Gorillas in Rwanda

My dear sweet cousin Karen took me on an adventure of a lifetime last month. I"ve known about Karen my whole life, but only recently have I gotten to actually know her. She is my late Father's first cousin and while he had a relationship with her, I did not. I always felt like we were a lot alike though.  I kept hearing stories of Karen traveling the world to see exotic places like Machu Picchu in Peru, climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and seeing the Great White Sharks in South Africa. IT was last fall that we saw each other in India for the first time in years. She mentioned something so special to me at our dinner in India. She said one day she was walking along the beach with my dad in San Deigo and she was asking about all of his kids. He was describing each one of us and said, "Esther, well Esther I think she has my wanderlust'. I had never heard my dad say that. It brought tears to my eyes. My dad loved to travel and saw a lot of the world before he had cancer. I loved coming back from my trips and telling him all the stories I had. I remember when I had just gotten back from Tibet and he was sick, he would be in bed listening, eyes sparkling as I told him about my adventures.

I had always wanted to see the world since I was young girl, but I think I wanted to see it so badly because he would tell me stories about it and take me to see it. I was a toddler when my parents were traveling through The Alps in Europe with me. I loved growing up in a home where we learned about other cultures. We would have french night where he would put on some Edith Piaf music, my mom would cook french food in the kitchen and sometimes it would be accompanied by the family huddling in the living room to watch a french film . Other nights included Indonesian night, dutch night and Indian night. This was very normal in my house. I don't think my parents intentionally thought this would do anything to us. They just really enjoyed other cultures. -- but I know that contributed to me having a desire to travel and see the world.

One of the things i've had on my list to see for YEARS is the Gorillas in Rwanda. I have been to Rwanda multiple times now and never had an opportunity to go. When I met up with Karen at a hotel in New Delhi, India last year she said that she's been wanting to go see the Gorillas with me and wanted to take me to see them. It's something that had been on her list of things to do for years as well! What Karen didn't know about me is that i'm not a talker, but a doer. if I have an idea, I like to get it done. So I immediately invited her to join me for a trip in March. She wasn't able to do that so we settled on a trip in September. I can honestly say that in so many ways it was a dream come true. The hardest part of the day was trekking through the jungle and feeling stinging nettle attacking my legs. It was like they were on fire. I mean you couldn't get away from that stuff. There are only 80 people day that are able to purchase permits to see the Gorillas on the Rwandan side of the National Park. They split everybody up into groups of 6-10 and we then set out on a hike into the Volcano National Park. There is a group of trackers who stay near the each Gorilla family in the forest so they always know their whereabouts and also to protect them from poachers. Our guide talks with them over the radio to know which waywe  should hike. After walking for a couple of hours, we had to leave our backpacks under a tree and head into the thick vegetation of the forest. I gave an extra camera and lenses to almost every one of the trackers as we walked from that point. There hands were full! I wanted to have all my options and I wasn't allowed to carry a bag. ha! We walked a short bit and suddenly there they were around us. Mama and the baby at first and then the Daddy Silverback showed up just playing with each other and eating.. Watching them  just hang out in the jungle before my eyes was unreal. At one point which you'll see below, the mama started tickling her baby. We were so close to them! Our guides used Gorillas grunts to let them know we were peaceful. I tried to speak Gorilla but failed miserably. I mean by now the Gorillas have to be use to seeing a group of humans for an hour each day. They are still Gorillas though and have instincts to protect their family. I highly recommend to anyone who visits Rwanda to go and see the Gorillas. I am so thankful Karen took me on such an awesome adventure. Once in a lifetime for sure. Now to conquer the next item on my bucketlist......Antarctica?