Beans & Rice for the Soul

teaching, learning and living around the world

Beautiful Congo: Searching for Silverbacks

In June 2008 I had the opportunity to visit Kahuzi-Biega National Park and see the majestic Mountain Gorillas in the WILD!! It was most definitely a life highlight. Here are some sweet up close and personal photos.

Getting there: I had just hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro, so I flew into Kigali, Rwanda. Then we rented a car, drove to Goma and then took a boat to Bukavu. The first morning we went to catch the boat we showed up right on time, since it usually leaves half an hour late. But apparently that morning they decided to actually leave on time so we missed the boat! After an extra night in Goma we made it onto the 20 seater speed boat that flew across the particularly choppy waters of Lake Kivu.  My bag of clothes had the privilege of riding in the front compartment of the boat, which apparently leaked a lot of fuel because the rest of the week every item I owned was damp and wreaked of gasoline. Ha!

Upon arrival in Bukavu, John Kahekwa of Kahuzi-Biega park picked us up in his Toyota 4-Runner.  John was so knowledgeable about the park and the gorillas- we learned a lot on the way there.  During that time I also noticed several large insects that made the cracks between the seat cushions their humble home. If you’re into luxury travel, this trip is not for you.

When we arrived at the park we were greeted by several men carrying guns in green uniforms. I was a city girl, living in Kinshasa right across from Camp Tsha-Tshi, so according to my city girl logic, green uniforms mean ARMY = SCARY! Especially after they packed five of them, guns and all, with me and Mo squished in the middle… and then John dropped us off in the middle of the jungle and said, “They’ll take care of you! I’ll pick you up in a few hours!”  On the inside I was saying my prayers, and on the outside I trekked along happily.

Unfortunately we missed the memo alerting us to the fact that you need to wear giant rubber boots so that the red ants don’t eat you alive… so my sneakers and ankle socks would just have to do. We were instructed to avoid stopping at all costs and if we had to- look DOWN to make sure they weren’t attacking.  Anytime I had to stop I kept my feet moving in place and looked like I [didn’t want to have] ants in my pants.

Once these guys started telling us all about the gorillas, and making various animal call noises, I finally realized that they were in fact rangers, which equals good guys. For most of our five hour journey in the humid, thick jungle- our view looked exactly like this.   A ranger in front of us, hacking away with a machete- literally blazing a trail. But five hours of this view was definitely all worth it- to see these super amazing animals up close.

I only ended up with a few red ant bites on my ankles, and the coolest of all moments was when a mama walked by with her baby on her back and brushed up against my LEG! And then the baby stood up like it was going to jump on over and play with me!! Thank god it didn’t- I almost had a heart attack!! God forbid you make a Mama Gorilla ANGRY!

Overall it was a pretty smooth journey. At the end of the day, John drove us back to downtown Bukavu. To learn more about what’s happening in Kahuzi-Biega, check out this YouTube video of John. He describes how the war and coltan mining has affected the park.

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5 comments on “Beautiful Congo: Searching for Silverbacks

  1. Lonnie Rich (dad)
    July 22, 2010

    Quite a story. Not many of us can say we’ve had a mama gorilla rub up against our leg. You should post the picture with all the army guys in your jeep!

  2. Carly Morganwalp
    November 10, 2010

    My name is Carly and I am a Graphic Designer for the U.S. Geological Survey. I wanted to ask you if we could use one of your photos in our upcoming book about UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Currently we are having a hard time finding an acceptable image of Kahuzi-Biega National Park that is high enough resolution for our 17×11 book. In the corner of the photo we would be sure to display your name as the photographer. If you could respond to me as soon as possible I would appreciate it. Thanks.

    • sararich
      November 15, 2010

      Yes that would be fine- can you use the one here or do you need me to send it via email?

  3. Carly Morganwalp
    November 15, 2010

    If you could please send me the original of the front of the park image that would be great! cmorganwalp@usgs.gov.

  4. Carly Morganwalp
    November 18, 2010

    Or if you have any other images of the general scenery that would be great too!

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