My wonderful birthday with Mt. Gorillas

The night before my 17th birthday, I slept at 2:00 a.m. I woke up sluggishly at 5:00 a.m and I did not feel excited at all about the day.
A Mountain Gorilla at Volcanoes National Park. (Photo Arundhati Pande)
A Mountain Gorilla at Volcanoes National Park. (Photo Arundhati Pande)

The night before my 17th birthday, I slept at 2:00 a.m. I woke up sluggishly at 5:00 a.m and I did not feel excited at all about the day. I was rather thinking more about the great adventure that I was going to have that day and of course, considering how much I love sleeping, wished that I had some more time to dream. 

My parents were aware of my laid-back nature and pushed me to get ready rapidly.  The car came to pick us up on time at 6.30 a.m and I was all ready to experience the wilderness. It was the best birthday present, I have got so far and I am thankful to my parents for it. It had been my dream to see the mighty mountain gorillas and had been waiting for this moment since I turned 15.

After a 20-minute drive from our residence, we reached the Volcanoes National Park base where we were supposed to meet our guide and other tourists in our trekking group. Looking at my surroundings, lush green mountains and volcanoes, I admired Mother Nature.  The place was hustling and bustling with equally excited first-time tourists, the ground was being stomped by the traditional Rwandan dancers who surely know how to add a touch of elegance to the Kinyarwanda dance and then there was the hot sun which had just rose overhead. 

The guide gave us a quick orientation about the trek, some facts about the gorillas and the safety measures. The thing that I found bizarre was that gorillas and we humans share around 97 percent of genes, which would definitely make us relatives.  A bumpy 50-minutes ride from the park base to the forest led us to the gorillas.

Reaching the forest as our trek started, I soon realized that not wearing boots and choosing to stick with my sport shoes was a huge mistake. From the beginning, my feet were drenched in huge muddy pools along the path in the dense forest. After almost half an hour’s walk, we spotted our first gorilla. My very first thought was wow it looks so serene being so huge and dark in the bright sunshine.  After moving further, we encountered our relatives as well- aww, they all looked so adorable.

However, a very proper anecdote to tell is that a gorilla pushed me.  Yes! It was scared so being surrounded by humans and started running away. The guide had also instructed us that if a gorilla comes in front of you, you should move away and make way for them. But obviously as there were only large bushes around me I had the same path to share as the gorilla. So it came running, just pushed me to make way for itself and disappeared in the wild. I just wondered how I could follow the safety distance of seven meters when there’s no space!

However, I was not scared at all; guess there was not enough time to think as it all happened within a fraction. Some of you might perceive this incident as embarrassing but I take it in a positive manner because firstly I wasn’t hurt at all so why get worried or sad? Instead, I consider it as a birthday bump which not only I would have got later from friends but also got from this cute creature. Moreover, it was a special moment because not all people, who travel from around the globe to see the gorillas, get touched by one.

I was over the incident within a few seconds and for another forty minutes got the opportunity to enjoy the presence of different members of the Amahoro (meaning peace) gorilla family. As we were moving from place to place, all tourists were taking pictures spontaneously and you could feel the happiness and excitement around.

After we trekked back to the base, we were each awarded with certificates indicating that we had successfully trekked to see the mighty mountain gorillas at Volcanoes National Park. This was especially special for me because my birthday date is signature on it and it’s like a token to my present. Nobody around except my parents knew that it was my birthday. That was one of the best days of my life and the best birthday I have ever had. Seeing the gorillas in the wild is definitely a one in a lifetime opportunity.