Oasis Overland logistics manager treks to the mountain gorillas

Our logistics manager, Mark, spent his Christmas and New Year in search of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda (oh and he apparently completed campsite risk assessments and checked over our trucks!)

“It’s almost 10 years since I arrived in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport, a little wet behind the ears, and started my training as an overland driver and guide.  It was time to retrace those first steps and again visit the magnificent Mountain Gorillas that cling to their habitat on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo.

Part of Oasis’ duty of care to those who choose to travel with us is to constantly keep up to date with campsites, hostels, conditions and general hazards on Africa’s harsh roads.  We also ensure we see every vehicle and crew at least once a year and complete a UK MOT on the mechanical condition of our trucks, so what better way to complete all of the above, than to join a trip.

The route was to take us across Kenya and Uganda, passing over the mighty Nile River and on to Ruhengeri in Rwanda.  The Oasis Overland crew, Peter and Ruth, were there to ensure all went smoothly and all we had to do was await the arrival of our travellers.

Twiga (meaning Giraffe in Swahili) was our overland truck, and carried all we needed for the next 19 days, including tents, cooking equipment and fresh drinking water.

Nakuru National Park was our first taste in game viewing.  Our local Kenyan guide, Michael, seemed to be able to spot the most camouflaged of animals, hiding in the scrubland, from 500 yards!  The lake was very high and therefore the concentration of game was large.  We were lucky enough to spot 2 of the ‘Big 5’ (Buffalo and White Rhino) in our first hour!

Our plan was to get across to Rwanda and spend a relaxing Christmas at our hostel.  Ruth made a fantastic job of getting everything organised and knocked up a cracking roast over the BBQ.  What I lacked in cooking skills, I made up for in mulled wine apparently, and a good day was had by all.  I have to say the Congolese Primus beer tasted even better than I remembered!

Boxing day was our day to trek and go in search of Gorillas.  We were given a very informative chat around the campfire the night before by Herbert our Rwandan local partner who organises our Gorilla treks and permits and had the option of a short, medium or long trek.  Ever since my time here in 2002, I have wanted to return and visit the Suza group.  This is a family of 32 gorillas, of which 3 are the giant silverbacks, and it currently contained 2 six month old twins.  This would mean trekking anywhere up to 4 hours each way, possibly through thick jungle and mud – thankfully most of the group were up for it too!

6am was our collection time and we were taken to register at the parks HQ.  From here you are driven in 4×4 to the various starting points, and our journey was to take us 1.5 hours further up the track.  Our trek took us straight up the hillside through fields of potatoes and flowers that are grown, crushed and used as a natural insecticide.  At over 2500mtrs, we were starting to be a little short of breath, but at least the weather was kind and we could enjoy the dry ground and easy but steep, walking conditions.

Each morning 2 trackers are sent out at 6am to find the ‘nest’ where the gorillas spent the previous evening.  From here they are able to track the continually moving group and once the group is found, this location is passed to the guide bringing up the travellers.  We had just been told that our guide knew the whereabouts of the Suza Group and that we were about to pass the 75km stretch of wall, marking the park boundary.  The wall is only about 4 feet high, but apparently ensures locals know where their land ends and the park begins, and it does deter the gorillas from venturing out on to farmers land, which is where in times passed a lot have unbelievably been killed as pests.

We trekked on well in to our 2nd hour, when in thick bamboo, we met the trackers.  At this point there were excited murmurs from us all and we were instructed to take only cameras from this point, as we were nearing the group.  We trekked on for a further 10 minutes, until in a clearing we suddenly saw a black shape in the undergrowth, and then another and another, until we were virtually surrounded by some 24 gorillas!

At this point I must say it is one of the most amazing hours you will ever spend in your lifetime.  You are literally within a few feet of these gentle giants (one even gave me a friendly bash on the leg as he came past!)  I was happy to hear that in the subsequent years since my last visit, numbers are slowly growing – it would be a crying shame if these beautiful creatures were to disappear altogether and at a population of only some 730 in total, man has to do all he can to protect them. 

The biggest mistake one can make is to spend the entire hour (this is the maximum time spent with the group, so as to not interfere) behind your camera.  Yes, you need to get the money shot, but also just put the camera away and enjoy the majesty of the silverback keeping his eye on his group and watch the little ones playing.

All too soon our time had evaporated and it was time to leave.  The information given and the trek itself was worth every penny, but nothing could compare to the time spent sitting with the gorillas.

Back on the truck, our journey continued back in to Uganda, via the mountainous border route to Kisoro.  This time as we crossed the Nile, Pete skilfully took us to a campsite on the banks of the now dammed river, where we were to spend New Year and grade 5 rafting was available to the brave.  I should say that I didn’t raft as I had work to do!

Lake Naivasha was our final stop back in Kenya.  Here you can experience game like in no other park – you can actually ride a mountain bike through it and see giraffe, zebra and antelope by the side of the track!

My time came to an end all too quickly as we pulled back in to Nairobi.  Most of my fellow travellers were carrying on a further 54 days to Cape Town, but sadly I had my notes to write and a plane to catch – this was after all a working trip!  I wish you all safe travels and thank you for a very memorable and fun experience.”

You can also visit the Mountain Gorillas like Mark, on our 19 Day Gorillas and Gameparks trip or choose one of the longer trip such as Apes and Lakes or Grand Adventurer that also visit the Great Apes.