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“The Woman With the iPad” Disrupts Epic Mountain Gorilla Trek

By Doris Schaffer

After flying to Uganda, making my way to Rwanda, and actually trekking twice to visit mountain gorillas, I thought I’d be writing a travelogue describing the lush country of a thousand hills and the difficulty of getting to the gorilla habitats.

I was certain I’d be explaining that mountain gorillas are endangered with only 700 or so left in the world; that they’re vegetarians, susceptible to human illnesses, have 97% of the same DNA as humans, are highly social, have an average life span of 35 years, and live in families governed by the oldest male, the silverback.  I planned to put into words the satisfaction of observing and photographing a gorilla family for almost two hours, the adorable antics of the juveniles, the tenderness with which a nursing mother cuddles her baby, and the thrill of making eye contact with a large female as she brushed past me in search of some delicious leaves.

Instead, when I look back on the whole experience, the only thing I can focus on is the woman with the iPad!

Doris Schaffer, Bob, three female gorillas, and the woman with the iPad

Doris, Bob, three female gorillas, and the woman with the iPad.

Upscale Trekking

Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is strictly regulated and requires the purchase of a permit entitling the holder to hike in a group of eight, accompanied by a ranger and a guard with a rifle.  At Parc des Volcans in northwest Rwanda my group included a couple from Florida.  While we were milling about before starting the trek, I overheard the woman telling others she had just celebrated her 60th birthday.  She was fit, trim, attractive, and looked much younger than 60.

As we gathered at the starting point, four local men headed toward us carrying a long, stretcher-like basket with a blanket at the bottom. Was somebody injured?  When they reached our group, the men lowered the basket to the ground and the woman from Florida hopped in, reclined, smiled broadly, waived her hand at us, whipped out her iPad, and started playing solitaire. The four men lifted the basket to their shoulders, left with their cargo to take a different route than we were about to hike, and disappeared from view.

I looked at her husband and asked what I would have to do to be carried to the forest in a basket and he responded, “Two hundred dollars.”   The term “Ugly American” came to mind, but my next thought was that the four men–each presumably earning $50–were probably grateful for the work.

The hike started with a gradual climb through open fields to reach the entrance to the rainforest.  The surroundings were beautiful; there were volcanic peaks in the distance, small animals scurried about, and graceful birds floated on air, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman with the iPad, wondering if she was playing solitaire all the way to the rainforest or if she thought to look up and out as she was being transported.

After a 45-minute climb, we entered the forest. The woman from Florida was waiting for us, reclining in the basket, still playing solitaire on her iPad.  She greeted us with “What took you so long?” as she hopped out of the basket. From there, she had to walk on her own steam with the rest of us, another 20 minutes through thick, wet, green vegetation.

Gorillas Found

Finally, there they were!  A family of 11, with two silverbacks, several females, and some juveniles.  I marveled at their size—adults range from 300 to almost 500 pounds (136 to 227 kilograms)—but could see immediately that they are docile creatures, and I didn’t feel threatened.  We had been warned to stay at least seven meters (23 feet) away from them, but apparently nobody told the gorillas to stay seven meters away from us!  As I was sitting still on a log, a large female came so close as she sauntered past me that I was sure I felt her hair on my arm (or maybe it was just goose bumps brought on by the thrill).

Most of the trekkers were carrying cameras and the clicking and zooming of lenses was in full swing.  But I couldn’t concentrate or fully appreciate the unique experience–that woman from Florida was busily taking pictures with her iPad, holding it out in front of her, and managing to shove it in front of everybody else’s shot.  She was pushy, too, elbowing me and others out of the way more than once so she could flip up that iPad and snap more pictures.   A fellow trekker offered to take a shot of my husband and me with several gorillas; it’s a nice photo too, except that I look awful and that damn woman and her iPad are in our picture!

Rwanda mountain gorilla and iPad

No, he’s not really reading the iPad but maybe I can sell the photo to Apple.

