Our day started with a super early 5am wake up call. By 6am we were on our way to Volanoes National Parc (VNP). Everyone's gathered around the visitor center of VNP by 7am. We waited anxiously for our group assignment. The assignment, as in who would be assigned to trek to which gorilla group. At this point, the rangers pretty much know where each of the gorilla groups are…ie. how far up the mountain they are and approximately how long it would take to trek to each of these gorilla group. The park rangers make the assignment decision by sizing up the crowd (guessing our fitness level based on our girth and gear) and getting inputs from the guides. This is when its helpful to have a guide. Our guide was basically our proxy. We asked our guide to get us on an easy trek.
We were assigned to the Agashya Group, one of the gorilla groups that's not too far into the forest. The name Agashya means "something special". How fitting that we were trekking to meet this "something special" group of gorillas! Munane was the original leader of the group. When Munane died in 2002, a blackback from the group tried to take over as the leader, but was unsuccessful. Agashya, a silverback, took over the group in 2003. He expanded the group by taking females from another group. He now has a harem of 9 females!
We started our trek at 8am. It took us about half an hour, walking through beautiful farmland, to reach the buffalo wall, which served as the boundary of Volcanoes National Park.
After hopping over the buffalo wall, it was another half an hour trek through muddy terrain to our gorilla group. At this point, we were told to leave our walking sticks and backpacks with our guides and only take our cameras with us into the relatively dense bamboo forest. This is also when the countdown began! We were allowed exactly 1 hour with these beautiful creatures.
Our first gorilla sighting was a cute juvenile gorilla!
When Agashya was on the move, the rest of the group followed. And they move fast! Because we were in such a densely packed bamboo forest, it wasn't easy to see everything that was going on. Many times the rangers had to cut down the bamboo to give us a better view or just a path to follow the group's migration.
Young ones at play...
Agashya is significantly larger than the others. The "Silverback" is very visible when he moves.
Our 1-hour with the group was up before we knew it! So amazing to be able to get so close to them and just watch them do their thing. Definitely one of the most amazing experiences in my life!