In September 2014 we were privileged to go trekking for gorillas through the mountain jungle, on the slopes of a Rwandan volcano; we found them, or rather, they came out to greet us!
The location was the Volcanoes National Park, part of the Virunga Massif, in Northern Rwanda. The park is essentially a jungle, just south of the equator formed around 6 volcanoes. We were on the trail of "Mountain Gorillas", which live in elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 metres!
Before heading out ourselves, we heard some scary stories from other guests. These included challenging 7 hour treks, mostly up hill, half the time spent bent double to get through tunnels that were cut through the jungle by guides with machetes. Also, whilst a gorilla sighting was pretty much guaranteed, the gorillas might not be doing much. We wondered what we had let ourselves in for, and I asked them to take it easy on me - due to my bad back (due to a slipped disc).
In practice they did give us an easy ride; we actually met our first gorillas outside the park - having walked for less than 30 minutes. Our guide said "We know you are injured, so we asked the gorillas to come outside the park to greet us!" (I really thought he was joking - until I saw the trackers... "when we find the trackers, we've found the gorillas!")
Apparently, the gorillas sometimes come out of the park to eat the sap of the Eucalyptus trees. They were also eating young bamboo shoots, which makes them slightly drunk, which means we got to witness more "behaviour" and the fun antics of the younger ones. (A case of "Gorillas on the piss", not in the mist!)
There is a 7m rule... but it's not really enforced, as the gorillas don't know the rules: indeed Sue was charged down by a black-back, wanting to show her who was boss (it got just 1m away, but she stood firm) & I was kicked in the shin (probably by the same trouble maker!)
We found the whole family, 19 in all, including the great Silverback called "Lucky" - weighing in at 240kgs. (He's in his prime at 28, most die in their 30s, but the oldest ever gorilla was 45). There are lots of females and juveniles in this particular group - and several babies (one just 6 weeks old) and even twins. Apparently there are only 2 pairs of gorilla twins in Rwanda, as they are difficult to raise because a mother only has 2 arms and needs at least one to walk!
It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat, climbing trees and interacting with us. At one stage I thought one was going to fall out of the tree onto my head - and he wasn't a small gorilla! As Mountain Gorillas have never been successfully kept in captivity, if you want to see them you have to come here (or neighbouring Uganda or Congo).
Afterwards we were reflecting on the experience and thought: we were in a truly-wild high-altitude wildlife national park, accompanied by guys with razor sharp machetes and AK47s (to defend against buffalo, amongst other things), trying to get close to wild gorillas, including the huge silverback. And yet, there was no need for a "liability release" waiver form - that's when you know you are in Africa!