Edit Blog Post
Published: December 27th 2012
Giving Rosie a rest
The truck had been climbing steadily and needed a break to cool down. We amused ourselves taking photos of cows and bugs.
After two nights in Uganda's capital Kampala, we drove north to Kibale for a night and then onto Kisoro. Lying in bed at Gorilla's Backpackers, it's like the night before Christmas when you're a child. The excitement and anticipation mixed with relief that it's finally here. Except it's not Christmas. It's far, far better than that. I'm going to meet the mountain gorillas tomorrow and I. Can't. Wait.
Well I can wait, actually. I've waited a really long time so a few more hours is okay. But at 6am tomorrow we'll drive an hour and a half to the check in point, be split into groups and begin the trek to the family we're going to visit. No bright colours, no flash photography, no standing taller than daddy gorilla and definitely no looking him in the eye. Previous passengers of Suse stumbled across their family after only a ten minute walk; the gorillas were in a maize field and the farmers were throwing rocks at them to try and make them leave! I'd be perfectly okay with a ten minute walk but it can be anywhere up to several hours.
Accompanying each group of eight (the maximum
allowed per visit) will be a ranger/guide, an armed guard and a 'slasher' who cuts a path through the thick jungle for us. The gorillas have 24 hour security and so we'll meet two more guards en route.
But, it's time for bed. I've less than seven hours until I wake up. I wonder if this stupid grin will stay plastered to my face whilst I sleep...?
What a day!
Piling seven into a minivan, four of us chose the car and watched as the van drove off into the dark. We left 20min later and had to stop for petrol. No one's ever ready on this continent and I'm still trying to get used to it. I'm usually okay with it but I wanted to get going! I wanted to see gorillas! We drove along roads reminiscent of Cote d'Ivoire (from another lifetime) in the thick morning fog; the conversation staying to a minimum until the rising sun energised us.
Up and around the mountains we went through some of the most stunning scenery I've ever seen. Above the clouds and through the mud we drove, passing landslides of all sizes. At one stage
a tree blocked the majority of the road, leaving us to drive precariously close to the edge of the cliff. I was fine, trusting that our driver didn't want to die any more than we did but one in our group was having a hard time. By the time we caught up to the minibus half way up the mountain, road conditions had deteriorated and we watched as it slid in the mud, the back end fishtailing, with a sheer drop on the side. Once through, it was our turn. Being in a regular car, it wasn't happening, try as our driver did. The wheels spun enough mud to cover the driver's side window and the engine revved until it sounded like it would burst. We got out, grabbed our stuff and set out for the last kilometre on foot.
We were late to check-in but no matter. Everyone had dealt with the same road. After registering and getting a brief rundown of the rules, it was another 30 minute drive to begin trekking. Being in the minivan this time, I was wishing I was one of the three who got a lift in the ranger's 4WD. Having to take
the same road back to a small village, we ended up sliding sideways in almost exactly the same spot as where the car was stuck. It was terrifying having the back wheels on the edge of the road and people seemed ready to jump out windows if necessary! Barefoot children ankle deep in mud with noses running, watched as men and women (some with babies tied on their backs!) surrounded us and with shovels and hands, dug and pushed us out and waved us on our way. I get the idea they're used to this...
But it wasn't over yet. Down the hill we went when we heard an all too familiar sound. We'd burst a tyre. Stopping to change that (well, we took photos and messed around while the driver changed the tyre), we finally made it to the starting point at 10:15, much later than expected.
Having already spoken to Suse about porters, four of us got one. None of our bags were overly heavy; it was more so that they could help us up and down the slippery path. Or non-existent path! I was worried about my knees and had already bought a new brace and started
Slip and slide
The van spun in the mud and ended up with the back wheels on the edge of a sheer drop. People were half way out the windows in panic
taking anti-inflams the night before which I hoped would help. The porters work on a rota system and my porter Valentine, a tall quiet man, greeted me with a smile and a wooden walking stick and relieved me of my bag. It was time to go!
Yoshi (possibly the oldest to trek at 74 years old according to our guide!) set the pace and we fell in behind him, at first us women before the men but soon we were all mixed up again. For the most part we were evenly matched for fitness (apart from Jareb and Cecilie who would both be climbing Kili in the near future) and we could walk the wide path talking and taking in our surrounds.
It was beautiful scenery. The air smelt clean and fresh with a hint of wood burning from fires below and the flora and fauna around us. We stopped at the foot of the forest for a water break and looked up, it becoming all too obvious why it was called the Impenetrable Forest. It was sure looking that way from where we stood!
We walked for 4 hours up and down the mountains, ducking branches, sliding in mud,
laughing at each other when we stumbled or fell(Justice went down first though Kev ended up with a record number of tumbles) and we were ready for lunch when they told us to rest. The guards were on the radio to our guide and they were waiting to see if the gorillas would keep moving or stop to eat. The sky looked dark and ominous and we were told they'd all take cover if the heavens opened. Crap.
