Tracking the Group 13 Mountain Gorillas

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After a 6am breakfast at the Virunga Hotel, we headed over to Parc des Volcans headquarters in Kinigi, the meeting place for gorilla tracking.  The facilities at this place were exactly the opposite of Nkuringo's.  This was also the first time on this portion of the trip we encountered hordes of tourists.  It was a full house for gorilla tracking here with lots of tour groups present.  We were blown away by all these folks doing 60 and 90-day overland tours through Africa.

This time we'd have a full group of eight tourists, and we'd be tracking Group 13.  Groups are assigned a bit randomly on the day of, so you have little control, but this turned out to be a great group.  There are 28 gorillas in the once more accurately named Group 13.

(Coincidentally, on a later flight this trip we watched Natalie Portman and Jack Hannah track Group 13 in Saving a Species.)

After the initial orientation with our guides we hopped back into the car for a short 20-minute drive on a horrendous road to get to our starting point.  We walked a whopping one hour through very muddy farm fields until we were told we'd arrived.  Just like in Uganda, you drop your packs and only take what you need on your body (though a small camera bag is apparently acceptable).

We hopped over a five-foot stone buffalo wall and within a few minutes of bushwhacking had met the silverback.  Whereas with Nkuringo we basically stood in one place and watched all the gorillas surround us for the hour, here we were constantly moving as everyone in the group was very active.  Lots of scrambling through freshly bushwhacked trails to keep up.

One of the most amazing sights was the silverback climbing fifteen feet in the air to sit in some trees that then collapsed to the ground under his weight.  We sat watching him up there, listening to the cracking limbs, and waiting expectantly for the tumble.  The silverback wasn't fazed by the fall one bit, though.  It's dense enough rainforest that his fall was slowed by vines, bamboo, and other trees.  It was often hard to decide where to look as we were completely surrounded - both high and low - by this family of gorillas. 

Also memorable was a little guy who was just hamming it up for us.  He'd do a somersault, thump on his chest a la King Kong, and repeat.  Occasionally he'd also engage in some roundhouse kicks while playing with another infant.  Precious stuff.

Some of the better photos from the outing:


We were very glad to have seen the mountain gorillas twice and in two different locations.  They were completely different experiences.  This is obviously an expensive proposition, but definitely recommended if you can make it happen.  Also regarding bush-whacking: there was some ridiculous stinging nettle here, so covering up and wearing gloves can be a very good idea.  It's not like the stinging nettle we have here in Washington, either.  These leaves are as big as your open hand.

Once again, we were done in three hours.  This worked out nicely as we were driving back up to Uganda to Lake Bunyonyi afterwards.  As we were driving out on that horrendous road, a five year old boy ran along side the Land Cruiser for a few minutes (that's how slow we were driving) while waving and singing: "Bye bye Muzungu!  Bye bye Muzungu..." over and over and over...

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