Saturday, 9 May 2009

Saturday morning

Bec’s and I went out with Felix to see the Kitonda group. A Travelling family of Gorillas who Felix had known in the Congo in 1992. A number of them had missing digits and one a hand due to snare injuries from the band lands of Congo.
As we arrived Felix had been radioed that the group had climbed over the forest wall and were in the fields! This was a sequence we really wanted. We grabbed our kit and ran. Normally we are looking at a 2 hr walk in; here it was 2 minutes before we set up!
They adored the Eucalyptus trees and were demolishing them, much to the dismay of the wary locals.
The little ones were scampering up the trunks and chewing the bark, whilst the three silverbacks in the group were just pushing the trees down and having a right old feast!
We got some nice behaviour and it was great to see them in the open. All too soon are hour was up but a good mornings filming.

in action

Day off

Friday evening we got home and there was a troop of dancers on the front lawn who were at the hotel to entertain guests but there were no guests so Ryan the manager arranged 2 chairs one for Lauren and one for Finn in the hotel grounds and they had their own show which made Lauren cry but Finn reassured us all it was crying in a good way. By the time we got back from filming the dancers had made their way over to our cottage and were going for it in our garden. They were fantastic, mostly kids with incredible rhythm and drumming madness. We got fired up drank beer ate lots of meat in the hotel Friday night buffet went to bed far too late and felt awful for the start of our day off on Saturday…
We headed for Lake Burera on the Uganda border about a 40 minute drive, and found a small beach with ladies washing clothes, a bunch of students swimming who took a shine to Rosie and Lauren, and a couple of fishing boats. We negotiated a deal on a boat via 15 or so people and set out across the stunning lake for a paddle. Amazingly they even had life jackets so Finn looked the part. We had a really fun time and took loads of piccies and when we got back to the shore there were some really young boys fishing who posed with Finn and were fascinated by his blond hair. He gets lots of attention wherever we go, people can’t believe his white locks and we feel quite protective at times but he takes it incredibly well.

We thought for a few minutes about a lunch in the village but then a far better plan emerged. Another 20 minutes climbing a red dust track by car we got to Verunga lodge a stunning low key high class lodge. The views were outstanding and we ordered lunch overlooking the lakes below. The day was magic and we all got home chilled and tired and ready for an early night.

the lakes
from the lodge

Bec's and finn
waiting for lunch


Little things

As well as the big impressive Silverbacks beating their chests, it’s the little things that have been special. We sat for an hour in the bamboo with a Mum and her infant. At first she keep an eye on us then wonderfully ignored us. She was playing away with her little one, lifting him above her head, then cuddling him and letting him suckle. It felt like a very privaleged intimate thing to witness.
Then we were lucky enough to watch little Thursday climb to the top of a tree and try and build a day bed (a good few years before he will properly do this). He took great pride bending his branches over, most of which sprang back up as soon as he turned his back. He managed about three, then very proudly lay back on his creation for a good 20 seconds before jumping up to go and play something else.

7 metres

The rules for your safety and that of the Gorillas are that you should remain seven metres apart. All the rangers and scientists try their best to keep this status quo, but…. There are occasions when this isn’t possible.
It was our second week with Pablo’s group and we had been granted a couple of 4 hr days, which was brilliant. Myself, Rosie and Felix where in thick Bamboo, with a couple of individuals, when suddenly a silverback took a bit of a dislike to the boom microphone and came charging towards us. We were backed up against a wall of bamboo and had nowhere to go so Felix told us to ‘drop and don’t look at him’, this we did, with great speed and conviction. He stopped short when he realised the quivering, sweating heaps of submissive flesh on the floor probably weren’t a threat and sat down right next to us, just to be sure and so as to be able to keep an eye on the scary furry microphone creature. The other members of the gang suddenly found us quite interesting and a blackback then a mum with infant came up and pressed their noses to the lens. All the while we were dutifully looking anywhere but at them. It was a pretty extraordinary experience.
As soon as the Silverback got bored and when off to push a tree down we retreated to our 7 metres and laughed a little bit hysterically!

p.s there aren't any photos of this cos we were being submissive.....and shaking too much!

