The Mountain Gorillas was the reason for my 1990 visit to Rwanda. Charlene, my wife, was a gorilla keeper at the Columbus Zoo. Listening to my wife’s stories and visiting the lowland gorillas at the zoo was fascinating These intelligent, social, and gentle creatures were an integral part of our lives. In 1990, Charlene got the opportunity to design and lead a trip to Rwanda. It was a chance I could not miss and so I tagged along. This was just the beginning of many trips. Stepping onto the tarmac of the Kigali airport that first time; remains a powerful memory for me to this day.
I remember the aroma of wood fires, the magic of the hills, and the unusual feeling of being home. For the next few weeks, I got to experience the beauty of this country and the inspiration of the people. We went from Kigali to Ruhengeri (now called Musanze) via Akagara to climb and see the Gorillas. Arrival to park headquarters in Kinigi coincides with the greeting of the sun. After assignment to a group and park personnel to go with you, you start on the trek to climb where the Mountain Gorillas reside. My first climb was about an hour until we met up with our assigned gorilla group. The gorilla family was high up in the Volcanoes with a backdrop of a crater lake. A memory that is still as fresh today and that day was July 16, 1990.
The Mountain Gorillas range is from 7,000 feet in the bamboo zone to 14,000 feet.at their highest point.The next day the climb was four hours. As the climb got steeper and the equatorial sun hotter, I felt that this would be the last of me. When suddenly we found a family group of 22 gorillas. This sight overcame the pain of the climb to make this experience unforgettable.
Climbing to see the gorillas was exceptional, but there was more to the visit, then my gorilla encounter. The first overwhelming impression was the beauty of the country. This Land of a Thousand Hills was warm and welcoming. I expected to enjoy this first landing on the African continent, but what was an unexpected benefit was the exceptional hospitality of the people. This exposure to the land, animals, the gorillas, and the people continues to be a difficult experience to put into perspective.
Over the course of this perspective series, my goal is to process my experiences. These photos of the Mountain Gorillas are highlights of some dozen trips into the Virunga Volcanoes to sit with these gentle giants. The pictures speak for themselves. It is an experience of a lifetime. Multiple visits never diminish the mystical nature of these meetings. Watching the family units going about their eating, playing, and interacting is never.the same no matter the number of times you have the privilege to sit in the company of Mountain Gorillas. One particular perspective that is undeniable, as a human in the presence of a gorilla, there is a feeling in the air of nobility and peace.