January 11, 2019
Ruhengeri, Volcanoes National Park
Another early start and a quick breakfast where I manage to incinerate a piece of toast. Toasters are not the same here and the toast does not pop up when done. So embarrassing when they had to open all the windows! Nassar drives me to the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters. We pass so many people on bicycles. The main modes of transportation seem to be motorbikes and bicycles. Bicycles are used as taxis too and some are loaded to the max with potatoes. The park has coffee and drinks for the mobs of tourists and then we break into smaller groups for our trip briefings. There’s eight of us today for the Dian Fossey Grave Hike and we load into cars and drive to the starting location. We turn onto a path that I guess is a road but really it’s just volcanic boulders. It’s the ultimate off-roading experience as we bounce along. Nassar calls this an African massage.
We start at about 8,500 ft. and hike through agricultural area. I try to settle into a slow, methodical pace but the Swedish man in front of me keeps stopping to take pictures. I soon pass him and things get better. We slowly plod our way up through and around volcanic boulders before crossing the park border into the park.
After almost and hour, there suddenly is a loud crashing noise and there are two young male mountain gorillas playing around the path we’re on. Another gorilla is knocking down large plants which almost hit us and then it comes towards me while beating its chest. I turn my eyes downwards and it suddenly seems to be over. The two young males move down the path a bit but then they’re back. I snap a few pictures but we soon move on as we are not here for gorilla viewing. We’re damn lucky to see mountain gorillas without having to pay the $1,500 USD gorilla permit fee.
The trail becomes quite muddy and I’m grateful for my waterproof boots and gators. As we climb to 10,100 ft. I can feel it getting cooler and the shade of the forest is relaxing. We arrive at the old, decomposing Karisoke Research Center, Dian’s cabin and then just around the corner is the gravesite. Dian is buried in an area with 20+ gorillas. Dian is buried next to her beloved gorilla Digit who was murdered by poachers in 1977. Dian was murdered in 1985 in her cabin, presumably by poachers. They no longer bury gorillas here because it is so far from the current research center (they do research on their bones).
We’re at the gravesites for a very short period of time where I quickly eat my lunch while still standing. The hike back down the mountain feels more like a quick march. Luckily the Swedish group drops behind because two of them are incessant talkers. I’m finally able to listen to the forest and observe its beauty in silence. As we near the spot where we saw the gorillas, there’s thumping footsteps behind me. One of the non-stop talkers is running and pushes past me while uttering something I don’t understand. I say, “Sorry, what?” He proceeds to stop dead in his tracks, which of course means I have to stop dead in my tracks, and he tells me that this is nearly the spot where we saw the gorillas. I’m thinking to myself, Duh dude! thanks for nothing. The gorillas of course are no where to be seen as we wait for the rest of the group to catch up. When we get back to the parking lot Nassar comments that we are back quickly.
Back at the hotel, I relax in my room all afternoon. I try to sleep but there is what sounds like a dance party happening nearby. I eventually take a shower which is a bit of a challenge because there is just a wand in a bath tub. Down at the restaurant, I sip some Turbo King beer. They call this a strong dark ale at 6.5%. I have curry for dinner and then it’s early to bed again.