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krisek Goma - A travel report by Krys
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Goma,  Democratic Republic of the Congo - flag Democratic Republic of the Congo
5530 readers

krisek's travel reports

Gorillas, Volcanos, the Mist, Joy and Death

  20 votes
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I went to see the Mountain Gorillas on 19 Nov ‘05. I visited the Rugendo Family. It was the most exhilarating experience in my life. On 4 Aug ‘07 I found they were murdered. I decided to write this story.


Silverback
Silverback
The day was great. There were frequent sun spells, the air was clear and the views were superb. The first 2.5 hours of walking through the jungle were not too hard. Although the long and thorny plants covering muddy paths, logs and roots kept grabbing my ankles and untying my boots. Wet bushes, some with stinging leaves and poison ivy were not exactly a joke, but terrain was reasonably flat, so the trek was not excessively strenuous. Yet when it came to climb a slippery and grassy mountain, I started losing my breath. It took over an hour to climb the mountain. After four hours of cutting through the jungle, I almost lost my faith. The apes were wild animals and no-one guarantees sighting of wildlife. And then we suddenly stopped, and the rangers said that we were among the gorillas. I could see nothing, but then suddenly I could hear something rummaging in the thick bamboo forest. When I saw the father of the family, the giant Silverback, my heart stopped. He was sitting with his 28 month-old son, just about to prepare to lay down and relax while the toddler played around with daddy’s fur. They knew I was near, but this didn’t concern them at all. They trusted I was a friend.

I went to see the mom and other younglings. Mommy gorilla was more alert and watched me closely, particularly as one of the babies approached me to show off his acrobatic abilities. As he played on branches directly above me, he kept approaching me looking straight in my eyes. I stepped back to comply with the visiting rules. He eventually grabbed my arm and wanted to play with my camera bag, almost like trying to tell me ‘please don’t go’. He accepted me as a pal to play with! There are no words to express how moving this moment was.

Later, two young gorilla guys came as well. They were 6 and 8 years old and began teasing their younger brothers. The toddlers were difficult players though, they showed teeth and jumped down from branches until dad came and invited all for a snack-bamboo cane.

Favourite spots:
Gorilla Mum & Toddler
Gorilla Mum & Toddler
One had to keep distance from the apes. At least 7 meters, but the animals didn’t care about the rules, and the rangers were not too strict with this particular one either. I was allowed to approach the gorillas for less than a meter. Even the giant Silverback! When I was so close to him, I felt the RESPECT. And he did not even blink and obviously did not care about the sound my camera was making with every picture.

The family kept eating and moving in the jungle. The volcanoes were their home, their friends, their protection. This seemed like a perfect spot on this planet. Perfect for them. They really looked very happy and this flawless natural harmony shut multiple shivers through my spine. I could not believe I was there. I kept snapping photographs hoping my batteries would last and last. I could not believe how quickly the allowable 60 minutes flew! Rangers were strict keeping time. I was very sad that I had to leave. I wasn’t sure if I were to see them ever again.

What's really great:
Dad Silverback
Dad Silverback
The gorillas were fearless. They knew the rangers well and felt very relaxed around them. This is why I could come very close and this is why baby gorillas played with me comfortably, almost as if I was a gorilla myself. I felt wonderful that those wild animals were so comfortable with people’s presence. They knew it was perfectly safe and that there was absolutely no reason to fear people. This humble feeling of harmony and acceptance was overwhelming and touching. It was extreme. It was surreal.

The rangers loved the Rugendo family very much. They were their family, and were ready to risk their lives to protect them. They confessed to me that if they had caught a poacher, who killed or attempted to kill a gorilla, they would not hesitate to execute him on the spot. It might seem harsh, but in Congo, deep in the jungle, they would risk their own lives, if they let the poacher live. There were few alternative options to treat the criminals, none of which were any good.

Sights:
Baby gorilla
Baby gorilla
When I saw the pictures of the crucified Rugendo family, I could not hold back the tears. I cried. This crime was beyond my belief. No-one survived, not even the babies! I was devastated and I could not begin to imagine the pain that the rangers must have felt. It was an utter tragedy. The killing defied reason. The reports claimed that the gorilla family was slaughtered in the form of a protest. Those who committed this horrific crime must have been insane! Heartless monsters.

