Gorillas in the mist

Read about my encounter with the indigenous gorillas

Experiencing eye contact with a Silverback male as he sat 3 meters away from me, moved my heart and shook me to the core of my being. It was akin to meeting my child for the first time. Cheesy to say that I know, but true!

In 2010 I received a call out of the blue to go to Uganda and amongst other adventures trek to see the gorillas. Ever since seeing the movie about Diane Fossey as a child I had dreamt of this privilege. Nothing could have prepared me for the enormity and beauty of it.

We spent a total of 11 nights in Uganda. What a magnificent country it is! Here is the lowdown on the Gorilla portion of the itinerary:

On day three this is how it went:

After an early breakfast we will head towards the highlands to Kabale (3 hours), then onwards another 4 hour journey offers excellent views including mountain lakes and the triangular peaks of the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda and the Congo. The road then climbs up towards Nkuringo, which looks down onto Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home of the mountain gorilla.
We will stay in the Nkuringo Village prior to tomorrow’s gorilla trek in the park.

This rainforest is said to be 25.000 years old, making it one of Africa’s most biodiverse habitat. The altitude of this mountain park ranges from 1200 – 2600 meters. Five rivers and a high annual rainfall make it rather humid. Besides its mayor attraction, the mountain gorillas (gorilla gorilla berengeri) the National Park is also home to an amazing 120 mammal species, 350 species of birds, 202 species of butterflies and over 200 species of trees.

It is believed that about 350 gorillas remain in several stable groups in the park. The great protection over the last years has lead to a steady increase of the population. Although best know for its mountain gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest also attracts spectacular birds. There are 23 of the 24 Albertine rift endemics including the African green broadbill, bar tailed trogan and other beautiful forest species.

Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge high up on Nteko Ridge, on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, the views are breathtaking, In the shadow of three volcanoes, looking down into the thick treetop canopy of Bwindi and beyond to the golden grasses of the Western Rift Valley. 8 Stone cottages with fireplaces, soft armchairs, warm duvets, excellent meals made from local produce, good wine, a lush botanical garden, a cosy library and sheltered verandas with views to the volcanoes. Clouds, with the ultimate goal of protecting the natural habitat of the mountain gorilla, will also directly benefit the community of Nkuringo who also have a significant stake in the venture.

Up relatively early for a hearty breakfast to give you the energy needed for your gorilla trek. Before 8 am report to the ranger station for registration and a talk by one of the rangers; the guides will then take you through the bush pushing your way through the undergrowth, parting thick creepers, to track the gorillas. The trek can take from half an hour to 7 hours – a reasonable degree of fitness is required as well as a sturdy pair of walking shoes.

Once you are close to the group the guides will ask you to leave behind your bags as no food items should be carried close to the gorillas. Just take your cameras with you as you are about to meet the gentle giants! Sit in the forest amongst the gorillas, listening to them grumble to each other and marvel at the sheer size of the dominant male; the silverback. It is an extraordinary feeling sitting in the dense rainforest knowing you are with a few of the last remaining mountain gorillas – sadly enough there are only about 650 of these beautiful creatures left. You are allowed exactly one hour with the gorillas before returning to the base station.

Please note: please listen to the instructions of the local rangers at all times. It is forbidden to approach the gorillas closer than 5 meters, to feed them or to use flash photography. Likewise for your and their safety! You will be accompanied by armed guards which guarantee your safety in an area where wild buffaloes are sighted. While walking, please feel free to ask guides to slow down if they are going too fast and if you need a rest. There is the additional option to hire porters on site.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority does not allow a trekking when you are sick as gorillas are very susceptible of human diseases. Should you feel sick the day of the trek we urgently advise you to abide this rule. In order to receive a 50% refund of the permit cost you MUST get a doctor’s report that day (please ask your guide to arrange this for you).

We must also stress that, while you have a very good chance of seeing gorillas, success is NOT guaranteed. They are wild creatures with no fixed routine and finding them requires the skills and experience of your tracker sand guides, as well as luck. The trackers and guides have helped to habituate the gorilla groups and know them intimately. They will take you to the area where they left the gorillas the day before. Before leaving they may be able to suggest how long the hike might be.

If you are back in time the afternoon you can take a guided walk and experience the local community in the Ntungamo village. The people of Nteko are largely self sufficient. The community experience discovers how they rely on local producers to provide commodities such as medicine, tools, soap, beer, baskets and food.

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Melissa Adey

&Beyond Travel Specialist

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