Infant gorilla with mother

Gorilla Trekking Reflections

Amber Medkiff|April 30, 2020|Blog Post

As I sit at home in beautiful Marin Country, I cannot keep my mind from floating to my many memories of traveling the world as a Travel Director. This is, no doubt, a tumultuous time for all of us. I try and stay present and learn from all my inspirational experiences from my travels. This virus is a different kind of adventure, and I need to stay calm, be in the moment, and most of all reach for all the positive experiences of my life for inspiration and strength. There will be many more adventures to come and we need to dream on to the next incredible journey.

Amber Medkiff in Rowanda

One of my favorite travel moments I’ve been reflecting on was when I went trekking in Rwanda to find the elusive gorillas. While this may not be for everyone, if you are one of those lucky souls that revels in adventure, life changing experiences, and a love of nature, it likely this would be the perfect experience for you.

The smell of the damp dirt under the rain soaked canopy is a very distinctive scent. Leaving the lodge early in the day, we headed out with a very small party to experience, what was described to me, as a life-changing experience. We had a most wonderful guide named Tutu and this was his home. He had been leading a few lucky people each day to visit with his “other” family somewhere up the mountain.

I would be lying if I said it was a hike! The terrain soon changed to barely a path, and we literally hacked our way through the jungle for what seems like eternity. The adventure was on!  There were no directions as to where the gang of gorillas were that day, but we knew in our hearts that all the effort would pay off.  The ground was covered with mud, roots, and soggy leaves, and each step was a cautious one. The mist and light rain added to the atmosphere, and after a few hours, we stopped in a clearing and I watched Tutu scan the earth, trees, and smells for hints as to where our rendezvous might take place.

It was after a bit more slogging up the steep terrain, while completely excited and generally ignoring all the natural obstacles, that the first signs came into focus. Tutu stopped and simultaneously made us all hush while he listened intently. In the distance, there were faint sounds coming from ahead and we knew it was “go time”. 

Amber Medkiff with guides

As we quietly moved through the canopy, we heard louder and louder noises until suddenly, we heard a giant gorilla cry. It was the call of the alpha silverback  We all hoped he was welcoming us and it was a good time to visit. Tutu had come to know this group over 30 years and could speak to them. We could literally smell them and feel them through the underbrush. He started making grunts and calls and they answered back. He turned to the group and assured us it was safe and we could enter their home for the day.

While getting there was pretty tough trekking, it was worth every ounce of energy. This was incredible! He instructed us to lay low to the ground and be still, and then the lifetime fantasy began. The curious gorillas would come close by and look me in the eye. They were scarily human feeling, and I could tell they were wise to the world and could understand what I was feeling and thinking. I didn’t even feel the constant rain dripping on me as I made some amazing new friends. Little babies were walking up to me and touching me while the powerful moms sat close by keeping an eye on things. I have never forgotten that moment, and I wanted it to last forever!

Now, while sheltering in place and social distancing, I dream of my life on the road and the lasting and powerful memories that changed my vision of the world. I feel so lucky to be alive! And, one day soon, I know we’ll be out making new and incredible memories once again.

Relaxed gorilla

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