this bright morning, we had clear blue skies which allowed us to see the volcanoes mountains with all their glory. This was also the perfect frame for a mini-shoot with my favorite travel partner, my sister!
Mount Sabyinyo is the oldest among the eight extinct volcanoes within the Virunga ranges located in Volcanoes National Park which sits in 3 countries: Rwanda, DRC, and Uganda. The mountain's name, is nickname for 'old man's teeth' from the local Kinyarwanda word 'iryinyo', which means tooth. Unlike her neighbouring conical shaped volcanoes, you can see her summit resembles spaced teeth. Fun fact for you.
As we walked into the restaurant, we were immediately fitted with the hiking gear and enjoyed a light breakfast. The table was set with a variety of fresh juices, tropical fruits, yogurt, freshly made granola, and overnight oats. Our ride courtesy of uberluxe safari was ready for us and we set off at 7am for the park. Fortunately, it was a 5 min drive because the lodge is along its border.
If you’re looking to add this activity to your bucket list, it would be advisable to find a lodge within the area to avoid being on the road for hours before the hike. Our car was spacious, comfortable and the driver was highly knowledgeable about gorilla conservation. On arrival at the park, we had two additional briefings for both safety and educational purposes by the highly experienced rangers. The gorilla family we would visit was the Kwitonda clan which had around 18 gorillas. This is the family which the lodge 'Singita Kwitonda' is named after.
After 2 hours of elbowing our way through the rainforest, we finally arrived at the first sighting of the gorillas! Thanks to the trackers whose role was to inform the rangers of the specific location of the gorillas, we didn’t have to spend hours in the forest looking for them. This collaborative effort is a great way to enable travellers to maximize on this experience.
To see them in their natural habitat is an experience that changed my life. Their features resemble us; their fingers, toes, behaviour, I dare say, their level of intelligence too! Somehow, they understood we were only there as humble guests with no intention to harm or cause any concern. In my previous blogpost, I mentioned that this area is known to have the best gorilla trekking experience in the world. We were very privileged to see three silverback mountain gorillas who were the head of this specific clan.
As majestic and intimidating the mountain gorillas are, they had the kindest eyes! I was completely blown away by how their adorable babies would cling to their mothers. Just like humans, female gorillas have a gestation period of 9 months, but they can't give birth again until 3 years pass. They hold on to their mothers for a period of 3 years. We were warned to refrain from touching the babies otherwise we would be in serious breach! So we only sat and patiently observed them play, eat, and be themselves for one hour.
Their lifespan is around 35 years on average, and according to the latest census results, there are only an estimate of 1063 mountain gorillas in the wild making them endangered species. The borders of the park are also under enourmous pressure form surrounding communities whose population continues to grow. I later found out that human encroachment to secure land is an ongoing challenge. This is why destinations like Singita have programmes that focus on conversation efforts aimed at increasing the numbers of gorillas through reforestation and rehabilitation of the land. The best part? This has been successful.
There is a certain way we had to conduct ourselves to make sure we didn't intimidate them, but all the briefings we had prepared us for this moment. While we observed them in their natural habitat, they didn't mind our company. Visitors are only allowed one hour with the gorillas; we were so mesmerised that we didn't want to leave. But we had to observe protocol! So we started the descent down the mountain where we took our well deserved break and enjoyed our pre-packed snacks.
On arrival back to the lodge, we were welcomed with a wholesome post-hiking lunch, just what we needed. The lovely team at Singita helped us take out our muddy gear, and carried all our bags back to the rooms because we were famished. It was lovely sharing a meal with my sister after successfully ticking off a bucket list together! You will notice that all the meals at Singita are packed with nutrients, full of vibrant colors and picked straight from their onsite garden. Their farm to table concept guarantees guests the best fresh vegetables in season.
In our villa, we found a meditation set up and the pool was heated to help us relax. After a long hot shower in the bathroom of my dreams, I was ready to enjoy a glass of wine and catch up on my current book, ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight. We lit up the fireplace and put our feet up as we watched the sun set behind the glorious mountains after a thrilling adventure.
Later in the evening, we had a group dinner where we talked about our personal and professional aspirations from the trip over a few glasses of wine. After a lovely chat, I excused myself from the group to have some quiet time and journal my reflections before going to bed. The next day, I needed to be up early for cycling which was later followed by a group brunch at their Akarabo Nursery.
Feature Travel Film: Turning 30 with Singita | A Journey of Hope by Sharon Machira
Yours in Wellness
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Writer: Loise Machira
Location: Singita Kwitonda