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Posts Tagged ‘trek’

I’ve been home in Montreal for a week now and have finally settled back into the rhythm of things. Simple things like supermarkets and the metro are very odd to me. However, I’ve been so well treated at DFGFI that I feel this culture shock would be much bigger otherwise.

My last day in Rwanda was just as memorable as my past two months doing this internship. I was informed last minute that the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks had found an open spot on one of the gorilla treks for the morning of my departure. Some would say that deciding to climb a volcano a few hours before boarding a plane is just a bit too rushed, flaky even. Others, however, would point out that passing up an opportunity to see the rare Mountain Gorillas that can only be found in the area I’ve been working in for the past two months would be just plain foolish. I agree.

I woke up at before dawn in order to make sure that everything I had was packed and ready to go for when I got back from my trek so I could make a mad dash to Kigali to catch my plane. I had been told that if I was going to slam down the serious cash to see the gorillas ($500!), that I should try to go see the Susa group that is the longest trek but the largest group. Alas, I didn’t have enough time to spend trekking all the way up the Karisimbi volcano and so I settled on a steeper but shorter hike up to the Amahoro group.

After a long drive along the usual rock strewn roads that my driver jokingly dubed “an African massage,” we arrived at the bottom of the Bisoke volcano. The trek was long, the group had moved further up the volcano to the dismay of the other tourists. The altitude is just a bit too tough for some people and when you are not young and spry, the climb can be a killer. I’ve been living in Ruhengeri for two months now and have no longer fallen victim to loud panting after climbing up a small hill.

The guide and I were a bit ahead of the group when we finally arrived at a massive crater half-way up the Bisoke volcano. Our guide began to make vocalizations to announce our arrival and that we meant to harm. “rrraaa-hummm, rrraaa-hummm.” All of a sudden, there was a huge amount of rustling in the trees next to us. The guide and I were suddenly face to face with a 600 pound gorilla. The silverback had come to say hi. Directly behind us was a sudden drop into the crater; squeezing my hand, the guide and I made ourselves as small as possible as the big guy brushed by us. After what seemed like an eternity, he went off in another direction to see what our next move would be.

With my heart racing, I was excited to see the rest of the group. Not far off, we could hear more rustling in the trees. Above us, another male gorilla climbed into one of the trees and started to peel the bark and chow down. Soon, a few young ones came round to see what all the commotion was about. Once they realized it was just some bald albinos come to stand and stare at them again, they went back to wrestling each other. I can’t imagine what they think of us. What strange behaviour for an animal to do nothing but stare at them with seemingly no purpose whatsoever? I know one thing for sure, these gorillas blew me away and I could have spent ages up there on that volcano with them Every thing they did mesmerized me. When I caught a glimpse of the recently newborn baby, I was absolutely elated. When they broke out in screams bickering over food, my adrenaline began pumping. Every second was amazing. If I had left Rwanda without having been able to experience this moment I would have been kicking myself forever.

Rwanda, I will miss you. I have come to love you and all the people within. I’ll be back to see these gorillas again.

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A Trek through the Hills

 

Today, Simon Childs from DFGFI, Claire, Tierra, Mike Cranfield who is in charge over at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project, Dr Denise who is volunteering with the local clinic and me decided to trek up some of the many hills of Rwanda to see if we could find a waterfall that is renowned for being spectacular.

 

We started our journey by clamouring into the MGVP truck and setting off in the direction we hoped would get us to where we wanted to go.  Heaving from one side to another, we drove along the treacherous dirt roads that weaved along cliff edges.  After about an hour of driving, our truck just couldn’t go any further.  This was due to the 5 meter gap that barred the way.  This gap could only be crossed by a 2 meter wide wood bridge that didn’t look like it could hold the hefty load that was our truck.

 

Despite not remembering this obstacle the last time Mike saw the waterfall, we plough on by foot.  White people in town always attract attention; white people on a rural trail in the middle of nowhere attract a mob.  We were quickly surrounded with children and adults alike asking us the few phrases they know in English.  “What is… your name, the time, your job, your church?”

 

Mike, coming from the English part of Canada, often likes to make jabs at the fact that I come from the French side.  These jokes are harmless but the stuff that makes some French Canadians steam at the ears and go on tirades about the oppressive English.  However, on this occasion, he thought that perhaps my French may come in handy.  He instructs me to ask a few people if they might know anything about a waterfall nearby.  When I asked people if they speak French they almost always answered with an enthusiastic “Oui!” but only to receive blank stares when I asked about a waterfall.  I further explained that it was water that drips from the mountain with mike doing hand motions behind me that were meant to represent water falling down.  This inevitably got someone to start to show off his own dance moves once he saw Mike carrying on.  Hilltop farmers apparently do not feel the need to discuss about Descartes and croissants in French.

 

Despite not knowing where we were going, we happily trekked on through the mountain roads and enjoyed the scenery that being on a hill between two lakes provides.  As the sun begins to set, we were presented with a stunning view.  Tragically, as has always been my experience, photos just never do a landscape justice.  Obviously looking out of place, a very nice priest stops to ask us if we are lost.  His French is impeccable and he tells me very kindly that we have gone the wrong way to see the waterfall we seek.  After thanking him, we start to head back, not because we finally got confirmation of what we suspected to be true already but because the idea of a cold beer at this point was much too tempting.

 

When we get back to the truck after a gruelling uphill walk, we realize there is still one obstacle left on our journey: the trail we drove in on is only just wide enough to hold our truck.  At this point, kids are swarming around our truck and in an act of excitement; one kid completely breaks off our rear view mirror… on the driver’s side.  With a sigh, Mike takes the mirror and begins the difficult task of trying to navigate the rocky road in reverse.  We finally get to a fork in the road and turn the truck around.  After getting all the kids off our truck, we head off to the Virunga Lodge which sits atop the hill a little ways off.  The pricy lodge is absolutely stunning and the perfect place to have a beer and relax after a long day.  The price of the beer on the other hand is astronomical which is why everyone is relieved that Mike had offered to pay for all our drinks for leading us all in the wrong direction.  As the sun continues to set, we marvel at the view.  Mike, reflecting back on the day, tells us: “That waterfall is really beautiful though if you do get to see it.”  Waterfall or no, the day was really something in itself.

 

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