Meeting Africa face to face

baby gorilla swinging in rwanda forest

When Dara Leonard swapped her group leader role for group traveller she was expecting to be wowed by the creatures of Africa, but it turned out that her fondest memories were not from seeing giraffes and gorillas, but from meeting the people…

Mzungu is one of the first words I learned in Swahili! This means ‘white person’ and everywhere in eastern Africa I went I heard the word. After leading trips in South East Asia for the past year, I decided it was time to take my own holiday and visit eastern Africa for the first time and to do it on an Overland truck with Intrepid. It took me a few days to get out of ‘leader mode’ and back into the adventurer that I am, but once I did, I had no problem playing the role of traveller once again.

Many people head to Rwanda to see the Mountain Gorillas. There are only about 700 of the wonderful animals left in the world and the opportunity to see them in their natural habitat was something that I couldn’t pass up. Our group headed to Rwanda to Parc National des Volcans for our chance to see the gorillas, which they say have 98% of the same genes as human beings. After trekking for 1.5 hours through dense vegetation we came upon Group 13, which is the second largest habituated family in the Rwanda. It was difficult to keep our distance of 7 metres from the gorillas when the silverback decided to walk right in front of where we were standing!! As the family settled in we spent an hour (which felt like 5 minutes) watching and taking photos of the gorillas. Something to remember forever!

But the other thing that I will always remember from eastern Africa was how friendly the local people were. We were encouraged by our leader on the first day to engage with the locals any chance we got. Anytime I walked down the streets I was always greeted by locals. As they walked by in a hurry to get to their jobs or get back into the fields they always had time to say hello and ask how you were doing. If they had the time, many would ask where I was from. And then they would move on to their destination. Everywhere we went the people were just as friendly and this is what I will remember most about my trip to Africa!”

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* photo by Joyee Chau – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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