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Gorilla Trekking- Uganda

December 28, 2011

We have been looking forward to sharing this entry with you all. Other than our Balloon ride in the Serengeti National Park the gorillas have been a real highlight of our trip. There are predicted to be less than 800 mountain gorillas left in the wild. They are all found in a little section of Africa that boarders Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. Before heading on our gorilla trek I was a little naive about what the experience would be like. I envisioned that the gorillas would be in the forest that would be accessed by a tarred road and that we would go through a stroll in the forest and than suddenly there would be an opening and there all the gorillas would be just sitting there- yes it sounds funny but in my wild imagination that’s what I thought the experience would be like… it was nothing like it. Mike had a more realistic expectation of the gorilla trekking….. he thought it would be trekking through dense forest and that they would be difficult to see them… and he was right. I guess mine was just wishful thinking but than I think Mike must have looked it up on the internet or his just not naive like me.

The day we headed to the gorillas we woke at 4.30am. Our guide had prepared lunch and we set off in our transfer vehicle at 5am. It was a 2 hour drive on bumpy mountainous roads. We firstly went to a briefing area where all the gorilla trekkers meet to have their permits checked and than assigned a guide. We did out trekking in the Briwindi National Park. There are three main Gorilla groups that are visited here. We visited the Mishaya gorilla group – which consisted of only 14 gorillas, some of the other groups had up to 45 gorillas in the area they visited.. I guess that was a little disappointing to see so few gorillas. The gorilla groups are named after their dominate silver back. After our briefing we met our guide, her name was Rita, she had been a guide for just a year and was fairly young. Our transfer car than took us for about an hour drive to where we would start the trekking. On our way we got bogged….. who knows why we had just a van and not a 4×4… the roads were so muddy and not suitable for normal 2WD’s – It was pretty funny watching the local villagers help get the car out.. ours wasn’t the only car that got bogged. There was certainly others that did. While we were waiting for our car to be moved out of the mud we were able to speak to some of the local children, some were happy to just say hi, wave and practice their english, other just wanted to ask for money. It’s a rule in Africa on our tours that you don’t give children any money or food- it encourages begging in the local communities. One little girl kept looking at us and crying…. we asked Rita why… and she said it is because we are “Mzungu” (white people/person in Swahilli) and that the little girl is scared of us. It did upset me a little, our guide said  to us  as she gets older she will be taught that tourism is vital if the gorilla population if it is to survive. The $500 odd dollars per person for the permits go to help the protection and research of the gorilla population.

Before we began out trekking, two trackers are sent out to find the gorillas- this increases the chances of seeing the gorillas but also reduces the hiking time. After we got confirmation that the trackers had found the gorilla family so we started our trek into the forest. The first hour or so was all up hill through local farms than we got into the forest. The first part of the forest was similar to forest at home, but about half an hour in the forest got really lush and very thick, we were trekking through a track that doesn’t often get used our guide and armed escort used a machete to clear much of the way. It was so high the forest and very slippery.. I fell on my bottom a number of times. The only things I would have done to make it more enjoyable would be to wear gaiters and a long sleeved shirts as there are so many fire ants and prickly bushes. I have a number of grazers and cuts on my arms and legs from the hike… but it was worth it. After about three hours of trekking one of the trackers came and found us. The forest we were in was called the impenetrable forest because you literally can’t see anywhere…. the gorillas and the trekkers were only a few metres away but you couldn’t see them as the forest is so dense (so much for my opening to view the gorillas). Once we were with the tracker we were told to take off all our backpacks and to leave any food and water behind. We walked only a couple of metres and than the tracker pointed and below us was the biggest Sliverback we had ever seen. He was just sitting there eating… we only got a back view of him until he looked up at us. It was the most amazing feeling see such a big creature look up at you… he looked so peaceful and friendly… you just wanted to go give him a hug. After a few minutes he got up and walked over to another feeding spot so we shifted position. The forest was so dense it was difficult for the eight of us that were on our trek to get a good view of the gorillas. To be honest I am a little disappointed that we didn’t get a clear view to be able to photograph them more efficiently… but really it’s only because photography is our job. To see the gorillas in the wild was really something special. In the hour we were with the family we seen four gorillas in total, the rest must have been hiding. The baby was so playful. The experience of seeing them in the wild will be something that I will always treasure. The trackers have a pretty cool job. The two guys we were chatting too visit this gorilla family 5 days a week which another two trackers visit them the other two days. There job is to check the safety of the gorilla families, monitor their behaviour and to track there movements so that they aren’t lost. The tracking protects the gorillas from local poachers.

Mike and I in the future do plan to visit Africa again so we hope that we can maybe go to Rwanda or the Congo to see the gorillas there. We would love to see the western plains gorillas in Congo as they aren’t in such dense forest … but that will depend if we can visit the Congo safely!!

Here are the best images we could get of the gorillas. If anyone is planning a trip to east africa the gorillas are a must!! We have lots more stories and experiences to share with you all so look forward to doing this.

Amy xx

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