This year Kwita Izina, (naming ceremony of baby gorillas), was held on September 24 amidst restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hence, making it difficult for many to attend. But Kwita Izina, brings back memories of the two wonderful memorable trips I had visiting the gorillas in their natural abode.
The first time I visited gorillas was in May, 2003. I was then visiting my husband in Kigali. We dropped my daughter (then a minor) at a friend’s house and left for Musanze early in the morning to reach Ruhengeri in time. The travel guide said that he would take us to see the Susa family, which is the largest family of gorillas and showed us a far peak, where we were supposed to reach. Well, the trekking started quite enthusiastically. But after walking a kilometre or so, I started to pause after every 10 minutes. Maybe it was a mental block fearing the height to be climbed, maybe the hot sun or any other reason, but I had started to feel tired. Since there were other tourists also in the group, I suggested to the guide that I take my own pace and he may take others ahead. He replied, ‘it is not acceptable as all tourists in the group have to be together’. Somebody asked me, ‘hope you do not mind to be carried piggy back’. I thought he was joking. But incredibly, a forest guard sat down offering his back to me to climb over. I did take his offer as others were being slowed because of me. Wow! Like a superman, he climbed the steep uphill route with me on his back. A tourist in the group started taking the pictures of me riding piggy back. When I objected he said, “Look lady, nobody would know you in my hometown. I only want to show to the world how strong Rwandan men are.” Reaching up and seeing gorillas was a very unique and thrilling experience.
Another time was November 2011, when we visited gorillas again with my daughter who was now 17 years old. Since we now lived in Ruhengeri, it was not far. This time, the trek was to see the Amahoro family, which was just about two kilometres. However, being the rainy season, foliage was thick and the ground was slippery. Though I was quite capable to walk firmly on my own, the tourist guide was very courteous. At any slippery patch or cross over he would hold my hand to help me move safely. My daughter enjoyed every moment of the trek, with lush greenery around, serenity and beauty of the nature at its best.
While moving and taking pictures of gorillas, my daughter moved to the edge. Suddenly a fight erupted among two gorillas, one started to run and another chasing him. The duo came very close to where she was standing and one of them pushed her to make his way for running. She fell but was not hurt. A fellow tourist commented, “People just have pictures and memories of seeing gorillas, but you have a story to add.”
I have visited many tourist places and shall see more, but the visit to the gorilla park will always be unique among them and fondly remembered. It is associated with the pleasure of seeing gorillas in their natural habitat but also the hospitality, courtesy and strength of Rwandan people.