The First Gorilla Trek
Hiking up the steep hill, I kept my head down as I placed one foot in front of the other. I recalled the sign in our lodge at Mahogany Springs that proclaims, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” However, as sweat ran down my back I was grateful it was sunny. I’m certain rain would have turned the steep trail to the Mubare Group into a mud slide in no time. The trail was narrow but well-maintained considering the dense jungle’s efforts to cover the bare earth. We had passed through several gradual switchbacks, ascending to this steep final climb. My porter, Moses, carried my pack and offered a hand over the uneven jungle roots. He spoke little English, but was attentive company. We continued, single file up the mud-terraced slope, and I could see the trees leveling off up ahead. We were getting close. I began to imagine what it would be like to walk into the clearing and see the endangered mountain gorillas for the first time. Tears welled in my eyes as the anticipation erupted. I wiped my face before anyone could notice.
A brief lunch break at the top treated us to the sighting of a duiker, a small forest antelope. From there, we left our bags with the porters and carried only our cameras as the trail disappeared. Passing through a curtain of thicket and marsh, we entered the clearing where the silverback stood watch. Our guide, Meddi, gave a few deep, guttural grunts to indicate to the silverback that we were peaceful. A mother and infant passed by and made their way up a tree. The infant used the branches like a jungle gym, swinging and spinning without a care in the world. Mothers nursed their young. They foraged. A young female passed so close to me, I could smell her wet hair. It was difficult to know where to look with family members all around us. The silverback made his way through the clearing to the shade of a tree where a few females relaxed with their young. He collapsed in the shade on his belly with his feet curled beneath his thick legs and invited the rest to join him for a group nap. The babies played on top of the resting parents, practicing their skills in the trees and drumming on their chests. I set down my camera and watched with my own eyes.