Everybody using real cameras managed to stay out of the way of their fellow photographers, and I wasn’t the only one annoyed by that woman’s behavior.  There were plenty of snide remarks and disgruntled looks going around; even the ranger let it be known to us—not her—that he was not pleased with her “me first” attitude.   Her very quiet husband, a considerate photographer, said nothing and nobody else had the guts to tell her she was being rude, selfish, and to knock it off.

When our time with the gorillas was over, the ranger led us back through the forest to the entrance where the four men with the basket were waiting.  That woman hopped back in, the men hoisted her to their shoulders, and as they took off, she called out to the rest of us,  “Don’t let me hold you up.”

Oh well, it’s all over now and I have my memories, albeit forever marred by the woman with the iPad.

Have you had a travel experience with someone obnoxious? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. Mountain gorillas
    Rwanda
    March 18, 3:39 pm

    The Land of thousand hills is the easiest to trek compared to the pearl of Africa Uganda and Congo.
    First and fore most, the distance from the Airport to the trekking point is about two and half hours on a good road.
    a day gorilla trip from Kigali to the park and back to Kigali is very possible, so I would recommend Rwanda to travelers who have limited time to enjoy the sight of these endangered mountain gorillas.
    http://www.africa-treasures.com/

  2. Jackie
    Kampala
    March 17, 8:16 am

    Some people love photography but they are always busy trying to take pictures instead of concentrating on watching the wildlife. Gorilla trekking is a good experience, but not with this type of person.
    http://www.insightsafariholidays.com/uganda/gorilla-trekking.html

  3. Stella
    Uganda
    March 12, 7:28 am

    This is exactly what we faced last week while trekking gorillas with in Uganda. We used http://www.gorillatrekkingtrip.com to book a safari but our view was obstructed by an old lady who stood at the front of our cameras all the time.
    Thanks for sharing this experience.

  4. Bryan Muhoozi
    Uganda
    March 12, 6:55 am

    Tracking gorillas is simply amazing.. i got chance to track the Nkuringo group…..all i can say that it was fun, thrilling and full of surprises…
    I always thought this was a walk over… was i in for surprise… the impenetrable Bwindi forest really limitted our movement , the falls down the slippery slope only made things once to an extent that some of my group members wanted to abandon tracking and return to base camp….

    But once we were in the midst of these gentle… it was as though we hadnt experienced any difficulties.. All our faces lit up in astonishment ….we enjoyed our one hour with them ..truly magical
    What an adventure— Simply amazing http://rwandasafaris.com

  5. CalahMoira
    DK
    March 7, 9:22 am

    We should not blame this woman at all she wasn’t advised on the dos and and don’t while trekking gorillas.
    If any one of you is planning for a gorilla trek please visit this site about Bwindi national park for more details on #gorilla #trekking.
    http://www.bwindiforestnationalpark.com

  6. Anny
    Kigali
    February 24, 7:45 am

    Dear Doris, thank you very much for sharing your experience
    its always annoying when you’re looking for one of life time experience and someone spoils it in a minute.

    Gorilla trekking is fantastic adventure and I cant imagine when you encounter the sliver back which is very protective and the head of the family.
    I am an expert Guide in Mountain Gorilla trekking in both Rwanda and DRC Congo, however much we want to get closer to this endangered species we have to abide by conservation rules of leaving 7 miters between you and the gorillas my experience with a group of tourist when we visited a group with baby gorilla June last year before annual Rwandan Gorilla Naming Ceremony; http://www.newdawnassociates.com (Kwiti Izina) one lady in my group tried to take a picture of new born baby gorilla and the Sliver back appeared from behind and pulled her down it passed and went to the mother you can imagine what would have happened her ??
    my advise is to always abide by the rules and everyone should respects each other’s space.

    Happy trekking next time you are in Rwanda!

