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The Sweitzer Family: Democratic Republic of the Congo

7 April 2016 @ 2:55 PM  /


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The world traveling family from the Midwest is back with another exciting trip update. The Sweitzer’s, hailing from the Missouri, have traveled all over planet and are now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where Steve has updated us on their recent journey once again.

Our visit to Virunga national Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a complicated mixture of joy and sorrow. Our mission was to observe, photograph and spend time with families of gorillas that we knew were living within the park. Getting there was an adventure unto itself.

We arrived at the border between Rwanda and DR Congo at night. By the time we began the process of entering the country, time stopped. It was announced over blaring speakers that DR Congo had just won the All-African League football championship against Rwanda.

Congoranger

DRC border soldiers cheered and shouted and danced with their rifles held high above their heads. Immigration staff left their stations and ran out into the streets to join in the celebration. It was total mayhem. All we could do was wait and watch for the next hour. Eventually, we were granted passage and made it to a nearby hotel. The celebrations in the streets continued until 4 am. Pretty funny now, not so much, then.

We jumped into a Land Rover a couple of hours later and headed to the jungle. Everywhere we went while in the DRC, an armed park ranger accompanied us. They literally, “rode shotgun”. With rebel camps still operating in the region, we didn’t mind the extra company.

There was a reason we were picked up in a Land Rover. Where we were going, the road was more like a rocky creek bed. The rangers jokingly referred to the experience as the, “Virunga Massage”. It was a great, bone rattling off-road trip.

When we arrived at our tent camp, we were ready for a cold one. The campsite was beautiful with a straight on view of the Nyiragongo volcano. And yes, it’s still active in fact, George Kourounis and his team were there filming a TV episode of, “Angry Planet”, while rappelling into the crater itself. After a big meal and campfire time with some new friends from England, we went to bed early.

Congovolcano2

The next morning we were thoroughly briefed by the rangers on gorilla locations and guidelines for interaction should we be lucky enough to see them. We quickly learned that one of the gorilla families was nearby. The gorillas are tagged with ID implants and were found using Garmin GPS technology. The ID implants help ensure gorilla safety from poachers and others who would do them harm. It also enables the medical staff to monitor the gorillas should any medical needs occur.

Two rangers with machetes hacked a path into the dense jungle of vines and trees. Another ranger armed with a rifle also joined the trek. After a few hours and roughly 6 miles later according to my fēnix 3, the rangers motioned for us to stop and put on our surgical masks. This is done to help prevent any human viruses from infecting the gorillas.

We could hear our hearts beating faster and faster because this signal meant that we had come upon the family of gorillas. 10 more steps and there they were. It was hard not to gasp out loud when we saw them, although we had been told not to make any sounds. It was like we had walked right in to their living room and in a sense, I guess we had. It was a small clearing with a few trees and vines and a grassy jungle floor.

Sscongo

An adult male Silverback was lying down while a baby gorilla climbed all over him. An adult female and a juvenile were eating leaves and berries from a nearby tree. They didn’t seem to mind our presence at all. Not once did we feel threatened or scared. We sat down close to them and I took many photos with my camera in silent mode. We also shot a lot of footage of the younger ones playing together on our Garmin VIRB.

Soon, another juvenile appeared as well as another adult female. We were allowed to spend an hour to experience all of this and what seemed like 10 minutes, our time was up. It was the single most amazing experience that any of us had ever had. It’s not easy to put into words. Simply life changing.

Congosilverback

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that our adventure was filled not only with joy but with sorrow. As long as the gorillas live, there will be rangers dedicated to keep them safe. In fact, some have given their lives to this cause.

Unbelievably, poachers and mercenaries hired by energy companies are trying to eliminate all the gorillas from Virunga National Park. The twisted thinking is that if there are no gorillas, there is nothing to protect. With no gorillas or habitat to protect, companies from the UK and South Africa are poised to exploit Virunga’s vast natural resources, including oil.

Not only have some gorillas been killed, but rangers, too, have been killed trying to protect the gorilla families. Sadly, we have learned that 2 more rangers have been murdered since our visit to Virunga. Sound like a movie? Well it is one. Check out the Netflix produced film, “Virunga”. See how a French filmmaker goes undercover and exposes the greed, corruption and evil of not only the energy companies, but African officials who want to sell out the gorillas and the national park for money. Please watch it on Netflix and share with your family and friends.

If you’d like to know how you can help save the gorillas and the rangers who protect them, please visit gorilla.cd.

Join their adventure and follow the Sweitzers as they create and share videos, photos, and blogs throughout their two-year journey using Garmin products. Don’t forget to share with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and use #HaveNoLimits.


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