Valerie Wimberly, a Sky Ambassador in Nat Hab’s air department, shares reflections and photos from her recent trip to Rwanda to see Africa’s endangered mountain gorillas.

male mountain gorilla, Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park

“Looking into their intense, brown eyes, I found them so like us in so many ways, yet so different.” Photo (c) Valerie Wimberly

After only an hour or so of hiking through the thick vegetation of the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, our Expedition Leader instructed us to set everything down except our cameras. Just a few steps later we were in the midst of a family of mountain gorillas.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of wonder and excitement we felt in the presence of these amazing and beautiful creatures.  Looking into their intense, brown eyes, I found them so like us in so many ways, yet so different.

We were allowed to spend one full hour observing the gorillas. They seemed totally disinterested in us and went about their business eating, playing and napping.  We were in awe of their gentleness and human-like characteristics. Like all youngsters, the babies were particularly lively and playful, jumping from branch to branch and onto their mother’s backs while the larger males lounged and snacked on bark.  It was magical to simply sit and watch them.

Face to face with a mountain gorilla in Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park

A male mountain gorilla snacks on bark. Photo (c) Valerie Wimberly

Volcanoes National Park is about a 2 ½- to 3-hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali. The route is very scenic, as the road winds up into the mountains through lush green hills and farmland. And the reward at the end of the drive, and our subsequent hike into the rain forest, is a life-changing experience for anyone who’s fortunate enough to meet the gorillas face to face.

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