The trust we gained with the mountain gorilla was destroyed. I was obviously deluding myself that there was harmony between the man and the gorilla. I was wrong to believe that the Rugendo family had no reason to fear people. I was so wrong. When I look at the many pictures of the baby gorillas that I took, my heart is breaking.

Accommodations:
Baby gorilla
Baby gorilla
There were no accommodation facilities in this part of the Parc National des Virungas. The rangers slept in the park’s ticket office and reed huts built next to it.

Although I stayed just across the border in Uganda, in the village of Kisoro, I am confident that one would easily find a bed with a local family from one of the several villages around the park. Everyone was so friendly and so happy to see travellers in their country. They smiled and waved happily to me. A sight of a white backpacker meant peace to them. It meant that the war was finally over, and the country was becoming stable. Any accommodation should however be organised through a Congolese guide, who would be thrilled and extremely happy to fix one up.

Other recommendations:
Virunga Volcanoes
Virunga Volcanoes
A few reports keep trickling in that DRC remains off limits to travellers. Well, this is not entirely a true picture. And definitely untrue regarding the Parc National des Virungas. Travellers should organise themselves well, take a Congolese guide (all can be arranged through the Backpackers Hostel in Kampala, Uganda), and stick to the rules. The Congolese, including the park rangers are well prepared, too. They do not take any chances. Yes, militia groups were fighting in the area, but as a principle they did not target tourists.

The permit to see the gorillas in DRC was USD 275. The guide - USD 25, and the 4x4 car rental - USD 75. I also tipped the rangers USD 50 - they were paid near to nothing by the state, and worked with tourists, because they loved these great apes and knew they could count on the visitors’ generosity.

There are other families of the mountain gorilla that wait to be visited. Their protection can only be secured when travellers go to see them. I will go again

Published on Monday February 11th, 2008


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Wed, Mar 24 2010 - 12:41 PM rating by porto

Top Drawer Krys but also a tear-jerker, every destination has special memories though and it sounds as though this will be up there among your best.

Fri, Mar 21 2008 - 07:08 AM rating by louis

Great report. Very sad also, it is difficult to understand sensless cruelty of the people. The gorillas looks so cute in the pictures. I had luck to see them.

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 03:34 PM rating by alfonsovasco

sad but authentic report. you are a poet and a philosoph

Thu, Mar 13 2008 - 05:56 AM rating by downundergal

What an amazing report! How could anyone be so cruel and heartless?? Your report and especially your pictures left me breathless with amazement and then realising that your report was more a memorial at such a loss it tugged at my heart strings bringing tears to my eyes.
We can only hope that this sensless slaughter does not keep occuring.

Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 10:48 AM rating by skula

I can' have enough of your reports..So well-written and so beautifully illustrated. Thank you very much indeed !

Wed, Feb 27 2008 - 11:54 AM rating by frenchfrog

They are just so cute!! what a wonderful experience,. thanks for sharing!

Tue, Feb 12 2008 - 04:18 PM rating by davidx

It must have hurt you to write this report but I'm so glad you did. I know that sometimes, when National Parks have been created, there has been insufficient thought for the effects on people who live in dire poverty and perhaps some form of protest could be understood - but NOTHING could justify this terrible act.

Tue, Feb 12 2008 - 05:37 AM rating by szidonia

An amazing, even with the so sad tones, - time of your life - story you are sharing with us. The feeling of respect, the shiver on your spine comes through your sentences. Thank you for all, including those wonderful photos and God, how great is, that your batteries didn't go short. Wish you visit gorillas next time with the same enthusiasm, without unhappy ending and more...

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 08:43 PM rating by terje

A very personal and informative report on other stuff than buildings and nightclubs! I wish it was me! I do miss the link between Goma and Parc National de Virunga. And why were they killed?? Some background on this would complete the report. I do however give you best score because of the originality and personal content! Well done!

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 07:43 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Very inspiring and astonishing report (as all your reports). I too, want to visit these gorillas after reading it.

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 07:17 PM rating by mistybleu

How sad, this is the saddest story that I've read in a while. Completely senseless.

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