Some of my friends and acquaintances have begun to express an interest in switching to a vegetarian diet. Of course I am thrilled ‘ save the animals, save the planet, heck save yourselves’ my inner voice sings. Another part of me feels this is such an important change,not only for the individual but a change with such global impact beyond the individual that it is important to be honest and balanced in providing information to those who are considering this transformation.
We woke early on the morning of the chimp trek because ideally one wants to be on the trail early, around 6am. Unlike Gorilla’s, whose sheer size and weight makes spending the night in a tree unlikely if not fatal (we heard of one Silverback who’d died falling out of a tree) the chimps build themselves nests high up in the branches and spend the afternoons in the tree tops sunning themselves, so the best time to see them closer to the ground is in the mornings when they come down to forage. We’d just got on the road when our guides Sam and Moses got a call to say the Chimp guide, a gent by the lofty name of Everest, was stuck. He’d been going to ride with another two tourists but he’d just discovered that their car had broken down the night before. We turned around immediately and about half a mile down the road we picked up Everest, Cyril and Yang. Everest was born and raised in Rwanda, Cyril was from the States now working for a few months in Rwanda and Yang is Chinese but studying and working in the States for the last couple of years.
So we set out, 3 couples in the group, following Everest who was talking to trackers ahead. We’d come to find chimp’s in the trees but, what we didn’t expect was the sheer colour and variety of the flora and fauna that nestled beneath the tree canopy. Brilliantly coloured fungi clung to rocks, beautiful orchids peeped between branches or nestled in valleys, butterflies flitted past while we stepped carefully around dark streams of giant ants…I felt like Alice through the looking glass, peering at one rather bold caterpillar I found myself looking for his pipe. Everest had to plead with us “come, we need to find the chimps. Pictures later.”
We set out bright and early for our Gorilla trek, first congregating at the lodge for some coffee and our briefing. We were treated to a traditional dance while we downed coffee and then broke into groups. For the sake of the Gorillas parties cannot exceed 8 tourists. In our group it was ourselves, a Swedish couple, a single American lass down in Rwanda for a wedding and just taking the gap to see the Gorilla’s and finally a beautiful Nigerian couple who sounded totally American. The conservation is very cleverly managed and contributes greatly to the welfare of the people as well as that of the Gorillas. The whopping $750 cost for the trek covers training and salaries for the trackers, rangers and porters, maintenance of the park and conservation education. They also pay a good part of it over to the government who in turn use it to build schools in the region and pay the soldiers who patrol the nature reserve.
We set out our party of 8 tourists, Bernice our guide, 3 porters and and a chap with a rifle…just in case we unintentionally frightened a buffalo. Apparently coming across a bunch of them would be fine since they would feel safe but one lone one might not and attack us. We started just outside the park in a very little village who seem to survive by selling a few curios and growing crops of wheat, fruit, vegetables and fields and fields of snowy white Pyrethrum flowers which they pick and dry to be used as insect repellant. We walked up the hill towards the stone fence marking the boundary of the park. It’s fairly steep but we have all been given a walking stick and Pierre and I soon find ourselves at the entrance.