As I said in my blog, I wasn’t going to leave Goma until I did the Gorilla Trek! We started out from Goma with security detail; it took 2 hours to reach Virunga Park. We travelled on very rough roads and along the way masked men were standing on the roadside with Machetes, apparently there were many rebel groups around, so needless to say I was very glad we had good local driver and security up front, otherwise it could have been very scary!
We stayed at a lodge overnight and had our own beautiful private bungalow for $450 US that of which included 3 meals. The lodge had great fire pit that we all sat around in the evening after dinner. When I first arrived I was walking with the ranger and saw a very large, fancy helicopter on the property. When I asked who it belonged to, I was given an evasive answer, so of course I asked again and was told it belonged to Warren Buffett’s son Howard, who was staying at lodge. He was one out of only 6 guests that evening. Mr Buffett has donated 200 million dollars to the park; this money has staffed and funded the conservation. His father gave him his inheritance early and he was told to do good things in the world with it. Howard is very hands on, and is there several times a year; also he keeps office in Goma with staff person. Virunga is very large, it covers 3,000 square miles in 3 countries; The Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. I am told there are about 900 Mountain Gorillas in the world, with most of them here. You will never find these gorillas in a zoo as they can’t survive in captivity since they have no immune system, that’s why I wore surgical mask for my visit.
6:30 the next morning I was in an old Jeep driving to start off our trek. I was the only one on the trek, with 4 Rangers, armed with guns, knives and machetes (I certainly felt safe, in strange way). We walked for 2 hours towards the jungle through villages, farms and gardens. When we finally reached the jungle, it was rainy, slippery, muddy and uphill. And on top of that we had to cut our own way through the jungle in order to make a path, because the gorillas are always in new place! At one point one of the Rangers put me on his back to navigate the mud and hill!! It was funny but necessary! And then, there they were, I saw the family, all 26 members! There was the father, a number of Mothers and children, all surrounded by vegetation. We stood very close, so I put on my mask and I was told not to point. We would stay for one hour all while I was only 5 or 6 metres away from them. We were very quiet, it felt very surreal, with these magnificent animals that paid no attention for the most part but every so often, would just stop and stare at us! The Father laid on his back the whole time I was there, (he had been very busy), and the mothers were busy picking insects out of kids hair, just like when my kids were young and we had to check for lice! The kids were very playful, jumping from tree to tree and eating all the leaves in sight, they were also very affectionate with one another, hugging etc. It seemed as though each member had a job within the family and they took turns on various things, for example trees they wanted to be on! One of the little ones came and stood right beside me, he wanted at the tree where I was, I just moved very slightly and he was happy!! We were very quiet, and so were they, not much noise from those guys they were just doing their thing!
When it was time to leave, I felt sad but was also feeling extremely fortunate to have had this experience, even if the trek did cost $476 US, which in my opinion is not cheap!!! The bad part was I had the same trip back for 3 hours on foot. A radio call came through during that time saying that there was 3pm curfew at Lodge and if I didn’t leave by 3pm, I couldn’t! I had a flight next day so myself and the rangers did it with no food, no shower and I was just covered with mud! I made it back, and left at 2.52 pm, which was very tight!!
The Congo was very difficult trip, but I am so glad I did this trip. I learnt a lot about myself and my next steps in life, plus how a very large percentage of the world lives, in Cambridge and Toronto we live in a bubble (we are very lucky)!!
P.S: I also want to thank the Rangers in the park, they were excellent and they really care about the conservation in the park.
Also Netflix has movie called VIRUNGA, excellent!