out to follow the gorillas
- January 28, 2015
- Posted by: Africa Safaris
- Category: Travel News
In late August of 1979, Bill watched this theater on many mornings before going out to follow the gorillas he had selected for the MGP tourism program. If he returned by mid afternoon, the guards and Jean Pierre were gone. Lyre horned Ankole cattle had taken their place, lazily grazing the lush grass in front of the dilapidated building that passed for the headquarters of the Parc National des Volcans. A solitary Markhamia tree, its lower limbs amputated for firewood added to the desolate atmosphere. Bill could imagine Jean-Pierre back at his house at Gasiza pouring a healthy scotch and wondering what he was doing her. The question would have been entirely reasonable.
If Jean Pierre had any doubts, his Rwandan counterpart appeared to have none. Camille the park conservatoire, showed no interest in drills and training preferring to remain in his wardens office conducting whatever official business he could create in a park that averaged for visitors per day. After the drills, Camille would emerge in his crisply pressed uniform to strut before his troops. If visitors were present, he would announce for all to hear. The gorillas have nothing to fear. If I find a poacher in the forest I will personally execute him! It was a bold pledge, repeated frequently with full confidence. Fortunately for local poachers, Camille almost never entered the forest. By midday, however he could usually be found killing beers at one of Ruhengeri’s many watering holes until he rolled the parks only land rover returning from one late –night binge.
OUR CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGED dramatically with the debut of the MGP in the summer of 1979.It was one thing to think of ideas to help the mountain gorillas, another to sell those ideas to reluctant listeners. Now we needed to deliver on our proposals in a climate of high expectations with equally high potential for failure.
Our work began earlier in the summer with a whirlwind trip through Europe and the US. We had lost money on our education vehicle purchase and sale. With almost no money left we bought tickets from Aeroflot at considerably less than the legal market rate. Of course the flight from Nairobi to Paris took almost twenty hours with stops in Cairo and Moscow along the way. Alain and Nicole Monfort on vacation in Europe, then kindly drove us to London, where we met with Sandy Harcourt, Kely Stewart and John Burton of the Fauna and Flora preservation society. We were asked to describe conditions in Rwanda and outline plans for the mountain gorilla’s project at a reception for invited supporters and journalists at the London zoo. Afterward, we continued our private planning discussions in more detail. We even had time for a pleasant day in the countryside with Sandy and Kelly.
Un fortunately, our London stay was cut short by the announcement that Sir Freddie Laker had built a highly successful cut rate service across the Atlantic on the strength of his own personality and the wings of a second hand fleet of DC-10s.But several recent accidents on other airlines had precipitated a global ban on flying any of these study workhorses. Too embarrassed to borrow money or ask for a loan, we were counting on marshaling our last few hundred dollars to fly home with Freddie. Fortunately British Air ways announced that it would make available a limited number of half price fares to help stranded Laker passengers on a first come first serve basis.