Mud, Sweat, and (Joyful) Tears: A Gorilla Trek in Rwanda
Don’t mess with Agashya, a dominant male silverback gorilla. (Photo: Anisha Shah)
I have to pinch myself that this is Rwanda.
20 years on from the tribal genocide, which claimed 1 million lives, the country is flying towards Vision 2020, by which time it aims to become a middle-class society. If achieved, it will beat all its East African counterparts in speed of turnaround, and with both a strong sense of unity led by president Paul Kagame and the only country in the world with a Parliament consisting of majority women, it’s in good hands — and so are its gorillas.
A strong set of wildlife tourism motives has made Rwanda one of the most exciting emerging destinations right now. I’m here at its Volcanoes National Park — Africa’s first national park, 48 square miles of mountain forest spread over six volcanoes bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — to experience the thrills of gorilla tracking. It’s an experience as breathtaking as it is difficult, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Gorillas in the mist in the mountains of Rwanda. (Video: Anisha Shah)
Settling in at Sabyinyo Silverback
Getting to the gorilla zone is no quick feat: After a nine-hour long-haul flight from London to Kenya’s Nairobi followed by a short hop to Rwanda’s capital Kigali, it’s a three-hour drive to Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, my luxurious home base during the gorilla tracking expedition. Weary after all the travel, I’m ready to jump into the freestanding tub, light a fire in my cottage, and schedule an in-room massage. Instead, at 5am, there’s a knock on my door and a fresh pot of coffee. Outside, dramatic scenes are unfolding. The sun is creeping up behind mist that’s pouring over the trio of volcanoes facing the lodge. Nelis, the manager and a passionate wildlife photographer, points to the steepest, Mount Bisoke: that’s the volcano I’m hiking today. Before I can reconsider, I’m tied into walking boots, layered into gators, strapped into gloves, bundled into a raincoat and armed with a walking stick (an essential, I soon realise.)
A luxury bungalow at the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. (Photo: Anisha Shah)