Sven Forssman

Visiting the gorillas was a life-changing experience for SVEN FORSSMAN

It was special to see how much love, trust and caring the playful gorillas showed each other in their natural habitat. Were humans once like this when life was not so frantic?

We chose Rwanda because of its proximity  from Johannesburg (a three-hour, 45-minute flight) and to experience all the positive changes since the genocide more than two decades ago.

Rwandans are friendly, the capital city, Kigali,  is very clean and the genocide museum is worth a visit.  In 1994, around one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered by the Interahamwe army.  The remains of over 250,000 people are interred here.  It’s a sobering glimpse into man’s inhumanity. Apart from that, there’s not much else to do, except surf the net, especially as I found the local market to be a bit of a bore. I found myself researching Betin to see what the locals did in their spare time.

One of the magnificent males

We overnighted at Serena Hotel in Kigali en route to the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, where you are allocated one of the 18 gorilla families depending on how far you want to walk. No more than eight are allowed in a group. We visited the Hirwa family.

The dominant Silverback in each family has the right to all the females in his group so other male Silverbacks usually leave to start their own families.

The Hirwa Silverback left his family that included five large Silverbacks and found six females. His own family of 17 includes one of the few pairs of surviving twins.

Some of the gorillas’ mannerisms are so similar to our own it leads to a strong sense of connection.

A baby gorilla

Visiting the gorillas is expensive and you pay in dollars. When I first received the quote of $600 per person per night I thought the agent had made a mistake and that it was for all four of us.

However, the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge made our stay a most pleasurable experience. For instance, our clothes and boots were washed after the walk and the lodge gave us gaters to avoid discomfort from the stinging nettles.

It pays to use an agency that specialises in Africa travel because attention to detail is critical. We used Boundless Africa Safaris, which provided great service, otherwise opt for an agency that comes recommended.