Kinigi - GorillasIt was a short 2 hour journey from the centre of Rwanda to the edge of the Parc Nacional des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park). The "land of a thousand hills" certainly lives up to its name, with steep terraced hillsides surrounding the car on all sides. It was impressive to see how the locals had made use of every bit of land available to them, near vertical slopes with plantations clinging to the sides, they would simply be considered un-farmable back home. At the same time the remarkable scenery was definitely different to the mountain jungle and cloud forested mountains I was expecting. Straddling the border with Uganda and war-torn DR Congo, a string of 7 imposing volcanoes known as the Virungas appeared out of nowhere. The volcanoes are encompassed by a transfrontier national park and are home to the last remaining wild mountain gorillas in the world. On the Rwandan side there are currently 7 gorilla groups, each holding up to 35 family members, and including the famous Susa group, brought to worldwide attention by the preservation work of Diane Fossey and her book, Gorillas in the Mist (later a Hollywood adaptation starring Sigourney Weaver). Fossey was brutally murdered but her commitment led to increased efforts to protect the endangered gorillas and prevent poaching - today 317 gorillas remain.We were scheduled to meet for the trek at 7.30am the following morning and so found the cheapest hotel (still quite expensive) close to the meeting point. We arrived on time at the National parks office with the impressive Volcanoes towering over us. Despite the long and difficult expected trek, Karen and I were keen to be allocated to the most habituated and famous Susa group, but unfortunately others had beaten us to it, and we were grouped with Olivier and the Shinda group. It was not all bad news though, as unlike the rest of the groups who each had a maximum of 8 people, we had only 5, and also similarly to Susa, Shinda had the great drawcard of 3 silverbacks.With Paul and Susie and a British guy we had met the night before named Nick, we journeyed a further hour along the atrocious stone road to the base of the adjacent volcano to begin the climb. The exact location of the gorillas was currently unknown, but their favoured habitat was between 2500-4000m and a team of trackers had been sent in advance to locate the group and radio their location to our guide. We set off, flanked by 2 armed guards there to protect us from any rogue elephants, buffalo or guerrillas. It was expected the trek would take 1.5hrs to reach the gorillas on this particular day, but it was tough going up the steep muddy tracks, and extremely slippery at times.After less than an hours walking, the loud calls of a resident silverback resonated along the mountains slopes, and it was then that we knew we were not far away. Our hearts were pounding, and our blood pumping in anticipation. It was a little frightening, but mostly exciting as we veered off the mud path and began pushing our way through the thick foliage of predominantly stinging nettles. We were all being stung on our hands and through our trousers, and although they hurt, our bodies were numb to a degree as our minds were focussed elsewhere. We dumped our gear and although we could not yet see them, we slowly approached the guides speaking to the gorillas in calls of grunts and groans to assure them we were no there to hurt them.Suddenly out of nowhere a small group appeared, a mother and baby, a blackback (juvenile male) and massive silverback crouched together on flattened bed of nettles. My immediate thought was the size of the silverback. He was huge, more than a metre across the shoulders, a 200kg ball of muscle with a head the size of a fridge. I had hoped to see him a little agitated, running around snapping trees in half and beating his chest, but in hindsight maybe it was good he just sat there with a watchful eye.The clock had begun ticking and we had exactly 1hr with the gorillas, before they would be left alone till the following day. Already 15mins had passed, and although captivating and exhilarating, we had only seen 4 gorillas munching on forest celery and the blackback briefly trying to be mucho. The group had all separated to find their morning snack, and although we could hear them nearby, the densely forested sloped slopes made individuals difficult to locate. Our guide hacked his way forward, and now and then a gorilla or 2 would appear only metres in front of us, before vanishing into the overgrown jungle in search of food.We soon chanced upon a young gorilla intent on putting on a show for us. He clumsily paraded around climbing trees and sliding down, or swinging on branches until they snapped before embarrassingly picking himself off the forest floor. It was great to watch, and we spent most of our time being entertained by him, but with time getting away from us, we each juggled with the idea in our heads of staying for more or moving on in the hope of encountering another silverback. We eventually moved on and spent a little more time watching some other females and juveniles do their thing, but the second our hour was up our guide ushered us away from the group, and we immediately began our descent.The journey down was extremely slippery and staying on our feet was merely a case of luck rather than concentration.As we wandered back to the car, we reflected on the encounter. It was a wonderful experience and partly surreal to be so close to these amazing, gentle and not inhuman-like animals, but at the same time it was over so quickly that we didn't feel we could fully immerse ourselves in the experience. Throughout the hour as the time ticked away we couldn't help but think whether each minute was worth $9, especially when we spent several minutes at a time cutting through almost impenetrable forest. Seeing the few remaining mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is unforgettable, but for us the hefty price tag and minimal time on the mountain did unfortunately take away some of the shine, and as far as wildlife experiences go we were left more satisfied by our previous close up encounter with the whale sharks in Mozambique.