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Published: October 12th 2018
Today is THE reason we have come to Uganda, to track Mountain Gorillas. There are only about 1000 Mountain Gorillas left in the world and about half of these live in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest where we are now. Other places where you can see them are Rwanda and the DRC, different countries but very close to Bwindi. The only way to see them here is to buy a permit from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA). There are only about 100 permits available each day and as they cost $600 per person it means that this isn’t a trip for everyone. In addition, the official line is that the permits are over-subscribed (ie hard to get), nothing is guaranteed, it's often wet and the trekking to find the gorillas can be tough, so tough in fact that some people don’t even manage to reach the gorillas. Despite this there is no denying that this is one of the rare travel experiences that for most people will be something they will never forget.
The reality fortunately is a little easier, though the road in was significantly rougher than I expected for such a big tourist attraction. J contacted the UWA in
August and we were able to buy 4 permits for a number of days in September. Dealing direct with the UWA saves us a handling charge, but means we needed to pay by bank transfer and then drop by the UWA office in Kampala to collect the permits and confirm the location for our trek (there are 4 separate villages in Bwindi each with their own groups of gorillas).
We arrive at our trailhead at 7:30am for a short briefing after which we are split into groups of 8. Each group is assigned one of the “habituated” gorilla families (gorilla families that are used to people), and have a guide and a guard who both carry AK47s. It’s very well organised; in advance of the trekking group there are 2 trackers whose job is to track the family from their overnight nests to their current location. Once they have located them they radio back to the guide so they can take their group directly to the family. We’re in luck and walk for less than an hour but some of the walking is steep and the final part difficult as we’re not on paths.
Once we find the
gorillas we’re allowed just one hour with them, but this is enough time to appreciate the experience. Our family is of 10 individuals including 3 silverbacks, 2 youngsters and 1 baby that is only 2 weeks old. The boss silverback is very relaxed and though we aren’t meant to be closer than 7 metres we’re actually only 2 or 3 metres way most of the time. I wasn’t expecting to be able to take good pictures but the light is good and we all manage some good photos or video.
It’s all over far too quickly and reluctantly we wave goodbye and head off back down the hill. Before we go the silverback seems to look me in the eye and smile. It’s a remarkable experience and one I won’t forget for a very long time indeed.
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