Saturday, April 22, 2006

4.19.06 Wednesday Written from my bedroom at New Hope! Ah, it's good to be home. Bonus the lights are on! They were off for quite a bit earlier tonight, but the headlamp is in position ready to get to work at the flick of a switch. What great fun we’ve had today. A vacation day! Time to play! For some bizarre reason I didn't sleep more than 20 minutes all night. Initially I was thinking about the CM pitch team. But then my body just acted like it was wide awake on caffeine. Perhaps it was the red wine I had for dinner… a pretty good merlot from France. I just laid there in my clean bed after taking a hot shower...well not quite a shower as the overhead spiket didn’t work. But it was hot water. They claim 15 litres...but I swear there were only 5. The wake up “knock” on the door came at 5:45am. (Didn’t really matter since I was wide awake). Continental breakfast at 6. In car at 6:30 hoping the impassible road would now be ok, which it was. Breakfast featured about 20 people heading out on various treks. Dian Fossey area, Mountain gorillas, etc. We bounced our way down the road to the meeting site. Our guide was Oliver. Two years out of school. Secondary I think. We headed out to find the oldest and largest set of gorillas, featuring 2 silver backs. Mbanda mentioned that he was a Silver TOP, therefore it would be ok. (He cracks me up…I think Dad and Mbanda were born with the same humor gene. Mbanda can go from serious strategic talk to a punch line that came from outta nowhere. Gotta love him.) Here is a bit of info about the Trek from various info sites on line. Researchers and conservationists believe there are more than 700 mountain gorillas remaining in the World today. About 380 live in Rwanda and across the frontier border in Congo. The remaining mountain gorillas are separated by farmland and live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. There are some scientists who believe this population represents a different subspecies. The Mountain Gorillas inhabit some of the most spectacular scenery on earth, high on the flanks of the Virunga Volcanoes. The animals were made famous by the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” about Dian Fossey, who studied them in northeastern Rwanda in the 1960s and documented her work in a book. It lies on the Rwandan side of a mountain range that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. Adjacent parks in Congo and Uganda are both known as Virunga National Park. The three parks are home to the world’s entire mountain gorilla population. there is no doubt a face-to-face encounter with these gentle creatures is the most sensational wildlife experience of them all. Gorilla trekking is tightly controlled and regulated for the safety of the visitor and importantly for the safety of the Mountain Gorillas. A maximum of 8 visitors may visit a group of habituated Gorillas on any given day, this minimizes behavioral disturbance and the risk of their exposure to human-borne diseases. Gorilla Groups: There are currently FIVE groups habituated to visitors in Rwanda. We visited the Sabinyo group. Amahoro group - 15 individuals located on the Visoke volcano Umubano group - 7 individuals located on the Visoke volcano Sabinyo group - 10 individuals located between the Sabinyo and Visoke volcanoes. Susa group - 35 individuals located high on the Karisimbi volcano (long and strenuous hike) Group 13 - 14 individuals located on the Sabinyo volcano. The trek begins from the Park Headquarters where the guides observed the Gorillas the day before. The trails may be very muddy, slippery and portions are quite steep and strenuous. Gorilla Viewing Rules: Keep a minimum of 21 feet (7 metres) from the Gorillas - this is to protect them from catching diseases. We ended up getting within 5 feet several times. Do NOT remove anything from the park e.g., flowers, fruit, porcupine quills, etc. Keep your voices down at all times. No Flash photography is allowed. Do NOT eat or drink when close to the gorillas - this is a disease risk. Do NOT touch the Gorillas - they are wild animals. The maximum time you can spend with the gorillas is ONE hour, however if the gorillas become agitated or nervous the guide will finish the visit early. If you are feeling ill, or are carrying a contagious disease, please volunteer to stay behind. An alternative visit will be arranged for you, or you will be refunded your viewing permit money. Do NOT spit in the park and go to the bathroom only as instructed by your guide. Do not leave anything in the park, if you pack it in, pack it out! Obey the local guide instructions at all times, for the safety of the Gorillas and visitors. So began our journey. Chantal kept commenting on how fresh the air is to breathe in the country. The density of the green lush surrounding made breathing a joy. Quite the contrast to the dust in the city. I took lots of photos along the way after we had driven about 30 minutes to the edge of the mountain. The climb was to 9000 feet, but it didn't take more than an hour and I think we made it quite a bit of the way by car. We had two military guys with us with machine guns in case the need arouse. The primary concern is guerrillas…i.e. men not animals. The last attack was two years ago. We had 3 trekkers that went ahead of our group of 7 to find the gorillas. They go out early to find them and radioed back. When we began our climb, they were outside of the wall (a loose 4 foot wall of stone) eating, but by the time we go there they were inside. We got our final briefing ....tuck pant legs into socks, put on gloves at the nettles (leaves) are very sharp...having no gloves I brought a extra pair of socks to serve as a place holder. When we enter "stay together, stay together". No pointing. No food or water...everything but our cameras had to be left with another member of the trek team. If you cough (hint turn away from them as humans can get them sick. I am thankful that the Abbott packers allowed me to bring my rain pants...although it was not raining (thankfully) they served as protection from the sweat pants would have provided very limited protection

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