Thursday

Mzungu in the Mist - Yvonne

Today began at five a.m. with a cold shower, hot tea, and some mini bananas. The night before a representative from the Gorilla Trekking Headquarters came to give us information about the gorillas and their conservation efforts. I had a hard time getting to sleep with the anticipation for the next day. When we arrived at the Headquarters Intore dancers got us excited with some great drumming and dancing. Then we met our guides Emmanuel and Julie. There were four of us from Hamline and two other couples. All of us were American. However, one of the couples said they live in Rwanda and work for the U.S. Embassy. We climbed into our respective cars and drove the 12+ km to Volcanoes National Park. The drive up was unbelievably bumpy, our guide jokingly called it an "African Massage." Getting to the more exciting part... Our walk began in a village close to the mountain. We walked at a slight incline to the edge of the park through the plowed fields. I was told we were at about 2500m up the mountain. The air was thin to say the least. We crossed a log bridge to enter the park. By log bridge, I mean three slippery logs over a 5ft deep trench - not a bad fall but not a fun fall either. Then began the steep climb through the jungle. We had a decent number of breaks. The porter named John held my hand through the more treacherously steep parts. He basically pulled me up the mountain. Before we went on the trek, the journey was described as giving birth. Though I can't exactly relate, from what I know it involves a lot of breathing and pain. So this description was pretty accurate. Once we saw the gorillas and even before when we could simply see the trees moving the pain (from the stinging nettle forest that existed throughout the hike) disappeared and we were all completely at peace. The gorillas were absolutely worth everything it took to reach them. They were awake when we arrived but were settling into a nap. One of the younger juveniles had his hands behind his head and his leg over his opposite knee, just hanging out in the mist. We were able to observe how the gorillas make their nests in the trees by folding together branches. One gorilla made its way down the mountain and crashed over an entire tree behind me. Then it proceeded to walk right in front of me, so close that her hair brushed my leg as she passed. It felt like the last 18 years of my life had culminated into that one hour that I was able to see the gorillas; From the first times I watched Planet of the Apes and Mighty Joe Young as a kid to my declaration of anthropology as my major at Hamline. In all, it was incredible and definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

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