It’s an early start in the day. During the last couple of hours the city had two blackouts and generators had to be turned on. Having no electricity on a large scale will symptomatic in the next weeks and I better get used to it. When I was in Mosambique two month ago, I already called it an adventure. But what I face here puts my experience there into new perspective.
My own batteries on the contrary are fully charged and I face the day with joy and excitement. I get picked up by my guide and we drive north again, parallel to the border with Rwanda. We pass the Nyiragongo on the left and to the right the rest of the volcanic chain. In between ruins and the leftovers from huge refugee camps dating back to the genocide in Rwanda. As we continue driving north, an eagle leads our way for some minutes, flying ahead of us and it seems he is keeping an eye on us. After almost two hours on the road, we pick up my armed guard and leave the main road, following a small dirt track into the hills. I become familiar with the concept of “African Massage” as my guide explains me. The roads are so bad, that it’s for free to be shaken and massaged well. The last one and a half kilometers are impassable and we walk on the path until we reach a military border and national park post; the basis to visit the mountain gorillas. Even with my presence the commander of the border troops chastises one of his soldiers and lets him crawl in the dirt.
As I fill out the paper work and wait for the gorilla doctor to join my group, two spotters are already out in the woods to find the gorilla family and we follow. Luckily the nettles are less then expected. Having heard many stories about gorilla trekking in Rwanda, I expected a painful march through the bush. As I am the only tourist, I have an ideal position to spot the gorillas. My guard fights the way through the jungle with his machete and I follow closely. After just 30 minutes we find the first traces of the closest ancestors of humans. They become more and more visible as the leaves are crushed on the ground where they slept at night. And as my companion removes some more branches, the first family members come into sight. Sitting not more than 10 meters away, they seem to ignore us. They are familiar with the funky looking humans, breathing through surgery masks and aiming bizarre devices at them. The youngsters of the group play high up in the trees, jumping from one branch, hanging on to another and swinging around.
The family I visit is called Bageni and has 24 members. The youngest one is less than a week old and his mother presents it a little bit shy and protective but I am allowed to have a glance at it. A rare occasion as the park ranger tells me. As they walk past me, a grunting voice shouts out of the thicket to my right and the ranger calls me back. A gorilla is asking for his right of way and we step back. He bushwhacks past, leaving a huge hole in the green wall.
Our spotting point becomes a nest for food and four gorillas gather in almost reaching distance, taking trees apart and enjoying the bark. Two babies riding the back of their mother enjoy their tour and pass me a curious smile. The silverback on the other side at the end of an gorilla path, does not even bother to check who his visitors are. He sits with a female, grooming each other. Being so close to those amazing animals strikes me with awe. I feel honored to be here. Just four month before, in October 2014, the park was reopened after heavy fighting over the last years. Many gorillas were slaughtered in this period of unrest and the national park did his best to protect this unique species.
It fills my eyes with tears thinking about the damage we do to our nature and to endanger these animals and their habitat. I fell sad to leave them after exactly one hour and to return to the camp. Of the 24 members, I saw 21. Amazing, but not unusual for the gorilla families as they live and stay always close together. Being almost alone with them is an intense feeling; a priceless emotional moment.
As I return to Goma, my next goal becomes reality again. I need a visa to continue with the two other Germans to Kisangani. With a small promise from the visa department at the Direction Générale de Migration (DGM) from yesterday, I try my luck again. This time they keep my passport and promise me a visa for the next morning at 10. But my check-in for my flight is at exactly 10, so I hope the best, ask them nicely again and the next morning, I am waiting at 7:50 in front of their door. No one is there! I wait! 8:05 the officer in charge comes to work, greets me with unseen happiness with “Did you sleep here?” and disappears for a few moments. At 8:15 the unthinkable happens: I hold my passport with an extended visa in my hands. Just a few minutes later, I am at the CAA airlines office to book my ticket for the flight in four hours. The adventure just has started!
Crossing Congo – The moving Perspective
Crossing Congo – The Series:
Part 1 – Heartland
Part 2 – The East
Part 3 – Glowing Earth
Part 4 – Majestic Gorillas
Part 5 – The Flying Whistle
Part 6 – The Stream
Part 7 – Jungle Bumps
Part 8 – Equator Rocks
Part 9 – Capital Walks
Can’t wait for more?
Check out the German series of “Crossing Congo“!