In life, some experiences just have to be lived, Gorilla trekking is one of them.
The journey started with a quick visit to the Virunga offices, where we had a Covid-19 test done. (The Virunga team explains that we share 90% DNA with the Gorillas and taking tests reduces the likelihood of disease transmission).
We were a group of 14 headed for the experience. Like in all other groups, everyone was lost in their own thoughts but this didn’t not last for long. We boarded the safari truck and the journey to Mikeno lodge commenced. Like all other groups, we are escorted by armed rangers for safety. Along the way, the skies opened up and we made a quick stop to put on the Virunga branded raincoats. This proved to be a good ice breaker as we had to coordinate on how we would not be rained on. . By the time the rain stopped, we were all chatting like life long friends. Daniel Martin, a renowned world cyclist was part of the trekking team and he entertained us with his cycling experience throughout the world.
We enjoyed a scenic drive through the DRC villages and everyone was clearly marveled at the rich natural beauty of DRC. 90 minutes later, we arrived at the base of Mikeno lodge. The lodge is located at the top of the hill and offers a sweeping view of the canopy of the dense rain forest. The majestic Nyiragongo Mountain towers in the distance above the smaller Mikeno and Nyamuragira mountains.
After lunch, Emmanuel, the head ranger gave us a hilarious talk on gorillas that included the types of gorillas, social structure, feeding patterns, reproduction, and threats to gorillas’ existence. The height of the talk was the history of the 10 gorilla families that reside near the Mikeno Lodge. The talk ended with a dos and don’ts list while visiting gorillas.
After dinner, the group spent time at their own leisure and by 1000 hrs, everyone was asleep.
Breakfast was from 0700 hrs and after a quick briefing, we were divided into two groups as only a maximum of six people can visit a gorilla family at a time. We were put in the group that visited the Bageni family.
The walk through the forest was not only fun but somewhat energizing. Sounds of singing birds, chirping insects and an occasional laugh of the Columbus monkeys. The guides had warned us to be on the lookout for red ants and true to their word, we had to keep doing the triple jump hop, step, and jump to keep away from the ants.
40 minutes later, the lead ranger stopped and whispered that we had arrived. Last-minute instructions were passed; for us to always be in our masks and in case any of the gorilla’s chest thump and charge, we sit down, but never run away).
And finally, one corner away, we sighted one of the gorilla family. This was a sight to behold. The primates were busy feeding while the playful juveniles were running all over. The Bageni family is among one of the largest families. It has close to 40 members, among them 3 silverbacks, 6 black backs, and numerous juveniles. Several of them ran chest-thumping, charging at us, thanks for the earlier advice, we ignored them. As if to confirm his dominance, Bageni the silverback majestically walked around the feeding area, as he watched closely on one of the nursing mothers. Another juvenile who we nicknamed “poser” seemed to enjoy having all the attention as she jumped from one mischief to another. We had been briefed that watching the family was strictly for one hour and as if to signify that time to leave was nigh, one of the juveniles climbed up one of the trees and literally peed on our heads.
We cheerfully walked back to the lodge, happy for having completed a lifetime bucket list experience.
Contributed by Geoffrey Muhoro,Rooms Division Manager at Goma Serena Hotel