We determined that this day would be all gravy. When we woke up this morning, we had already accomplished everything we wanted to. We were going to get to see the gorillas again, but our trip from the day before had everything we wanted, so short of someone getting injured, this was just icing on the cake.
We had requested the Sabinyo group, which had the largest Silverback in Rwanda, and perhaps the world. We also understood that the walk for the Sabinyo group was not very long. Lawrence requested the Sabinyo group, but told us that there were no guarantees. Thus we were only mildly disappointed when we found out that we had been placed in the Hirwa group, with our guide Eugene. We were a bit ticked, however, when we saw who they put in the Sabinyo group – a couple of overweight people. We were concerned that we were being punished for being in relatively good shape, and that those who could not make the longer trip were "rewarded" with a better group.
Our group included four Italians – Emma, Nadia, Deanna, and Elizabeth. Deanna was the designated translator for the group, and looked just like Emma, save for 20 or so years – we'd never seen a daughter look so much like her mother. Only then we found out they weren't even related – Nadia was Emma's only daughter – go figure. After we heard the introductory talk again, we went back to the truck to drive to the trailhead. Lawrence made us feel a bit better about missing out on the Sabinyo group by telling us that the group who ended up in Sabinyo had requested a specific guide, Francois, who happened to be guiding Sabinyo that day. The drive to the trailhead was both much better and much easier than the day before, taking only 15 or so minutes.
The weather was good again, with clouds over the two tallest mountains – Karisimbi and Mahubura, with Visoke, Gahinga, and Sabinyo being clear. We could not tell whether we were going to be walking up Sabinyo or Gahinga from the drive, but both looked nice. The walk was uphill, but not nearly as steep as the day before. The initial part of the walk was through the local farmlands, with a tremendous view of Sabinyo right in front of us. One of the main crops was green beans, which actually had very nice flowers. Then we got into the national park area, and the walk was through a mature bamboo forest, with filtered light occasionally coming through between the culms. There was also a giant worm, bigger than a human hand. All around, it was a much nicer walk.
Then, before we knew it, we were already at the gorillas. Fortunately, they were in a bright, open clearing, rather than the bamboo. While the bamboo was nice to walk through, there was no way any photos from the bamboo forest ever would have turned out. The group had one silverback (apparently not named yet), 5 females, and 5 babies, and seven to nine were in this open area, with the adults lounging around and the babies playing. Photo opportunities were far better than the day before, and the silverback was much more active.
At one point, when many of us laughed when one of the babies fell off a bamboo branch he was perched on (he wasn't hurt, except for his pride), the silverback took exception and got up and started pacing around. After a bit more of this, the silverback walked off through the forest and the others followed him. Eugene asked us if we were good, or if we wanted to follow. Justin took a fraction of a second to say "follow" and vociferously point in the gorillas direction.
We followed behind, but by this time they had started to split up and start eating, so it wasn't so easy to see what was going on. One was eating up in a tree, some were standing on the ground pulling down branches to eat. We had apparently walked past one when we moved, or she was off in a different area when the others were in the clearing, and while we were taking photos she walked right past us and we moved to the side – no assault this time. When we moved again, the Italians were fiddling with something, so Justin went to the front of the line.
When we stopped again, Justin was in front, probably only 10 feet from the silverback and only 3 feet from a mom and her baby. He got several good photos of all, including some of the silverback staring skywards when one of the youngsters was climbing in the bamboo above him. We followed the gorillas one more time as they moved around, and got one last set of photos, then headed back. Some of the other great photos from the day included:
Overall, while the day before was great, this was absolutely fantastic, and any disappointment over missing Sabinyo was long gone. The walk back to the truck took no time at all, and the weather was still great, allowing the opportunity for several panoramic shots of the volcanoes, plus the other hills and valleys to the south. We were back at the Park Headquarters by the same time we were just reaching the gorillas the day before. We got more graduation certificates, got a group photo with Lawrence, and then were on our way back to the hotel. The headquarters wished us a safe journey home.
At the hotel, we looked over our photos, then went to lunch to celebrate a successful trip. Most of the afternoon was spent packing, trying to figure out how to best pad our wine from Morgenster. We ended up fitting everything into 4 bags instead of five, so we put one of the bags inside of another. On the way to dinner, there were some amazing sundown photos due to the clouds and rain visible over Visoke and Karisimbi, with the sunlight poking through. We went to the bar to kill some time and edited our "final" favorites, including the sundown photos we had just taken. Dinner was okay, but not quite as good as the other nights. We went back to the room for our last night in a bed other than ours (not counting airline seats, which Crystal might as well have for a bedseat).