Friday, May 18, 2007

Parc National des Volcans, Part I

Rwanda has seven habituated groups of gorillas for tourism and three for research. Among the habituated groups are some of the same gorillas studied by Dian Fossey before her murder in 1985. (Her grave is here, too). Here, at the Parc National des Volcans, they ask you if you want a long or a short hike and try and put you in a group that is near the park boundary or farther away. (To my great surprise, some people actually WANT a really far hike and are disappointed if the gorillas are too close!)

That said, "near" is still a hike. This day was the easiest of the four days we saw gorillas, but you do need to hike, at a fairly high elevation, up through farm fields to the edge of the park. The Park starts high up the mountain as there is extensive deforestation. The park boundary is marked by a rock wall, over which you climb. You have armed guards with you, as in Uganda, to protect you from cape buffalo and forest elephants. They have porters here, and they desperately need jobs, so I would advise hiring them - but they don't seem to speak much, if any, English as a general rule. Still, it's always nice to provide a job for a day to someone who needs it.

This was my favorite viewing day of the trip, so I will spend more than one post on it. The hiking was different from Uganda. Here, in addition to long pants, hiking boots, socks with pants tucked into them, and long sleeved shit, a baseball cap and gardening gloves are recommended. There are thorns and stinging nettles. The nettles are pretty painful - when they first hit you they really sting, but it wears off in about 30 minutes. With gloves you can bend them away from you and you get less stuck. I just used cheap gardening gloves with plastic palms/finger and a cotton back. In Rwanda, the forest was different than Uganda, much higher up, and in many places it is a bamboo forest.

This day, when we found the gorillas they were out in the sun, so I got the best pictures of gorillas here. It was also just a very nice family to be with. Right away I fell in love with a 2 and a half year old who seemed very inquisitive and really outgoing. He consistently made eye contact with me, and became my favorite quickly. He is pictured on the right, above. One of the guides told me that recently he went missing for 2 months and they feared he was dead, but then he mysteriously reappeared, which just about never happens.

In this group there was also a one month old baby, pictured left above. Too soon to know the gender of this little charmer. We watched the baby nurse, and he/she watched us with lots of curiosity the whole time we were there. More on this viewing to come.