September 9, 2016
I have told you about our marvelous days viewing the gorillas.
What I failed to explain is the manner that we came to be with these fascinating primates.
Physically hiking to the gorillas’ locations – particularly in the dry season – is actually a demanding physical endeavor. Groups of 8 (accompanied by a guide, a guard and any hired porters) walk into the mountains to whatever location that gorilla family has chosen to occupy.
Portions of these hikes are over farm land. Though often steep, the walking is not difficult.
Once you enter the jungle, however, the terrain becomes quite challenging.
Given the fact that the trips vary from hard to really difficult, the guides attempt to match the length of your walk to your preference and physical condition.
At least that is the representation. I am not so sure.
Our two experiences suggest that their efforts to record our preferences are naught but ornamental. In fact, it reminds of an experience I had camping out at my old camp. Our counselors came by our tents in the evening with notepads and pencils, asking for our breakfast orders. Fruit loops? Sure. Waffles with peanut butter? You’ve got it. I think one camper even requested eggs benedict. The “waiters” assured us it would all be ready for us once we woke.
We arose the next day to find a large fire, a big cast iron skillet, scrambled eggs, raw bacon and laughing counselors. In the end, my “Fruit Loops” ended up tasting exactly like your “waffles”.
In the same way, requests for “short walks” or “long walks” ended up being little more than a farce.
We know this based on our two trips. In each case, the six members of Team Baskin’s were augmented with a couple of other hikers.
Please let me start with the second trip. The couple was in the early 50’s, but they were both ardent hikers from the mountains of Colorado. They had hiked a volcano two days earlier. They were on their way to climb Kilimanjaro. They were in fantastic shape.
[Note: In the course of our climb, I mentioned that we direct a summer camp. He asked me if I had ever heard of Camp Echo Lake, a camp run by one of my camping heroes before he passed in a tragic plane accident. Not only that, but he worked directly with a woman who has been one of my favorite collaborators named Dawn Ewing. This is not what one expects when searching for gorillas.]
With these ardent Colorado hikers, the incredibly fit Susie ended up winded on a few occasions as we ascended for almost 90 minutes without stopping. We estimate that we hiked up 2 miles and back out 2 miles.
The Colorado couple had asked for a “challenging” hike and got something fairly normal.
Contrast this with our first day. We were with a woman who was admittedly out-of-shape. She lived near sea level, never exercised and smoked a pack of cigarettes each day. She and her friend requested an “easy” walk. She ended up with us taking the 6-8 mile round trip. It might as well have been the Bataan death march for her.
Such a hike takes time, especially when one of your group needs to stop every 3-5 minutes. Her porter was helping her with each step. [Note: we did not use porters, but were glad that our companion did. I suspect that she and we might still be on the mountain without them.]
While this was certainly annoying (though certainly not her fault), it did have one true benefit – Susie felt much better about her conditioning. She felt like a veritable Olympian compared to our other smoker.
It is probably also worth sharing the process that led to these journeys. Each morning, everyone who had purchased a permit to visit the gorillas gathered at a central area. The guides then go to the side and put together the groups using a bidding process. From a distance, the process looks like the “pit” of the New York Stock Exchange, with the guides crammed closely together and gesticulating wildly.
While this bidding process is happening, the mzungus (or wazungu, which is the proper plural form) gather under a gazebo and watch a show of tribal music and dancing.
These shows seemed to be the default method to placate Wazungu. Just as a parent might give an infant a pacifier or a pet owner give a cat a ball of string, the Rwandans provided these shows.
In our 48 hours, we saw 4 such displays.
They all involve the same songs and dancers. Threatening males thrash with sisal hair.
Woman danced while balancing pots on their head.
While I tend to find such shows a little too pre-packaged for me, a few were worth watching because of the guest performers that joined the gathering.
Perhaps our family has alternative career options.