In Summer 2016, I embarked on an epic bucket-list-worthy adventure to Africa with two of my best travel buddies. Going to Africa had always been a dream of mine and going on a safari was on the top of my bucket list. And what I didn't realize is that one of the adventures on our agenda was not on my radar or "list".
From all of my experiences traveling, my favorite memories are always the ones that are unexpected or unplanned. Trekking with mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains was one of those experiences. Prior to embarking on our nearly 3 week journey to Africa, my travel buddy, Anna Beth, presented the idea of seeing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. One trend you'll notice with me and travel is that I rarely turn down an adventure, and I almost always have no idea what it entails or what I'm getting myself into...hence my recent adventure hiking the Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala. So when I heard about this adventure, I was on board - I mean who doesn't want to see mountain gorillas up close and personal?
We set off on a long journey from Kigali to the Virunga National Park. Virunga is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the border of Rwanda and Uganda, and is home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. When we arrived, we met with our guide, tracker, and other members of our group. They cap each group at 8 people and limit the number of groups/permits each day as to not disrupt the mountain gorillas in their homes. So I consider myself among the lucky who get to embark on this majestic journey!
Our guide instructed us how to behave around the gorillas and not to touch them or make eye contact with them. It's not that they would unnecessarily hurt us; they just wanted us to be prepared and not come across as a threat to them (and making eye contact with them could be construed as a threat). We hiked about an hour and a half up the volcano through lush green paths and loads of bamboo. The hike was a really cool accompaniment to the experience.
When we reached our destination, I looked up and there they were...12 mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. It was as if we were a fly on the wall watching them up close and personal. It didn't even seem to phase them that we were there. We saw a Silverback (the male leader of the group), several male and female gorillas, and several babies! We spent an hour one-on-one with them taking their pictures, watching them play, and be in their midst. I even had one brush up against me while he was walking by! It was such a surreal experience.
Experiences like this are what make travel so thrilling, adventurous, and spontaneous. These are memories I will forever carry with me. And it is by far one of the coolest adventures I've ever experienced. And I've had a lot of great adventures. My next dream animal adventure is getting in on the lottery to get up and close with Grizzly Bears. I'll likely never win the Powerball, but perhaps I can win that lottery. Sounds invigorating, right?
What are some of your favorite travel adventures?