  7. Gorilla Permits fees
    February 5, 5:39 am

    Gorillas can be trekked year round, but prices to trek these endangered mountain gorillas differ basing on low and high moths.
    The current price of Gorilla permits for Rwanda -volcano park is 750USD for all seasons.
    Price for Gorilla permits for Uganda Bwindi forest and Mgahinga gorilla national park is 600USD for high season (January, February, March, June, July, August, September, October and December) and
    350USD for low season (April, May and November)
    All gorilla permits have to be booked in advance since they are on high demand at http://www.ugandatours.org

  8. Rwanda Safaris
    Rwanda
    January 30, 12:04 am

    It may have been annoying but it became the topic that the whole world came to know about. For any Gorilla Safari photos help in marking the footprints of your epic safari in Africa visit our website today for your Gorilla Safari too. http://www.rwandasafaris.co.uk

  9. Gorilla Treks
    December 11, 2013, 6:16 pm

    In travelling, there are always frustrations and annoyances. Good or bad, it’s just part of the adventure. http://www.gorillatreks.com

  10. Kanan
    Ukrain
    November 30, 2013, 11:04 am

    My trip to the ultimate mountain gorillas i would say it was best of all, since my child hood , my life time dream was to see the gorillas in thier natural habitat but i could not go Africa/ uganda and Rwanda untill my child reaches the minimum age limit of trekking the gorilla, my husband started searching online and he sent abunch of emails to travel agency with the help of reading the travel review forums, he finally concluded booking our trip with Gorilla expeditions http://www.gorillaexpeditions.com to take all our safari arrangements, this trip was made in 2009, we did 2 treks, one in uganda, Bwindi impenetrable forest where we trekked the Rushegula family , it was about 20minutes walk to find the gorillas and we stayed with gorillas for just an hour after we returned back to our lodge.the next day we traveled to Rwanda through Kyanika boarder , we spent our nights at Mountain gorilla view lodge. untill the following day where we had to show up with our gorilla pass. i would say the trekking was more that fun , really a dream comes true. thanks gorilla expeditions for arranging me such an amazing safari through your beautifull country.

  11. Nola Lee Kelsey
    Chiang Mai, Thailand
    November 30, 2013, 7:26 am

    A friend of mine travels 5 or 6 times per year to volunteer at dog shelters and spey/neuter projects all over the world. Twice in the last 18 months she has wound up on projects with a woman, the same woman, who talks continually apparently without any need to stop and take in oxygen. The verbal on slot is always about herself and always riddle with complaining. Just a few weeks ago, my friend emailed me from a project in India. The subject reads: “OMG! She’s here.” That’s three!

    Once I stopped laughing I suggested fitting the gal with a radio tracking collar in order to better avoid her.

  12. marianne robey
    france
    August 14, 2013, 12:12 pm

    What a shame that there is nothing more interesting you could have written about the gorilla trek… something positive or something to draw public attention to their needs. It seems that you have seen the mud and not the stars.

  13. Gorilla tours
    USA
    August 11, 2013, 5:57 am

    We had an amazing gorilla trip in Rwanda at the beginning of the year. The trek in Rwanda was much easier than the one we had in Nshongi Bwindi . The trek was less strenuous and we encountered the gorillas in an hour. Photo shooting was excellent but of course we paid 750 USD for the gorilla permit and was worthy it.
    Our safari guide from http://www.gorillatreking.com helped us to choose the best gorilla family on the day of the trek.
    Some of the necessary items to carry to the gorilla trek; Treking boots, long sleeved tops to prevent insect bite or insect repellants, trousers, rain coats, ear plugs to prevent noise from the jungle, hiking sticks, packed lunch/ Drinking water and a flash free camera

  14. Eleazor A
    Jinja
    June 30, 2013, 1:46 pm

    Personally i am eager to know the age of the old the woman with the iPad because in Uganda Laura Sonnino,94, from Italy on March 14,2013 became the oldest person to have tracked mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in South western Uganda . Born on 20/5/1919. She was carried in a stretcher at a fee of 300$ by 12 men. How strange is this, 12 men carrying one person. I was told by a guide of a safari company in Uganda http://www.kokotours.com when were were driving to Bwindi for tracking on 15th May. Please let us know her age if possible, may be she was older than Laura or not.

