Gorillas in the Forest

We arrived at the Gorilla Nest lodge last night and I had no idea what to expect. I'm not much of a nature girl, so I was imagining all sorts of scary situations- especially involving bugs and huge, furry animals jumping on me while I slept. Fortunately, the lodge was extremely beautiful and prevented animals and insects from coming into where we slept.

The Volcanoes National Park is a two hour drive from Kigali, in the northwest region of Rwanda. I have always been skeptical of safari or nature trips in Africa, just because I felt that the continent was being reduced to seeing animals. However on the trip up to see the gorillas, I realized that eco-tourism is a serious industry in some countries. During our hiking orientation, the guide encouraged us to hire a porter to carry backpacks up the mountain so that we could be providing jobs. Interestingly, he discouraged us from giving money or anything to the kids who would be assembled at the starting point. He explained that this would only promote begging behavior in the children and if they were successful in getting gifts from tourists, they would stop going to school.

The hike up the mountain was really steep at the start, but the guide broke up the difficultly by pointing out flowers and other vegetation. It's a one hour trek up to the forest and it took us another 30 minutes to find the gorilla family we were assigned. I was surprised at how close we could get to the gorillas! Each group is only allowed one hour to view the gorillas and in this time we saw a silverback, a baby gorilla, and a possibly pregnant gorilla. The guides and trekkers in the forest encouraged us to take "snaps" ( pictures) and video, but towards the end I realized just watching the gorillas was a true gift. Even though the hike was physically difficult, I left the forest with a renewed respect for nature.

For many of us, gorillas represent wisdom and knowledge and I kept thinking this was rooted in their eyes. Despite the fact that gorillas only live 35-45 years, I felt like they were witnesses to humanity. During the genocide, many Rwandans spoke of fleeing into the bushes and the entire hike I kept envisioning the forest as a refuge and I wondered how much the gorillas has witnessed. The painful legacy of the genocide is deeply embedded in every part of Rwanda, even in the homes of the gorillas.

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