DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
When we crossed the border Le Grand Barrière from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the city of Goma, our heart rates were definitely higher then normal. We had all our gear on our backs and the first person we met was a Congolese lady holding a thermometer to our foreheads checking for fever and Ebola. We passed that one. Next up was the paperwork with the immigration officer and after a bit of back and forth, we passed that one as well. And then we met up with our Congolese fixer Emanuel. Finally our pulse was closer to normal!
Helle: I had always dreamt about Africa and wanted to be Diane Fossy as a child and work with mountain gorillas. And now, standing in Goma, I was closer to that dream while standing on the green slopes of Virunga National Park.
We walked up the steep slopes of the iconic Mount Mikeno and it was not an easy trek with equipment, mud, insects, ants and plants that left interesting patterns on our skin. But all that disappeared with the blink of an eye, with the sound of a branch breaking. We know that in Virunga National Park, there is more than 25 different guerilla groups, and we did not want to meet them! But luckily for us, the AK47 armed Virunga Rangers knew the mountain, the forest and the terrain. And there they were, the beautiful mountain gorillas, a whole family: the male leader, the silver back, the wise females and the young rascals rolling around in the green vegetation, inviting our cameras to take images!
Uri: I almost got jealous when I saw the look in Helle’s eyes when she looked into the amber-coloured eyes of the silver back.
DRC has been embedded in war and armed conflicts for over twenty years. But the Virunga National Park has been on the map for a long time and it is Africa’s oldest national park. Today, over 600 rangers put their own lives and their families’ future on the line as they dedicate their work to protecting the parks’ exceptional wildlife and the critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Our initial plan was also to photograph the secret okapi, but unfortunately some armed rebel guerrillas destroyed the research station, killed the okapis and staff. We hope that we can come back one day and work with the Okapi Conservation Project.