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January 21, 2002

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Gorilla time! Only 600 mountain gorillas left in the world, all of them live in this small area shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. We tracked the ‘Bigongo’ gorilla family through the dense jungle. Gorillas live a nomadic life, foraging by day and sleeping in a different forest bed each night. First we found the matted area where they slept the previous night. From there it was a short trek, over big gorilla droppings, to reach today’s daytime hangout. We must have interrupted lunch because the chief gorilla chased our group. He screamed, charged, and ripped down the tree we were leaning against, knocking Ed to the ground, Jill’s glasses from her head, and the video camera from my hands. The video footage shows a big furry head filling the screen and then nothing as it got knocked off. Our bodies shook with adrenaline after he moved away. He left no doubt who was in charge around here.
The gorilla yelled, jumped up, and in an instant...
...covered the ground between us, knocking the camera off, Ed to the ground, and a tree from its roots.
Despite our extra-close encounter, we wanted more. In the afternoon we decided to cross the Rwandan border to see more gorillas. Rwanda has a worse reputation for trouble than Uganda. After crossing the border, we passed long lines of people, men and women, in pink outfits. These people are accused of commiting genocide. Eight years ago Rwandan Hutus hacked to death a half million Rwandan Tutsis, a rival tribe. The people we saw in pink await public trial for their horrific crimes (so many people stand accused it will take years for the trials to finish). We passed refugees as well, camping in makeshift tents after fleeing a volcanic eruption that engulfed their city. We felt tremors and aftershocks every night, some lasting for 30 seconds. With refugees fleeing the volcano, we worried about finding a place to stay in Rwanda. Refugees overran Ruhengeri, the town where we stopped for the night. Aid workers filled the hotels. So instead of a hotel or campground, we stayed in an abandoned construction site.
Refugee camp. This area has seen so much trouble lately. Rebels hide in the hills. Refugees run from volcanic eruptions. People in pink outfits are daily reminders of past crimes.
Heavily armed guards and guides walk with you on a gorilla trek. We had thirty soldiers come with us on our trek, armed with heavy machine guns, assault rifles, mortars, and rocket launchers. They're worried about rebels attacking our group. A few years ago rebels murdered a group of gorilla-tracking tourists.