In Search of Mountain Gorillas-Uganda

Published: February 10th 2010
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Fishing boats on the nile river
Officially crossed over into Uganda. It is all green jungle here and very beautiful. The earth is rich and red and any seed that hits the ground is going to sprout. Our first stop was in Jinja where we stayed 3 nights in the dorm rooms at a really nice backpackers lodge.
Our first day here most of the gang from our overland truck went rafting on the Nile. Since we had already done the Zambezi, which is the toughest rafting in Africa, we opted out of rafting. Instead we walked over to the source of the Nile (one of them), where Lake Victoria feeds into the White Nile. It was a little anti-climatic, but the country side is so beautiful here. Walking over to the park we passed all these mansions that are in the neighborhood our backpackers location is in. They had belonged to Indians, then when Idi Amin was in power he kicked all people of Indian heritage out of Uganda and many of these beautiful homes stood empty a long time. Some were eventually bought by people and remodeled and are gorgeous, but some were taken over by squatters. There might be 30 people living in it.

The source of the nile where it flows out of lake victoria-Uganda
They look really bad, nothing has ever been done to them. So you could have a block of beautiful mansions and right in the middle one looks like a tenement. They all have big grounds with beautiful gardens.
After seeing the source of the Nile we headed downtown. Very nice, vibrant town. Had amazing chicken guacamole wraps at a sidewalk cafe.
The next day was really an amazing day. Six of us volunteered for a program called "SoftPower". It remodels schools, has a big volunteer teacher program and they do amazing work. There are 20 elementary schools in the Jinja area. Each with 2,000 students. The smallest class has 140 students, the largest 180, with one teacher. We think 30 students to a class is awful back home. Kids here are different though. They welcome going to school because if they don't they have to work in the field. We worked on painting a remodeled classroom at an elementary school. School had gotten out early that day but some of the kids hung around and watched us paint and talked and sang songs. It was great.
Each school feeds all 2,000 kids a hot lunch, every day. They raise their

Responsibility comes early in life in Africa
own vegetables, chickens, and goats to make sure the kids always have food and will have at least one hot, nutritious meal a day.
We also went to a pre-school / aids orphanage that has 500 kids. 300 are orphans that live there, the other 200 are area pre-schoolers. The little girl in the green dress in the attached photo was so cute. You can't tell how little she is from the picture, but she lived there. She's only 3 years old and that's her little 4 month old baby sister she's carrying on her back. Heartbreaking is not a big enough word. The kids sang for us, and we got our faces painted and we got to go to storytime in their little library. I'm so glad we got to participate in the SoftPower program.
Our next stop was in the capital of Uganda, Kampala. Big city! As you can probably imagine, it's pretty hot and humid here with the jungle. It rains everyday. Really long day of traveling today, all the way to Lake Bunyoni. Beautiful lakeside lodge and campground here. One night here and the next morning two 4 wheel drive vans picked us up. We're heading

Young Girl-Uganda
into the Impenetrable Forest and the overland truck is not made for this road. After a 5 hour, mud track road, we arrived at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Lodge.
It is a very cool place, but rustic to say the least. Hot water, but no electricity. They fixed us a terrific dinner though. There are a lot of bugs in the jungle so when we got back to our little hut with our lantern we felt the need to check our beds. There was actually a tarantula under my pillow! Big, brown and hairy with red eyes. It just lay there, so I finally poked it with a stick and discovered it was dead. Or maybe playing dead, because I knocked it down to the floor and made Aaron step on it and it wasn't dried out, it was all squishy and fresh. Yuck! I wimped out, I insisted that we leave the candles and the lantern burning all night. But it was the only way I could get to sleep and we had a big day the next day.
Up early, the big day is finally here, Gorilla trekking in the Impenetrable Forest. We had to watch a film

about how to behave and what to do and not to do. Then a park ranger went over it again and made us answer questions. We had to know how far 27 feet away was, because you can't approach a Gorilla closer than that. They can come up to you, but you cannot approach them. Aaron made sure he took an allergy pill as soon as he got up because if the rangers see you sneeze or cough or if you just look like you don't feel well they don't let you go. Gorillas can catch any human illness, colds, flu, etc.. One of their biggest killers, after man, is pnuemonia. Then we were off up the mountain. They pretty much know where the gorillas families are all the time. The trackers know where they saw them the day before so they leave the camp at first light and find the nests the gorillas made to sleep in and follow their tracks from that point. Our group left about 2 hours after them, our ranger/guide stays in touch with them by radio. There was a soldier in front of him and one at the back of our group armed with

Cycle Kid-Uganda
AK-47's. We were at the intersection of 3 countries, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo, and unfortunately there are guerillas hiding among the Gorillas. It was hot, humid, muddy, wet, buggy, steep, and worth every minute. We found our Gorilla group after only 2 and 1/2 hours. It was so completely amazing. It was a family of 18. The silverback, Mbele, is 24 years old. There was a blackback, 12 years old at the front of the group, Mbele in the middle, and another blackback, 10 years old bringing up the rear. The rest were females, adolesents, and even two little babies, one 7 and one 8 months old. They were resting in the shade when we came upon them. The silverback was playing with the ones that are about 2-4 years old, then he held one of the little babies. They looked us over when we came up, but other than that they didn't really aknowledge us. The males are so big, but so gentle. They look so gentle out of their eyes, too. And you're really not supposed to make eye contact with the silverback, they do take that as a direct threat. They started moving slowly through the

The most fertile earth I have ever seen-Uganda
jungle, climbing trees and sliding back down the trunks, feeding and just going about their business. They are so vocal with each other, making all kinds of noises deep in their throats. Some females got pretty loud while scolding their kids. They touch each other alot, too. We just moved along with them, it was so amazing. We were never more than 10 feet from them at any time. One thing we weren't expecting was the loud, very prolonged farting. They eat nothing but salad all day, that's why their bellies are round and distended, resulting in a lot of gas. Some came as close as 7 feet from us. I can't even begin to describe what a wonderful, moving experience this was. We got to spend one hour with them. That's it, none of us wanted to leave them, but our guide insisted. We knew up front that one hour was the limit, we just hated to go.
It's really sad, the park rangers told us before we left that more than likely the Gorillas will be extinct before the next generation can see them. My boys might be able to see them, but their children will not. A

Kid at school-Uganda
Mountain Gorilla has never been able to live in a zoo, only a Lowland Gorilla. The park has 3 families that they take groups to visit and one family that is observed by scientists only.
I have wanted to see the Gorillas for so long, I can't believe it's over! I can definitely understand why Dian Fossey fought so hard for them and never wanted to leave the mountains. We hiked back down the mountain and got driven all the back to Lake Bunyoni that same night.
The next 5 days will be all driving to get back across Uganda and back into Kenya. I wish you all could have had this experience with us, it was truly unforgettable. Let us hear from you!
Carolyn & Aaron

Gorilla Pics Below!

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20



Outside looking in

Kampala-The capital of Uganda

Obama Hair Design-is that picture supposed to be Obama?

Lake Bunyoni-A huge crater lake near the border with Rwanda

Our armed guards in Bwindi-poaching is a big problem

The gorillas face major problems from loss of habitat-the forest has been cut right to the edge of the national park boundary

Yes, at last mountain gorillas!!

Massive Silverback

Children in village near Bwindi

12th March 2010

You've inspired me! Have decided that a trip that way is a must. It was great to hear about the schools. Over a hundred children in a class! At the moment I have 18 and think it's busy! Must also see the gorillas, such as shame that they probably won't be able to save them. Great Blog. Keep it up and keep enjoying your trip (I'm very jealous!!!!!)

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