Porters – Prince of the Rain Forest

My long time dream to trek with gorillas was finally achieved in November. Three glorious days of amazing interactions with the gorillas of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, trekking through dense rain forests but not without the help of extraordinary porters.

There was no question in my mind that I should hire a porter each day for a trek – my knees are of a certain age and the thought of hiking up to 8500 feet in a dense rain forest, utilizing walking sticks, boots covered in gaiters, and hoisting a heavy bag of camera equipment, rain gear, snacks and water…trek with sticks AND carry all this required gear? Porter, yes please!

Hullo, Hullo! Our little greeters on the edge of the rain forest.

Hullo, Hullo! Our little greeters on the edge of the rain forest.

Young Rwandan porters are at the base of your trekking ascent, they eagerly sign on and heave your bags, locate your water bottles, and on a rainy day in the muddy rain forest – they really perform the miracles…hold your hand like a kid taking charge of his grandmother and either keeping her stable on a constantly shifting muddy slide through the forest trail or yanking your mud caked boot out of a hidden hole and guide your sock clad foot back into the boot. All the while saying, you are so strong! Each day, my porter earned extra gratuities, as my friend Susan was in front of me and he would gently push her up a hill or over a stone fence while pulling me behind him through the dense rain forest. The guides, machetes in hand,  hacked a makeshift path; we followed, eagerly anticipating the sometimes ever roving gorillas!

These young guys do this every day, up and down the hills, up to 8500 altitude and sometimes trekking for over 8 hours a day. Conditions vary from a warm sunny day to a muddy, rain soaked trek – all the while patient and cheerful, joking with their buddy porters, posing for photos and on occasion taking a cell call in the middle of the rain forest.

Fidel was particularly attentive, always asking OK, Madame? Flashing a warm smile and adding more encouragement.  Pointing out slippery bamboo, precarious rocks, stinging nettles and biting ants, the safest steps across a stream or guiding me as I stepped sideways across a bridge composed of a few bamboo sticks shoved into the banks across an abyss. Oh, and preventing the prickly thistle or stinging nettles from hitting me in the face or sticking to my clothing. Getting to the gorillas was sometimes challenging, but always worth the effort!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFidel, Emmy & Jackson: I couldn’t have done it without you!

Your kindness and enthusiasm kept me trekking each day. And yes, taking my hand like a child and tugging me along through the rough stretches was just fine, although I felt like your grandma!