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Published: July 19th 2014
Today would be the day I was looking forward to the most out of my entire time in Uganda – tracking the extremely endangered, wild mountain gorillas. Despite placing our breakfast order the night before and requesting a specific time to eat, the chefs still work on African time, so we ended up being the last group to arrive at the trek site. No huge deal though, the only downside was we got divided into two groups: myself, Heather and Ursula in one group, and Leandra and Thea in the other.
My group met up with our guide and the other trekkers, and after a brief intro on safety instructions, we hopped in the car and drove to the point where we start the hike. I think we missed most of the safety tips because we were late, but the basic gist of it all was don't touch the gorillas, stay 7 metres away and don't use flash when taking pictures. Oh, and if a forest elephant comes, pretend you don't exist or you're dead. We were told the hike could take anywhere from two to eight hours, which includes one hour where we are allowed to watch
the gorillas. The time to spend with them is limited to only an hour for conservation purposes. We had our fingers crossed that the hike would be around the halfway mark of the two extremes; not too short so we get our money's worth (it costs a hefty $600US for the permit) and not too long because we had more on the agenda later that day.
Heather, Ursula and I grabbed our walking canes, tucked our pants into our socks (there are ants here that want to climb our legs and eat us) and into the jungle we marched. Unlike most other hikes, including the volcano trek, there are absolutely no paths through this forest. Leading our group was two men with machetes who carved us a trail as we went, hacking and slashing down bushes and small trees, making a rough path just wide enough for us to fit through. More or less. It's not called Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for nothing! We climbed over and under trees and logs, tripping over vines and sliding (read: falling) down slopes covered with damp bush and leaves. It's easy to lose your footing on such rough and unstable terrain,
so you instinctively grab onto whatever is near to keep you from tumbling over. However, the wildlife and insects are not the only aspect of the natural world that have a lust for the blood of stupid Canadian travellers; the plants here are also out to get you. If you trip and begin to fall you have two options: option a) reach out and grab onto a tree next to you, whose trunk is covered in thorns and spikes or option b) land on the ground, breaking your fall with your hands as the floor is quite soft and squishy since it's covered with the leaves of many stinging nettle. Choose one and trudge on! The excitement and anticipation of being within a few feet of wild gorillas was enough to help push the stinging, itching pain, and what appears to be a rash, spreading across my hands and forearms to the side.
We hear the gorillas before we see them. We are so close! Our guide tells us to take the last sips of our water, and we leave our bags and canes on the jungle floor before approaching them so we don't make them feel
threatened. After only a couple more minutes of hiking we came up to our first gorilla. A large male silverback resting right in front of us! Maybe because there was nothing but some branches and a couple bushes between him and I, but they sure look a lot bigger in person. This particular family of gorillas, had 22 members so after a couple photos we moved on to find the others. Because it's the dry season, they continued to move along in search of food, but it didn't take long before we came across more. We saw males and females, including more silverbacks and even some babies! These animals are absolutely magnificent! They are incredibly gentle by nature and are so comfortable with humans being around them. They adults ate while the babies played and even danced around for us, doing back flips into the bushes below. I even saw a baby mimicking the larger males and bang his fists on his chest. One male kept ripping farts as he moved around the forest. Typical male. Some didn't like their photos being taken and would turn their backs to us, but others seemed to pose for us as we snapped
Obviously, being a primate, they are one of our closest living relatives, but I couldn't help but be amazed by how human-like they were. Something felt different with these animals when I made eye contact with them, almost like they had a deeper understanding of who we are or a mutual respect between species. It breaks my heart to think that such beautiful and docile creatures are so severely poached that they are on the brink of extinction. Despite the “seven metre” rule, our guides definitely brought us much closer than seven metres; I would say we as close as three in many cases.
The gorillas moved around a lot and did not stay in one place for long making it difficult to take pictures, which ended up working in our favour. Our guide said he wouldn't start the one hour countdown until they stopped migrating, resulting in us stopping for a moment and watching, then moving with the gorillas as they did. All-in-all we probably ended up having close to two hours watching the gorillas, with a total of a three hour trip from start to finish. I'd say I definitely got
my moneys worth.
After a very sweaty and tiresome hike back to where we started, us trekkers “graduated” from gorilla tracking school and were awarded a certificate. Nothing legit about it, but it's pretty adorable none-the-less. Here we met up with the other girls, exchanged many “oh my god, wasn't that so awesome!” and other similar statements, then got back in the jeep. Next stop Lake Bunyonyi! Again.
There isn't much new to report about going to the lake again. It was really nice and relaxing, and we had a decent supper and a couple beers on the patio, as usual. One thing that was really random and totally unexpected was that the American girls and some of the Kihefo staff took the day off (Independence Day) and came to the lake as well! We spent some time with the girls, catching up on the last few days. It really nice to see them all again and it gave us a chance to say proper goodbyes to some of the people we didn't see the day we left for Mbarara.
That's it, that's all!
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