March 5, 2013
The BIG DAY. GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA. SOMETHING I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO MY WHOLE LIFE.
Seith drove me the 10 minutes to the Nkuringo Ranger Station for the gorilla group briefing before the trekking began. Only 8 people are allowed to trek to each gorilla group per day and you are only allowed to spend one (1) hour observing the gorillas. The cost is $500 for the gorilla permit and includes the guides, trackers and 2 armed guards. The guards are to protect us in case the gorillas pose a threat but they only shoot up in the air if there is a problem. The Nkuringo Group of Gorillas are the most habituated group in Uganda we were told and this is the group VIP's come to see. I was fortunate enough that when I applied for my trekking the girl advised me to see them if I had a lot of leeway in my travel schedule.
There are 14 gorillas in the NKuringo group which includes 4 Silverbacks. We began our trekking 14 Km away from the Ranger station since the gorillas had moved. We hiked down one steep valley and up another, then down a steep valley and up another. Then down one more time until we finally were told the gorillas had been located by the trackers. Only 2 hrs of hiking and we had found the gorillas. I had heard that sometimes it can take much longer. We were told to drop our backpacks and walking sticks and just bring cameras and extra batteries if we had them. I dropped my bag and was the first person behind the guide as we approached where the gorillas had been spotted. After about a minute a ranger pulled back some brush and a gorilla was sitting there eating leaves. We walked around to another area where most of the gorilla group was situated. We first encountered a mother and her baby. The guide told us their names as each of the 14 gorillas has been named. The gorilla named Christmas is supposedly the most friendly. After about 15 minutes observing some of the mothers and babies, one of the Silverbacks made his way to us to give us an inspection. He walked almost right up to me and I was told to slowly move backwards and give him room. I had NO problem with that as they are one of the most powerful animals in the world. He posed for us several minutes. I even got a picture of a baby gorilla who stood up and walked on 2 feet right in front of us. Even the guide were excited to see it as it was the only time it happened. Not an everyday occurrence. During our time there we were fortunate enough to see 12 of the 14 gorillas including all 4 Silverbacks. One of the Silverbacks climbed up a small tree and perched on a limb while observing us.
At about the 40 minute mark it started to rain, hard. Of course my raincoat, rain pants and b backpack cover were all inside my backpack which I left behind with the porters as we were told. I was completely soaked in 2 minutes and it was very cold but I kept taking pictures. It became dark and the pictures did not come out as great as I had hoped. One of the gorilla rules is NO FLASH photography. With only 8 minutes left in our hour and the rain pouring so hard you could not see far in front of you, we decided to end our incredible gorilla encounter and head back.
The Ranger said since the rain was so intense we would not be able to go back the same route but must walk back to the Ranger station , 14 km (about 9 miles) back. The guide hacked a new trail straight up a couple of valleys to avoid trails that were too muddy to climb.The rain quit about 2 pm and we stopped at the top of a large hill and had our packed lunch. I had 2 tomato sandwiches, bananas, watermelon and pineapple. Not sure what type of sandwich the English Couple who stayed at Clouds had but it looked pretty impressive. Of course, their accommodations at Clouds cost $750 PER PERSON PER NIGHT. That's right, $1500 a night for a couple to stay at Clouds. (Will post pictures of Clouds later) I was very happy to pay $10 per night and eat my tomato sandwiches and fruit, thank you very much. lol
Arrived back at the Ranger Station about 3:30 pm after 5 hrs intense hiking and 1 hr observing the gorillas. We "graduated" and received our gorilla certificates from the Ranger.
Back to the Bwindi Backpackers to reflect on the experience. As I thought about it afterwards I can not believe how close we were to the gorillas. Gorillas have 98.4% of the same genes that humans have. They seem so human at time. It is really an experience that is impossible to describe but must be experienced yourself. GREAT DAY.