Meeting the Mountain Gorillas

National Geographic Traveller Writing Competition Entry 2013 – Meeting the Mountain Gorillas

Gorilla

“Whatever you do, don’t run.”

My legs tingling with the sting of nettles, sweat trickling from my temples and burning eyes, I stood in awe, the guide’s words echoing in my ears. It had taken four hours to get to that point. Our group had assembled at the base of the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda, the dusty hued sunrise hanging over our weary heads, for an introduction to gorilla etiquette. Now, atop the misty mountains, we waited.

Gazing at the wealth of vegetation before us, its vines trawling from the looming trees, tickling the mossy carpet, it was a few moments before a rustling bush caught my attention. From the shaking leaves, timid, plastic black fingers curled around the bamboo, pulling it aside. Peering out from its hiding place with yellow, feral eyes glittering in the midday sun, was a curious, wire-haired infant. As quickly as it had arrived, it disappeared in a flurry of flying leaves and debris.

Looking up I became aware of the creatures before us; littering the opening lay dozens of dozing gorillas like clumps of black pepper on a pea-green soup. Munching on leaves and snapping sticks, their culinary cacophony and damp, pungent scent engulfed my senses. I was lost.

Suddenly, out of the foliage came the hissing grunt of an angry male. Tearing towards us, his torso thrust before him, came a magnificent silverback. Drumming his chest in a maddening beat my trance was broken, heart pounding.

Lowering my eyes I felt the powerful beast draw closer, dropping to all fours and slowing his pace. Standing my ground, I wouldn’t run. He was inches away, until… Brushing my leg with the might of a bull he pushed past, disappearing into the undergrowth.

A brief encounter it may have been, but unforgettable nonetheless.

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