Trekking to Spend Time with a Gorilla Family in Rwanda

After making the over twenty-one-hour trip from Washington DC to Kigali, Rwanda, we immediately were transported to Volcanoes National Park where the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda are located. We got a few hours of sleep and then woke up early to climb into the rainforest to locate our gorilla family. We were expecting to make our way through the jungle to observe the gorillas through the trees and perhaps have the opportunity to get a little close to one or two of them. It turned out that we would spend an hour standing and walking amongst the entire gorilla family, who continuously walked in front, behind, and all around us as we spent time with them. It was truly one of the most incredible and unique experiences that we have ever had during our travels.

The Gorillas were Very Expressive
Silverback Walking Past Us
Juvenile Gorillas

There are only ten families that can be visited per day and the visit is restricted to no more than one hour. Each group that gets to visit with the gorillas is also limited to eight or nine people and our group was a group of eight. That means that only eighty to ninety people per day can visit with the gorillas, which makes it an experience that is not shared by a lot of people. The family that we visited with was the Agashya family and we were told that Agashya meant “special”, which had to do with the unique circumstances that this particular family was formed. When the former Silverback, elder leader of the family, passed away, normally the females would go off to join other families. In this case, though, they stayed together and other silverbacks tried to join the family. The female gorillas were not interested in the first few suitors that tried to join the family and then finally they accepted the silverback, which the guides named Agashya due to having never seen a family of female gorillas due what this family had done.

Thick Jungle Trekking
Showing Off for Us
Mommy with a Five-Month-Old Baby

Our encounter started with one of the two other silverbacks that were now part of the family who had strayed away from the rest of the family with another female gorilla, which would not be tolerated by the leader when he learned about it. A silverback is simply a gorilla that has gotten old enough for the hair on his back to turn gray, typically at about thirteen years old. He beat his chest for us, making sure we knew he was our boss and then came straight towards us. Our guide had us stay perfectly still as the over 500-pound gorilla walked past us making sure to brush up against us as he passed. At this point, we knew that we were in for an amazing day.

Deep in Thought
Amongst the Gorillas
Agashya is the Name of the Head Silverback and the Family

It took another hour or so to find the rest of the family and at that point our sixty-minute visit would officially start. One of the highlights was seeing a mother gorilla with her five-month-old baby riding on her back. As we walked amongst the gorillas, taking photographs, and watching as they showed off for us and genuinely seemed as curious about us as we were of them. Several of them brushed up against us and one juvenile gorilla even slapped the men in our group as the family departed for the day. Obviously, we’re sharing some incredible photographs of our encounter, but there is no way to adequately explain what it was like to spend time with the majestic creatures.

The Gorillas were All Around Us
Another View of the Baby
Playing Around

We would definitely recommend people take the time and spend the money to see these incredible animals and help with their conservation. Be prepared, though, as the trekking can be extremely difficult as you hack your way through the jungle with machetes and climb up and down steep, muddy hills covered with dense vegetation. It was well worth the effort, but it certainly was one of the hardest things that we had done as far as hiking and trekking goes. After spending the magical hour with the Agashya Gorilla Family, we made our way out of the jungle, images still dancing through our minds. This was only part of our first full day in Rwanda and it couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. We knew at this point that it was going to be a trip that would be one of the best of our lives.

Gentle Giants
Another View of Agashya
Being Protective of the Baby

Hike to PICO TUNARI, the Highest Point in Cochabamba, Bolivia

During our trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia a few years ago, we met Remy, who guided us on several different expeditions in the area. We are pleased to consider him a friend to this very day and continue to keep in touch. This article is a description of one of his tours, not one that we took, to the summit of Pico Tunari, the highest point in Cochabamba. Bolivia has one of the most stable mountain outdoor weather in the world, making it a great place for mountain trekking. If you visit Bolivia, we highly recommend using a guide, especially Remy (El Mundo Verde Travel).

PHOTO-2020-04-08-12-42-43 - Copy (3)We left early in the morning on the road to the villages Tiquipaya and El Paso, where we made a very interesting stop at the oldest church of Cochabamba. As a guide, I enjoy being able to explain many interesting things about the old history of the monument.  Back on the road again the landscape changed quickly as we drove into the Tunari mountain range. On our journey we saw beautiful waterfalls, Andean lakes, farm lands, and encountered indigenes communities. The scenery was typical of the Andes landscapes and we stopped a few times in order to explain more about the country of Bolivia, which I’m passionate about, and the region that we were traveling through.

PHOTO-2020-04-08-12-42-46Our trekking began at a beautiful Andean lake called Laguna Taquiña, but before walking, I explained the practical things about walking in this altitude, 4300 meters above sea level, about the weather in the Majestic Andes, and the animals living in the region. We received a typical breakfast Api, a drink made out of corn that dates back from the times of the Incas, snacks, water, fruits and were ready to go!

PHOTO-2020-04-08-12-42-44Directly at the beginning of our hike there where two giant Andean Condors flying over our heads, the biggest flying creature in the world, how lucky we were!!!! We were also surrounded by hundreds of very curious llamas and Alpacas, many of them with little baby llamas. The trekking slightly ascends, we had beautiful weather and even a bit of snow on the mountaintops in the distance, which was really spectacular. You have the time to walk at your own pace, which makes this hike really nice and we took the time for the group to take pictures. At one point I took some stones from the ground and explained that there are incredibly old fossils in them. And yes indeed, we could see the shells all over the place, which was just unbelievable standing at almost 5000 meters above sea level. These fossils are between 500 and 600 million years old!!! Once there was an old ocean just where we are walking right now!

PHOTO-2020-04-08-12-42-45We hiked higher and higher and the trekking also became more and more strenuous. It’s just a fascinating feeling to hike at this incredible altitude, with landscapes around you like you are in a National Geographic documentary!! After trekking for about 3 hours, we finally reached our goal, and we stood at 5050 meters high (16404 feet). The view on the top was incredible, with hundreds of snowy mountain tops and endless views over the Andes. We were even able to see the Cordillera Real of La Paz, including the Illimani Mountain, 150 miles away! And of course we had a view of the city Cochabamba. On our way back we took a completely different trail and were able to see Vichachas, very funny animals, some kind of mix between a rabbit, squirrel and a kangaroo, it’s a typical animal from the Andes.

PHOTO-2020-04-08-12-42-43We came across some other unexplainable impressive viewpoints over this mountain range, and saw some other lakes with beautiful colors. We took a little rest at the Macho Lake, there was no sound at all, no cars, no planes flying over, no other trekkers, absolutely nothing, you are completely alone with Nature!

Group Photo

We were happy to be back at our 4 wheel drive vehicle, exhausted, the trekking itself was tough, but absolutely worth it, what a day we will never forget and recommend to all of you!!!!!

Us with Remy in Bolivia During Our Trip in 2016