Hiking up a steep mountain, through thick African jungle and over makeshift wooden bridges is an experience that Katie Powell, 22, and her boyfriend Evan Hunken, 24, will never forget.
They were in Uganda searching for gorillas with a team of two tour guides and a pair of trackers wielding guns. It took another tour group only 15 minutes to find the creatures. It took Powell and Hunken four hours.
Finally, they came across a family of 26 gorillas nestled in the thick bush. They were able to spot 13, including a few protective silverbacks (males) and a baby.
“It was the most difficult thing we did on the trip, but definitely the most rewarding,” said Powell.
The trek was part of the Get Rid of Me competition staged by U.K.-based travel company On The Go Tours.
Last year, the pair entered the contest as Team Kevan, combining their names.
Over four months they garnered more than 35,000 online votes.
In October they found out they had won the $100,000, six-month, 18-country world tour for two, including flights, tours, vaccinations, insurance and spending money.
They left on Jan. 19, receiving their itinerary only four days before departing.
Since then, the Abbotsford couple visited India, Morocco, Jordan, Nepal, Turkey, China and Egypt, among others, joining a set tour in each country.
Their 57-day camping adventure in Africa, where they trekked through 10 countries, was a definite highlight.
There they saw lions, giraffes and elephants, wore three layers of pants each night to battle the cold, made lunches on the side of the road, and ate crocodile, camel and ox testicles.
Following Africa, they were treated to a surprise sailing tour of the Croatian coast.
And in Egypt, they were part of modern history, arriving in the country during the revolution. While they were safely tucked away at a resort during the height of the protests and riots, they still witnessed the relief and joy of the outcome.
They both agree the most adrenaline-pumping experience was bungee jumping over the Nile, where they also went whitewater rafting.
One of the most surprising moments was when Powell presented Hunken with cards for his 24th birthday from friends and family that she had hidden in her bag for over four months.
And for their two-year anniversary, when the couple was staying in a hut on the Mongolian desert, “in the middle of nowhere,” Hunken arranged for their tour guide to arrive on a camel with roses for Powell.
Throughout the trip, the couple kept a blog equipped with a journal, pictures and videos to share their experiences with friends and family.
“We have photos, videos, and memories that will last a lifetime,” said Powell.
Sorting through the pictures in their home on Wednesday – two days after their return – they were pleasantly reminded about memories that had been pushed aside to make new ones.
To ensure they don’t forget about their journey, they’ve already started decorating their home with items from their trip, including African pillows, a Russian doll, clay elephants from India and a prayer wheel from Nepal.
The couple is extremely thankful for the votes and support they received to allow them to take the trip.
“We’ve met amazing people, experienced different cultures and learned more about the world,” said Powell.
“We’ve tasted it, seen it and experienced it.”
For Hunken, it’s the life experience, education and friends that made the 27 flights, camel rides, donkey treks and tuk-tuk (motorcycle) journeys worth it.
To check out a blog of the couple’s adventure, visit http://www.getridofme.com/blog.