Dec 14, 2015

A Walk with the Gorillas.

There are only 880 mountain gorillas left in the wild. 
Last week my friend and I got to hang out with 19 of them. 

Mountain gorillas can only be found in one jungle area in the world that spans three countries: DR Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Gorilla treks can be done in all 3 countries, though DR Congo is a bit of a mess right now and is more concerned with protecting the park than fostering tourism. (watch the Netflix documentary VIRUNGA for an inspiring, heart wrenching perspective of the Congo side of the park). 

Here in controlled, peace time Rwanda, gorilla treks are an important part of the conservation process (think: $$$) and are a major draw for tourists to this tiny African country. I watched the documentary before coming to Rwanda and knew that gorillas would be a "must-do" for my time here. I didn't really think about what it would be like to be so close to gorillas or what a gorilla trek actually was, I just knew that when I was in Rwanda I had to take part in the major tourist draw and see an endangered species in its natural habitat. I guess what I am saying is: I was interested in the experience from a political and conservation standpoint but did not contemplate that I would actually be standing next to giant mountain gorillas. 

Leanne, my fantastic co-worker/co-traveler/co-human and I set out to the north of Rwanda on a bus that zigged and zagged through Rwanda's famous hills. The north looks more like mountains than the south where I live, it is incredible how the terrain of this country can change in such a small amount of time. Where I live has red dirt and low lying hills. The north has potting-soil-like volcanic soil and volcanic rock at the base of giant hills and volcanoes. Just driving through the country is awe-inspiring. 

The morning of the trek we woke up early and packed backpacks of water, rain jackets, candies, and a packed lunch of a sandwich, mini-bananas, and boiled eggs. We hired a car to drive us to the Rwanda Development Board where we signed in and were greeted by traditional intore dancing. After being sized up by the trekkers and placed into groups of 8, we met with our 2 guides who described the gorilla family we would be trekking to see. We were assigned the Hirwa gorilla family who resides in the bamboo forest foothills of Mount Sabyinyo.

Hire means "lucky" in kinyarwanda and the family is aptly named. They have a set of baby twins which is rare in the gorilla universe. usually a mom abandons one of the twins because it is difficult to care for two babies, but this mother in the Hirwa family kept both babies! They were so cute and playful with the other "teenagers" in the family. There is one dominant silverback male who broke away from his former family in 2006 to create his own tribe because he wanted to be the breeder. The papa silver back is 450 pounds and over 5 feet tall! (I am glad that we only saw him sitting. I was really skittish around the gorillas. If he would have stood and walked towards us I probably would have pooped my pants.)

We drove about 30 minutes to the base of the mountain and began our hike through gorgeous fields of  white pyrethrum flowers. Once we reached the bamboo forest, a trekker with a gun met us to walk with us. I have been told, though, that the gun was not to protect us, it was to protect the gorillas. And I totally believe it. We trekked behind a guy with a machete for about 2 hours through the jungle. I was in running shoes and not hiking boots (boo) so I was slipping and sliding and holding onto bamboo for dear life. Just when I didn't know how much longer I could march uphill in the jungle, our guide told us the great news, we had reached the gorillas! Finding the gorillas was impressively organized. In the morning, trekkers go out in search of each family and report back via walkie talkie where they are located that particular morning. The walkie talkie action continues until each tourist groups reaches the trekkers and the gorillas.

We were taught how gorillas communicate and what to do if a gorilla approached us, then we left our bags on the side of the mountain and entered the clearing where the Hirwa family was chilling out. We were given one hour to take pictures, watch in awe, and just hang out near the gorillas. I don't think I'll ever forget the first time I saw one - I was so spellbound! I kept saying, "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!" to the other hikers. Gorillas are majestic. They are huge. They are gentle and curious, and have beady black eyes that pierce through you. They do what they want, they don't know the rules. We were on their turf and they were in charge. I felt like a visitor in a very important home - don't touch, be quiet, be polite, know your role.

We stood in little pack as the gorillas walked around us, approached us, walked right by us, lounged in front of us, swung from trees above us, and wrestled less than 10 feet from us. The whole time pap silverback was just watching while his brood entertained us. They didn't seem to mind that we were there, they get a visitor group every week day for an hour and it showed that they have been accustomed to humans hanging out near them. The moms and teenagers would grunt and talk and our guides would grunt and talk back, letting them know that we were friendly and not an enemy. This was incredible. Humans talking with the gorillas. Gorillas talking with the humans.

Quicker than we wished, the hour was over and it was time to trudge through the mud and bamboo back down the mountain - a different way than we hiked up, thank goodness. When we were passing back through the field of flowers I kept thinking to myself how thankful I am that this is my life. All the heartbreak and sadness and disappointment that led to me choosing to move to Rwanda was totally worth it. I'm thankful for all the twists and turns that added up to me gorilla trekking in Rwanda on a random Wednesday morning. It was an experience I will carry with me forever - being in the presence of endangered mountain gorillas, in their home. I feel so thankful.

Let's hope these beauties can continue to be conserved by the local forces in Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo. Props to Rwanda for the excellent, safe, mesmerizing experience.

walk slow. xoxo. 


Steve Finnell said...


The controversy of verse John 3:5 is that born of water does not mean water baptism, but means natural childbirth.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.(NKJV)

If born of water means natural childbirth, then all babies who die in the womb, all babies who been aborted, and all babies who die in miscarriages would be prevented from entering the kingdom of God. In other words many innocent babies would be cast into hell through no fault of their own.

If born of water means natural childbirth, in other words born of amniotic fluid, then John 3:5 would have to be interpreted "unless one is born of amniotic fluid and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:5 in relation to other Scriptures makes more sense to be interpreted "unless one is born of water baptism and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved..(NKJV)

There is no Scripture that states, "He who believes and is born of amniotic fluid will be saved?"

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (NKJV)

Jesus told Nicodemus he needed to be born again to see the kingdom of God. Being born of amniotic fluid is being born the first time, it is not being born again.

Being buried with Christ in water baptism symbolizes death.
In being buried with Christ in water baptism we are literally being spiritually born again. That is the new birth.

Romans 6:3-8 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.........8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,(NKJV)

All men must be born again to enter the kingdom of God.

Being born of amniotic is being born the first time, it not being born again.


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