After our lunchtime antics (a word of warning: never scare an armed guard by pretending there's something behind him!!) we packed up and headed deep into the jungle. Soon after we heard our first call but the excitement was short lived when Valentine told us it was the guard calling us, their radios no longer working in the dense forest.
Before long we spotted the guards and then our first gorilla. A female, climbing her way up a tree and seating herself amongst the branches. Woo hoo! But it was disconcerting seeing trees being bent and bushes moving as if in high winds around us and yet not being able to see anything else. Scenes from Michael Crichton's book Congo flooded my
After arriving late because of the mud slides, we then got a flat tyre. There was nothing to do but laugh.
head. Excellent timing, Sarah.
The ranger and guards made soothing sounds to placate the gorillas, letting them know we were there. I'm sure they already knew but hey, what do I know? We left the walking sticks we'd come to rely on and our bags with the porters and with our cameras, followed the ranger and guards as they slashed a path for us. A loud cry rang out around us which momentarily stopped us in our paths though the locals took little notice.
We sat as comfortably as we could in the thick overgrowth and caught glimpses of gorillas moving around us. Being at the back of the group with Alexis, we heard rather than saw the first charge from a juvenile male. He came up one path, passing us at lightning speed as he disappeared now another. We all grinned stupidly at each other in awe that we'd just been charged. Little did we know...
Spotting an older male eating a little further down we all took turns taking photos, shuffling amongst ourselves in an effort to get a shot. The dark skies coupled with the tall trees meant light wasn't great and I'd put my camera away
to sit and watch when everything just went...nuts. A loud scream when up and a mass of black charged at us as we somehow instinctively ducked. All I remember seeing is black arms pounding the ground and guards beating the ground in front of us with their sticks as the ranger pulled Yoshi out of the way.
And then it was quiet and the silverback was gone. The guys asked us if we were okay and apart from a bit of dirt, we were all fine. Now that it was over we could laugh about it and imagine the story we would tell others. No doubt at all it was scary but we did everything right and didn't contest his superiority and satisfied, he left us alone.
When we next saw him he was in a low tree only metres from us looking so gentle and docile as he munched on the leaves as he watched us nonchalantly. Soon enough he turned his back on us altogether which gave us a view of his beautiful silver back.
We saw eleven gorillas that day and any reservations I'd had about spending the money to go to Rwanda and do it again
was gone - as was the desire to see them after only a ten minute walk. It was hard going getting down, especially as it started raining not long after we said goodbye to the gorillas but Valentine was invaluable, as were the other porters.
I can't wait to go to Rwanda and do it again!
We left Jinja this morning after three nights camping at Adrift, sitting on the cliff above the Nile.
I'd been umming and ahhing about white water rafting and in the end decided against it. I may yet regret it. The four that went loved it and with such a wide river and only eight rapids, I think I would've too. Instead, I went on the 45 minute jet boat ride, running up and down the second rapid, splashing the rafters and avoiding the diving cormorants. Gavin who was driving is also the bungee instructor and we spent a lot of time standing at the edge of the bar watching people jump, both Nico and Justice being dunked to their knees and Suse running off the edge like a pro. At only 54 metres it's a much shorter distance than
We're going on a gorilla hunt
Our ranger and tracker slashed a path through the Impenetrable Forest for us to reach the gorillas
the Vic Falls jump but just as much fun. At least to watch!
I met Adrianna and Charlie, a lovely Polish couple who have driven from Scotland in their van; the back of it converted into a bedroom. Not being that much of an expert on vehicles, I was still amazed they'd made it with their tyres but then, I haven't seen the roads they travelled on. We swapped stories in the bar near the kayak on the ceiling which people can hoist themselves into to do a shot, much to everyone's amusement!
I volunteered one of my mornings to help SoftPower, an NGO based in Jinja. Building schools and clinics, they employ local teachers but take on volunteers for any amount of time. Britt will leave the trip in a couple weeks to go back and work for two months with the special needs department. As for me, I was driven to a local school that they are repainting. Armed with burgundy paint and a brush, we were a source of seemingly endless fascination to the schoolchildren, especially when the lunch bell rang. I chased the younger ones who ran squealing and laughing until they changed their minds and
They're out there...
It was disconcerting being able to hear them moving around but not see them
decided they actually did want to get painted! Lunch was delicious local fare with maize meal and a cabbage and bean dish. On its own the maize meal is tasteless but when moulded into a scoop and eaten with the accompanying dish, it's amazing - and filling! Writing this now, I'd love to have it again!
Now we're heading back to Kenya to Nakuru and Naivasha before Nairobi where the truck will stay while we have a week off. Some are going to the Masai Mara, some will head into the city or the beaches near Mombasa and Denise, Nico and I are heading to Tsavo and Amboseli. Finally, I will see where the Maneaters of Tsavo lived, yay!
Tot: 0.166s; Tpl: 0.022s; cc: 12; qc: 78; dbt: 0.0262s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.5mb