  15. Klaus Kernspecht
    Long Beach, CA
    June 5, 2013, 10:23 pm

    This woman with the iPad, Michele Royalty, represented the worst part of traveling. That someone like her could be so narcissistic as to show zero consideration for her fellow travelers is appalling.

  16. Bob
    Santa Barbara, CA
    May 30, 2013, 7:32 pm

    I think Michelle of Mammoth Lakes missed the point of the piece. It’s a well written, witty, entertaining account of being stuck with an inconsiderate stranger while traveling, something most of us have experienced at one time or another. It was about the me-first attitude of the woman and her inconsiderate, thoughtless behavior. It wasn’t about people using iPads to take travel photos, it was about not using iPads (or cameras for that matter) in a way that interferes with the shots of others. It wasn’t about people with injuries or infirmities not being carried in a basket, it was about the able-bodied woman’s arrogant sense of entitlement and her dismissive behavior. I understand why the others didn’t confront her; sometimes it’s just easier to put up with such behavior rather than risk an uncomfortable scene.

  17. Michele Royalty
    Mammoth Lakes, C
    May 27, 2013, 9:15 pm

    Doris, I think you are being annoyed at the wrong thing. Who cares if a tourist uses an iPad or wanted to pay to be carried? I had been mildly irritated by people taking too many pictures and not enjoying the moment. Would you feel differently if she had MS and could not make the trip in any other way? The center of the event were the gorillas, the tiny number of gorillas who are not going to make it in the future because of 7 Billion humans. That is something to get irritated about, not this one women. There are always people in every group that you dislike. i think you disliked her. My husband cannot make the trek because of his hips and knees, which as so diseased with arthritis that he could not make that climb. Would he annoy you also? I am going to Rwanda next year and have an iPad and want to bring my husband, so prepare to be annoyed. I think the guides will be very happy to accept compensation to help my husband up the hills.
    My pet peeve is the occasional tourist who come to my town and kill our bears. One guy laid out a picnic and when a bear wondered by he went to his truck and killed the bear. As a local, when I see a bear, I give it respect and stay way out of its way, particularly females with cubs. The guy who killed the bear only got 6 months in jail, but took lots of pictures of that dead bear.

  18. Michele Royalty
    Mammoth lakes, ca
    May 26, 2013, 3:59 pm

    Where ever humans tour they inflict their values and personalities on other . I am going trekking next year and am going to do a lot of preparation hiking. My husband may not be able to make the hike, as his knees and one hip are bone on bone andhisback is bad too. I told him about the option of being carried by porters,and he will stay back at the lodge and wait for me. Therefore I have mixed thoughts of your fixation on the iPad woman. Oh yes, I will be buying an iPad for the occasion because they take great pics and video. My husband is only 65 and we just retired. I love wildlife and hope his disability does not cause the same reaction as yours. When he has to be in a wheel chair, I will warn him not to be cheerful, so as not to disturb the tourists. The gorillas did not care and those porters were thrilled to get $50 apiece. Watch the judgements
    Please. BTW if I had a family of gorillas in view, I would not be focusing on the humans.

  19. Adrie
    May 25, 2013, 8:03 pm

    Um, and why did no one say anything to her? She probably got to be the way she is because no one has told her to keep out of their way, or that she was being intrusive. It’s ridiculous to think that the OP is in a position to be offended if NO ONE communicated properly with the iPad woman.

  20. Racheal
    Uganda
    May 19, 2013, 5:03 am

    Some travelers are hard and inconsiderate. I just pity the husband though!! At our company, Wild Whispers Africa, we get all sorts of clients to go for gorilla trekking so we can imagine what the company went through during the booking process. Am sure that lady with the ipad had lots of worries from the road, to accommodation. You should ask the lodge where she stayed. Am sure it was the same complaint.

