This year my birthday guests were a little different, I left family and friends at home to celebrate turning the ripe age of 26 with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. We traveled to Volcano National Park in the North West of the country to visit the Titus family. This family consisted 14 members including a 3 month baby and the star of our visit, a 3 year old! We were told that Titus are actually quite famous in the monkey world as they are the group that Dianne Fossey studied.
We hiked through farmland half way up a dormant volcano to the edge of the national park, which is marked by a stone wall. Here we were joined by armed guards sporting very large AK-47s, they were here to protect us from buffalo, the same task that the wall did for the farmers' crops. I had also learnt to be weary of elephant tracks... something that I had not known the day before when I sunk shin deep into an elephant footprint and had to be gracefully pulled out. My boots and trousers were no longer squeaky clean when visiting the park's golden monkeys, who were particularly entertaining as they propelled themselves from tree to tree.
Unfortunately for us, this day the gorillas had to decided to take their lunch amongst the nettles. Our guides attempted to hack us a nettle free path with their machetes, but our legs were not always safe. As soon as we saw our first sighting of the gorillas noone seemed to care about the nettles. Overall we saw about 7 or 8 gorillas, and they were all amazing. They could not care less about us, but we were fascinated by them... especially their movements and how similar to humans they were. The way they lay around in the nettles, resting after their breakfast, could have been my family lounging about after a particularly big roast.
Our favourite family member was definitely the 3 year old, he loved to show off. He was constantly rolling around like a clumsy gymnast, trying to get into fights with his older siblings and generally trying to show off in front of us. The best moment was when he completed several rolly pollys down a hill and at the bottom stood up and beat his chest repeatedly.
After an hour of watching the mountain gorillas we had to leave, but not before they gave me a birthday present. Apparently I was in one of the females way and she came striding straight towards me, I did not feel particularly brave at this point. As I stood perfectly still, at the last minute she turned and swung on a branch, which very kindly smacked me on the top of the head. I did not mind, this was an amazing experience, and we all left the nettles with massive grins on a face. Plus I have not found a bump on the top of my head yet.... silve lining!