Perhaps due to a double whammy of prayers from both Muslims and Christians, my computer magically started working again!
So here we go.
My driver accurately maneuvers the car up the tiny winding mountain road. Nothing but uphill all the way through Virunga massive. Altitude somewhere around 1800 meters. Sun is about to rise.
I can see children in school uniforms appear through the morning mist. Rushing down the hill with books under their arms. Women carrying shovels in colorful traditional dresses, preparing for yet another day in the field. Older women sweep the ground next to our passing car. It’s morning in northwest Rwanda. The land of a thousand hills.
Virunga massive is a mountain chain composed by volcanoes located across the border of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Despite its location, in the heart of Africa, you find ever-white glaciers covering the highest points. A stunning landscape!
Its’ peculiar climate is the perfect condition for mountain gorillas to thrive. It’s actually the only place in the world where they exist.
It’s still early in the morning when I reach the national park’s HQ. I observe the other yawning white faces around me. By judging what my ears picks up, I estimate a majority of Americans and Brits. Perhaps not very surprising?
As you trek up the foot of the volcano, you distinctly notice how mother earth’s face constantly changes. She transforms from typical cultivated step like land with rich dark soil to a thick eucalyptus forest. Next time you look up bamboo has replaced all eucalyptus trees. The higher you reach, the thinner the bamboo gets. Eventually it disappears completely. Before you know it, you find yourself in a dense rainforest.
Because of the altitude, the air feels fresh. Not humid like the jungles of Burundi.
It doesn’t exist a fixed path to the gorillas. Their daily movement forces the skilled rangers to track them down every single day. One of which is in the forefront with a machete paving a way for us to follow.
”Have you ever had any incidents with gorillas and tourists?” I asked, with an edgy smirk on my face.
”No, not really. However, during rainy season gorillas tend to eat bamboo. It contains alcohol. Sometimes, if they get drunk they may push you over, run towards you or even start hugging you” the ranger answered.
I’m lucky. September is not rainy season.
Three hours of trekking later we reach 3065 meter altitude.
We’re being informed that the gorillas are close . Further instructed to leave everything behind except for our cameras.
A little bit further, in a glade we encounter a family of gorillas! In my head, I’d imagined that we would sit 20 meters away from them and take pictures of them. Ooh no! We were literary standing in the middle of the family. I stood close enough to touch the 200-kilogram silverback Kurira! An absolutely unreal feeling indeed.
As you walk up to them you make this noise, which sounds like a deep throat clearing. It basically means, ”We come in peace”. However, what’s most fascinating, when you do it, the gorilla actually answers with the same sound. Essentially saying, ”it’s OK for you to be here”.
As soon as these massive creatures start moving your heart starts pounding. Pulse racing. You freeze up as they walk by you. Almost touching your body. Gorillas are exceptionally similar to us human beings. Face expressions. Anatomy. Body movements. How they interact with each other. Relationship mother child.
For an hour and a half I’m in Gorillaland. I never want to leave. I’m playing with the thought of running away. Hide in the forest. It might give me a chance to stay high. Never want to come down from this surreal sensation. Although, the thought of spending the night alone in the rainforest bordering to Congo forces me to come to my senses.
There are about 880 gorillas in the world. They comprise one of Rwanda’s most important income generating revenues. Employees of gorilla tourism alone, brings income to 600 households in the neighboring area. The money that gorilla tourism brings allows the Rwandan government to preserve and maintain the forest and run development programs in the region.
After spent one week in Kigali, staying with Tanguy and his lovely family, it was time to move on. This time Accra, Ghana. Except for gorilla trekking we also paid a visit to Akagera national park. A safari trip which offered giraffes, elephants, hippos, baboons, buffalo and of course pushing the car which got stuck in the mud!
I arrived to Ghana without a visa due to my optimistic oblivious naivety. It almost cost me my entry in the country.
”This is unacceptable! You will have to go back to Kigali with the next flight!” was the first thing the border officer told me.
”Wait a minute. Let’s talk about this” was the first thing that came to my mind.
We entered his office.
After being questioned for one hour, the officer finally granted me a visa on arrival. I had to convince him I wasn’t in Ghana to do business. Only to travel and explore his beautiful country. He turned out to be a really nice man actually. In the end, he even authorized a two-month visa for me!
Day two in Ghana I met Shadrack. Twenty-seven, born and bred in the capital. A stand up guy who offered me a bed at his place. He pays the rent by selling cellphones in the streets. Shadrack knows everything there is to know about his hometown. For a week I tried to keep up with his habitual pace as he navigated me through the urban maze.
Accra is a modern city with a population around the two million mark. Like many other metropolis around the globe, it offers extensive contrasts. Scruffy lanes lined with open sewers, dazzling skyscrapers and run down concrete blocks. Crazy traffic, screaming street vendors, music everywhere, movement of people, an enormous supply of miscellaneous goods.
A ceaseless matrix of stimuli. Its’ narrow alleys and inconsiderable shortcuts seem endless to me.
A week subsequent to my arrival in Accra I got on a bus to Bawku. It’s a 20 hour bus ride which cut straight through the entire country. The idea is to join a film team in Nakom, a village lacking water and electricity.
My plan is to stay for two months helping them to shoot a movie feature.
Let’s see how it goes.