  21. Mary
    May 18, 2013, 10:25 pm

    Wow. Glad to have read this. Years ago I had an experience with an American university student and his camera blocking our view of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but I didn’t speak up. I do not ever again want to live with the regret of not saying something to a self-absorbed tourist who’s rotten behavior is ruining the experience of others so if you are one of them, look out. I may hurt your feelings.

  22. A Smith
    May 18, 2013, 12:59 am

    So rude! Thank you for sharing this experience and not being like the complacent husband who sits quietly waiting for it to all be over. I do not have an iPad but I would never ever under any circumstances be comfortable taking pictures with it in a public situation such as this. It is way to big and obnoxious to get away with as a camera in such situations. I prefer the sleek tiny on the sly from the hip type of photography and an iPad could never be so discreet. I am sorry I do not have any travel experiences to share, way to afraid of being disgusted with the world because of people like this woman with the iPad to ever bother with travel. Plus I don’t agree that we should travel so freely just cause we can.

  23. Stean
    Kampala
    May 17, 2013, 2:16 am

    Gorilla trekking is a life time experinec that you have to enjoy to the fullest but with such cirmstances, you get disapaointed with your trip. However, whne we booked with Arch Safaris And tours uganda, we had afull blast. Each of us was ready to give the other a chance to take shorts of the gorillas. Sorry for this disapointment.

  24. Derek
    May 16, 2013, 8:45 pm

    It sounds like she had a great time!

  25. Marlene
    NC
    May 16, 2013, 6:42 pm

    Two words: Personality Disorder

  26. alex l-m,
    uk
    May 16, 2013, 3:49 pm

    and i bet that once she is apprised of this story she will probably e-mail it to all her “friends” on her IPAD!

  27. Abhinav
    May 16, 2013, 3:18 pm

    I wonder if she is aware that her obnoxious behavior made her to natgeo page .

  28. Karyl C
    May 16, 2013, 3:10 pm

    Now if the evil iPad woman was reading National Geographic, that would have slightly more redeeming. Sometimes you just have to ask people to “reel it in” or, thanks largely to ubiquitous cell phone usage, they will act like the world is their living room. Enough already! If gorillas don’t deserve some decorum, nothing else does either.

  29. Bill Reyna
    Wayne, NJ
    May 16, 2013, 2:00 pm

    Just re-defines the phrase “if you see something, say something”.
    Guess it’s just my “Jersey” coming out.
    PS: I would have paid the basket guys 300$ to make her walk.

  30. Kelli
    http://www.minivansarehot.com
    May 16, 2013, 1:47 pm

    Oh goodness, that would make me crazy. I’m more disturbed by her hiring of men to carry her in a basket?! Whaaaaat in the world?!

  31. Jeff Hertrick
    May 16, 2013, 12:50 pm

    We have encountered people like this on our vacations. For example, while viewing Michaelangelos’ David in Florence, a diminutive Italian security guard kept shouting what may have even been the only two English words she knew: “NO PHOTOS!” Yet after her repeated shouts, a 40ish American man just kept snapping his Kodak, circumnavigating the great statue, taking photos from every angle.

  32. Brian Clark Howard
    May 16, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing Doris! I had a similar experience in Costa Rica. An older woman in our group of journalists was extremely pushy, literally elbowing photographers and reporters out of her way. When I was standing on the edge of a cliff watching zipliners, she grabbed me by my backpack and pushed me aside so she could get closer. I would have moved if she had asked, but she got physical right away.

    She was constantly putting her camera in people’s faces. Her photos and stories were very underwhelming, too.

    After our group leader finally confronted her about showing more respect she melted down, crying that no one liked her. (Just like the woman with the iPad, she had a male companion along, who was very quiet and sweet but never challenged her.)

    We tried to tell her that we didn’t dislike her, we disliked getting pushed around!