Tuesday, February 14
Looking back I'm glad we did the golden monkey trekking first, before two days of gorilla trekking. It was a day to learn what to do, what not to do and what to do right on our next days' treks.
First wish for a do-over, better sleep. The portable heater they put in our room annoyed me. Even in my Ambien-enduced sleep, I felt like I was waking every time the heat shifted on or off. The 5:15 wake up call came way too early for me.
We ate a good breakfast with omelet, toast, fruit (mango, pineapple, apple) and freshly blended pineapple juice. We were still the only guests here, so we had a staff looking after just us. Tim came for us at 6:30 and off we went to the rangers' station to get our assignment for the day. When we arrived, there was a local music and dance troop performing for all the folks who would be trekking today. They entertained us while the guides got everyone registered and assigned.
There wasn't much question as to what we'd be assigned to, as there is only one group going out to golden monkeys. Golden monkeys are endemic to this area (which means we can only see them here) so it's truly a once in a lifetime thing (unless I'm foolish enough to do this again!). There are 125 members in this troop of monkeys. The trackers had found where they were and we were headed off. The group formed a caravan and drove about 20 minutes to the start of a trailhead. There were a few storefronts at the stop and a bunch of porters there for hiring. That was mistake number two. Despite ALL the trip reports that said "even if you don't think you'll need a porter, hire a porter," I didn't. Tim said "it is very flat and very easy, you will not be tired." Tim lied. Well, Tim didn't lie, he just undersold the hike.
So off we went, with me carrying my own backpack (which wasn't very heavy anyway) and with my borrowed walking stick. It started out flat enough in wide open fields. In fact, it stayed pretty flat most of the time. What got difficult were the pockets of mud, uneven ground, waist high grass, pricker bushes and bamboo stands that had to be navigated. I'll be honest, if we were trekking just to trek, with no animal at the other end of this, I would have bailed. The sun was peeking out and even though it was 60 degrees when I got out of the car, it was warming up and I had the raincoat on, which, as my mother says, "draws" and the rain pants on, which do much the same. I was percolating inside myself. Mistake number three was I didn't shed the raincoat early enough. Tomorrow, I'm heading out with just the long sleeved shirt on, unless it's raining. I overheated sooner than I needed to.
I trained for this for four months. I ran hills, did the step mill, worked on lower body strength and core balance work. I think it all served me well today, but what I couldn't train for was altitude and such uneven, unstable ground. I was a bit frustrated by the hassle of it all, but stuck with it. I'm not an outdoorsy type but I wanted to see what is at the end of this trek. But soon enough the ranger told us to stop and drop our things. We left backpacks and walking sticks with our porters and followed the trackers into thicker bamboo. There overhead were a bunch of monkeys, lots of them, hard to follow, harder still to photography in the dark, backlit canopy of bamboo overhead. Five minutes in and I was a bit discouraged with the photography. We were still navigating up and over very uneven, muddy, moss covered terrain. There was always the risk of stumbling, stepping in a hole or sliding off rocks. A nice photographer from Zimbabwe was finding it hard to take photos too, so he told me to follow him and he angled us right under a good looking big male right overhead, the sun behind us. It was at this point, finally after about 10 minutes, I found my groove. I was able to plant myself in a spot, focus on a monkey or two and just shoot some photos. And they were looking good. This camera is performing just swimmingly.
The monkeys didn't give any thought to us whatsoever. It was really as if we weren't there at all. To be able to just sit or kneel or walk amongst them as they played and wrestled and ate was pretty cool. The monkeys came down from the trees soon enough and were playing and eating on the ground right in front of us. At one point, two were wrestling just a couple feet in front of me. It was really no different than watching the cats at home, who can ignore me equally well as they go about their business. I couldn't count how many were around, above and near us, but I'd say I saw maybe 50 or so on this trek. There may have been many more I couldn't see through the canopy or thick bamboo around us. It was pretty crazy.
Finally the ranger said our time was about up. We are only allotted an hour and it went by so fast. He let us take a few more photos and we turned around and went back the way we came. It seemed shorter heading back, but I think it was all mental.
Along our route both ways were some little villages with kids playing outside their homes. The little ones would wave exaggeratedly and shout "how are yooooou?" It made me smile. They are so cute and outgoing and not afraid to smile or say hi. I supposed they aren't as conditioned against strangers as kids are at home.
Once we met up with Tim again, he took us back to Da Vinci Lodge, where we were to pick up our bags and move to Gorilla Mountain View Lodge where we'd been booted due to overbooking last night. Two staff members got us to sit on a bench, where they proceeded to remove our muddy boots, socks and gaiters off, then they gave us a foot massage! Oh my, I was not expecting that at all! It was welcomed but a bit awkward too, with 9 staff members standing around watching us.
So we moved off to our originally scheduled lodge and got inside just as the heavens opened up and it poured and thundered heavily for about 20 minutes. We took advantage of the wifi in the lobby (when the power was on) and then had lunch around 1 with Garth and Terese. I know Garth from Safaritalk forums and it just so happened to be here at the same time. What a delightful couple. I've enjoyed getting to meet them and share lunch with them.
After lunch (buffet, with lots of veggie salad and a sort of pomodoro pizza with eggplant on it) we both had a shower and decided to rest the rest of the day. We have two big early morning trekking days ahead, and if today was any indication, we'll need all our energy for that.
We napped, read, dozed, chatted until about 7. I almost felt human again after being hot, sweaty, gross and tired after the trek. Dinner was buffet style again, dishes of note were fabulous sliced avocado with tomato, onion rings (yes, you read that right) and really good veggie-stuffed tomatoes. I'm still pretty full from lunch but knew I needed to eat to fuel tomorrow.
This lodge is more worn down than the last. A lot of it could use some attention. Things like loose or soft floorboards, a leak on the floor I can't find the source of and just looking a bit tired are what we find. The room is quiet though, the portable heater is quiet and the fireplace is really nice. The room overall is warmer than last night's. The challenge of the day is the shower, which is a half-shell in the corner of the bathroom, with a hand-held nozzle and no shower curtain. That's a treat. We have full electricity which goes on and off on a whim. Wifi only in the dining and reception areas. There are a lot more cabins here than at Da Vinci.