Last summer, Lynn Barrie, a Sarasota, Florida-based adventurer, traveled with her sister to Rwanda to see the gorillas. Below, she tells FarewellTravels (FT) all about her experience.
FT: What made you want to go see the gorillas?
Lynn: Our travel agent, who had been there, had us at “hello.” There are only 700 of these mountain gorillas left in the world and they are all in this region. One cannot describe the feeling of looking into the eyes of a wild mountain gorilla within a few feet and observing the way they look after their families just like we do…all in their natural environment. We wanted the adventure of tracking them combined with the challenge of the rigorous mountain hikes.
FT: Indeed. We had heard a trip like this does involve some rigorous hiking. Tell us about it.
Lynn: There are a number of different gorilla families living in the Virunger Volcanoes in Rwanda which is where we were. We elected to visit the two groups which live at the highest points, the Susa Group and Group 13. The gorillas are constantly on the move so our hikes varied. On the days we were there, the hiking involved 5 to 6 hours of vigorous climbing. Fitness is a must for this level.
That said, some of the gorilla families live lower on the mountain, some as little as 40 minutes away, which makes this glorious experience open to almost everyone.
FT: What did the trip entail? Did you drive to a certain point and hike?
Lynn: We stayed at the Virunger Lodge which was about 45 minutes away from base camp where you get assigned to your group of no more than 8 people. Depending where the gorillas are that day, you go in jeeps to the base of the mountain in that area, about an hour, then start your hike in the lowlands through villages and then climb over the wall of the gorilla sanctuary. It was a magical moment, like walking into The Garden of Eden.
FT: Did the trip live up to your expectations?
Lynn: It exceeded them. It was the most exciting experience I have ever had. Things were constantly changing. You track the gorillas with your guide leading with a machete to cut the thick brush…no paths here. The Susa group had 41 gorillas with 3 silverbacks weighing 400 pounds. One minute they are sleeping in a huge group of say 20 (with the babies playing and the mothers being mothers), the next minute they are on the move. Then you turn a corner and see more of them.
FT: What did you like most about it?
Lynn: I liked the wildness and the unpredictability of everything…nature at its best. The guides were so skilled and we always felt safe in their hands.Also, I had no idea how beautiful Rwanda was and the people are amazingly friendly."
FT: Was anything disappointing?
FT: Anything heart-wrenching?
Seeing a grown gorilla with a chewed-off leg (healed and doing fine) from being in a trap set by poachers was pretty heart-wrenching, yes. As well patrolled as it is poachers do still trap them.
FT: Any recommendations for someone planning to do this trip?
Lynn: Get the right travel agent that knows what they are getting you into. We were so well prepared in all areas. The right clothes, boots, knowing what gorilla groups we wanted to see… They covered everything with us. Everyone in our lodge was coming to us for advice. I was shocked at how unprepared some of the hikers were.
FT: Would you recommend the trip?
Lynn: This trip is out of this world!