The next day, Lu’s actual birthday, broke clear as a bell. All the volcanoes were crystal clear and we could even see Lake Edward off the veranda 50 miles away. We loaded into a big AWD lorry and Roy, the driver, bounced us up the mountain on one of the worst roads in Africa. I think it is 12 kilometers but it took us a good hour and a half. What is that? Less than 2 kilometers an hour! We walked up through the forest with our guide, John, and a couple other rangers for almost 2 hours and finally came upon a group of gorillas having their rest time. We could smell them before seeing them and the vegetation was so thick that the gorillas were no more than 2 meters away when John first spotted them.
We were all wearing masks and were supposed to keep a 7 meter distance for the gorilla’s health safety and our general safety. So we backed away a bit. The size of this big silverback we were so close to was astonishing. His head was huge. I doubt I could have got my arms around his chin to the crown of his head. Bukima is the dominant male of the Rugendo family that we were among and he seemed very comfortable with us for a long time. Then he must have noticed himself reflected in the large lens of Lu’s camera. He sat up and stared intently at it and then got up and headed for us.
In a situation like this you can try to back away, but there is not always a place to go and this guy can cover some ground quickly. After a couple times of this he settled down again and we went on to a gorilla mother and baby. The mom slung the baby on her back and went off under some low lying bush and sat down. But the baby was very curious about us so it slowly ventured out and back until we were finally forced to move off because it would have been right in our laps.
We spent time with different animals, watching them eat bamboo and groom each other. At one point Noel, one of the females, came at us very quickly. With no place to go, I just stepped off the path and as she passed me she gave me a slap on the back. Lu and John were a ways away from the other guard and me then, so we took some nice pix of the gorilla and each other. Then the gorilla thought she would wind us up again. She came rapidly toward me and as she passed, lifted her leg and kicked me in the calf.
It was all in fun I am sure and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This group has 3 big silverbacks in it and as we watched “Kongomani” he also decided it would be fun to get a closer look at us and ran toward us at speed. We had no chance to do anything but turn our backs and get as far off the trail as we could. As soon as he passed us only inches away, he stopped and lay down with his bum in the air as if to say…well, I don’t know what he was trying to say, but it didn’t seem polite in our culture. I guess I have now been mooned by a Silverback Gorilla. It was a fabulous day and completely different from my other Africa experiences with elephants, buffalo and lion in the savannah or bush. Many thanks to all my friends there at Virunga National Park for a wonderful time.