Finn's Gallery

When Finn isn’t being fireman Sam, filming Gorillas in the garden or collecting frogs then him and Lauren are really into their painting.

Lake and Volcano

behind the


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Pablo's group

Amazing couple of days. We’ve switched groups to Pablo’s, which is the biggest group in the world at 45 individuals (previously 65!).
Led by the very charismatic and huge Cantsbee.
Beautiful walks up through the farmland. Immaculately tended fields and smiley people. Then a short walk into the forest. Then we crested a ridge and there in the valley below were 45 gorillas! Playing, fighting, sleeping, and eating. It has been an incredible spectacle.
The last couple of days filming have been in this group surrounded by these beautiful creatures. They are eating the young bamboo shoots, which makes them a little excited, resulting in some close shaves and very up close and personal moments with silverbacks. Sweaty palms and everything. When your only defence is looking at the ground you do feel bloody helpless and small.
We have again found the time limitations a huge frustration, but on a personal level, WOW.

day 2

Today we had Veronica to show us the way. A bubbly Italian.
The sun shone and we headed up.
We nearly got to the summit and were at about 3500 metres. Really felt it.
Got slightly better views of this group particularly when four of them came and sat next to us to investigate the ‘out of breath pale creatures’.
I felt very privileged to have an adult female mountain gorilla sit a
few metres away and look me in the eye.
Again the views from here out across the plains are mind blowing and with the waves of mist rolling in and suddenly cloaking you in damp whiteness it’s quite a unique place.
Less arse over tit as we descended this time and we managed to procure a fine sack of spuds as we entered the farm land. The soil here is second to none, with up to 20ft of beautiful dark top soil. Everybody’s shambas are immaculate and the crops bigger, greener and healthier than anything at home.
Rosie had resigned herself to the loss of her knickers off the line in Bwindi (presumed monkey’s), but now again the brief thief has struck again with a whole bag of her undies vanishing!
It’s a worrying development and we're keeping a close eye on the situation.
Becs will be out on the mountain soon and is itching to get up there, whilst at home Finn is ruling the roost and having a wonderful time.

first day up the volcano

First day out today in the volcanoes.
It rained……a lot
Squelched our way through mud up a steep track for an hour and a half.
There are three types of nettle on the volcanoes. I found all three and a possible fourth.
For reasons beyond my management level we only have one hour with the gorillas here. So Felix who was our expert today did his best but it just felt pressured. Got a couple of shots of soggy gorillas but not a lot. The silverback was not too pleased to see us and did a couple of impressive charges!! Fangs and all.
It was wonderful to see these gorillas they are very different form the Bwindi variety, there a lot hairier.
Also when the mist/rain/fog clears the views out over the farm land below are staggering. Sooooo a bit disappointing, we really want to make something special, but not sure we will be able to do
it with this limited access.
Anyway we slid down the mountain doing the most outrageous falls in the mud, much to our amusement and nobody else’s!
Myself and Rosie got back very soggy to an extremely welcome
lunch of pizza. Brilliant!
looking at 14 gorillas!
views down through the mist

Sunday, 3 May 2009

our new house

our new pad

We are now ensconced in a beautiful cottage at Gorillas nest, thirteen miles outside Ruengerhi. Four volcanoes flank us and blue hills fold away into the distance. I can see six crested cranes inspecting the grass in front of me.
The last few days have been a struggle in town as we’ve searched for accommodation, although it has been lovely meeting the various people we are to be working with, they all seem really helpful and bubbly.
We all got a bit low, being in town after the forest, but everything has worked out wonderfully as Ryan the manager here as sorted us out royally. And we are now proud residents in ‘Jungle jack Hanna’s Rwandan retreat’
Tomorrow Rosie and I head out to find our first Rwanda Volcano gorillas. Very exciting.
Becs and Nigel are still under quarantine.
Finn as per usual has made himself at home straight away.