I had a little bit of time to step back from the project and take in some of the country, and so we decided to see about the mountain gorillas in the north along the Rwanda-DRC-Uganda border in Virunga National Park.
Of the many things that the guidebooks don’t tell you about tracking gorillas are the stinging nettles covering every inch of the landscape. Igisura, as they are called in Kinyarwanda, grow up to 10 feet high but can also creep along the ground. In any of its varieties, a brush of bare skin against a leaf or stem causes an immediate burning and itching sensation that slowly devolves into a dull throbbing reminiscent of chronic arthritis (I’m told) that will disappear after about 24 hours.
After I grabbed a stalk trying to steady myself in knee-deep mud, our intrepid guide Felix, who has spent more than 20 years habituating gorillas and golden monkeys all over the Great Lakes region, picked a leaf from the intovu plant and showed me how to rub the white milk seeping out onto my skin. I felt immediate and complete relief, and wondered, when we finally saw the gorilla babies covered in stinging nettle burrs, whether their playful rolling around on and stomping of certain grasses belied their own knowledge of medicinal plants.
She’s got some burrs in her furs.