While I’m a city girl at heart, the one thing that can bring me out into the jungle for a six-hour trek through the rainforest is a gorilla! Gorilla trekking in the Virunga Volcanic Mountains of Rwanda is not for the faint of heart (or weak of muscle). What it is is the most amazing wildlife encounter I have ever experienced. Gorilla trekking might have been strenuous and exhausting, but the moment I saw those majestic apes standing a mere few feet away from me is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Both Rwanda and Uganda have a pretty recent history of violence that may scare off some tourists, but I found both countries to be very safe and had wonderful experiences while there. All of our treks were done through a 12-day Rwanda and Uganda itinerary with Volcanoes Safaris, widely regarded as one of the best companies for gorilla trekking. The lodges we stayed in were magnificent and sometimes even had gorillas walking right through them! More importantly, the company is extremely eco-friendly and socially responsible. When going on any kind of trip involving wildlife, it is paramount to do your research before leaving to ensure your company of choice practices sustainable behavior and respects the wildlife they work with.
Park rangers kept the trekking groups small—eight people plus a ranger and one or two trackers or porters as needed. The porters are mostly locals, some of whom used to be poachers and have now been retrained to be porters. Gorilla populations are actually slowly recovering, and while the animals are still endangered the population has risen about 14% in the last 12 years. When you see these majestic creatures face to face it’s hard to believe anyone would take their head or hand as a trophy.
I visited in May, the rainy season, which meant a lot of mud and mountains full of mist. At the end of the treks locals would meet us at the park exit with trinkets to sell. A fellow trekker purchased one and I laughed when I saw that it read “Mzungu in the Mist.” The trekker was not great with languages and thought Mzungu meant gorilla in Kinyarwanda, the local dialect. I explained to him that Mzungu meant foreigner, a term that used to be quite derogatory but is now generally used in jest by children. After six hours of trekking, I was actually proud to say that I too was a Mzungu in the mist!
12-day Rwanda + Uganda Safari, with dates in Jan-Feb, Jun-Oct, Dec 2014
Rebecca Yale is a documentary and portrait photographer living in New York City who loves to travel the world photographing causes she is passionate about like conservation and child protection.