Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Volcanoes National Park

Last Saturday, with colleagues and friends, 6 of us had visited the Volcanoes National Park for the last mountain gorillas on earth. We spent a night at Gorillas-Volcanoes Hotel (USD 110), but the mosquitoes in the room kept me awake almost throughout the night.

At 7am, we reached the ORTPN office (Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks). Our guide Felix gave a brief introduction. We were told only 7 Gorilla groups were open to the tourists presently, ranged from 7 to 20 gorillas each. Max 8 tourists were allowed to visit per group per day. The one we were going to spent with named Umubano, comprised of 11 members including 2 babies.

After half an hour drive on the so-called “African massage” service road, we parked our cars at a village. The guide “advised” us to hire a watchman to look after our cars, this cost of EUR 5 was kind of blackmailing, I believed.

The trekking took approx 1.5hr. The sceneries were great, passing through green farms and villages, kids asking for money or shoes or pen. Guide explained the diets of the gorilla, and reminded us repeatedly of our behavior for safety and conservation sake.

Some parts of the trek were full of mud, but much better than my expectation. The final stretch was a little challenging when climbing up very steep slopes. The weather turned cloudy, light showering. All of us were over excited to see the Silverback (leader of the group) sitting just 3m from us. This lazy beast just sat idly crossing his arms with head bowing down. Shortly we spotted other members scattered around. Our cameras clicked non-stop. We had only a small place to stand, all of the photos were more less shot from the same view. Every single movement of the gorilla especially the baby's awkward move cheered us up immensely. We were only allowed to stay 1 hr with the gorilla, was said not to stress the beast too much.

With my resident visa, I paid USD 250 for the visit permit, otherwise USD 500 would be charged to the tourist. I think the price is OK, considering this was an opportunity of the life time.

Felix explained the enormous efforts were being carried out to protect these primates. The statistic shows more than 700 gorillas are living presently in Uganda and Rwanda… couldn’t remember what he said about Congo statistic. A certificate was given to each participant end of the trip.