22.01.2016 - 22.01.2016
The jungle is a special place. I didn't always think so; when I was 14 with my parents in Iquitos (Peru), sleeping under a bug net and having sheets damp from the forest mist was met with nothing short of a mini meltdown. Now- a few short years later- those are gentle reminders of far away places and the trigger of excitement for what lay ahead in Bwindi.
Our wake up call was officially at 6:30 this morning however the rainforest had stirred us much earlier; the chirping, humming and squeeking setting a meditative tone to dawn. Gad (the happiest attendant at the hotel) cheerily met Ian with a pot of fresh coffee and we packed our day bags for today's trek: mountain gorillas!
Our lodge is nothing short of breathtaking (thank you Dave & Tonya); Jocelyn and Petrus met us at breakfast with more fresh coffee (fun fact: coffee is Uganda's number one export), fresh fruit, porridge, crepes, omelettes... We were well fuelled leaving for our trek for the day.
Gorilla tracking is highly regulated in Uganda; there are 8 permits granted per gorilla family per day. Permits can be secured through tour operators or at the Bwindi park gates (however we were told this is not the best way to go about it; as permits can sell out very far in advance). Upon arrival to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest we were all herded like sheep to listen to a brief overview about the gorillas- stay 7m away to avoid transmission of virus and illness (note: they can turn you away if you show signs of illness at this point), act submissive if the gorillas approach, leave a path between the silverback and the females- enter stage left large Ugandan men with AK's "just in case".
Uganda is home to half the worlds remaining mountain gorillas; 120 in 13 families (and I think this stat might be a bit old because some have quoted much higher numbers!!) Also within the bounds of protected space (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) and slightly beyond, live indigenous people, some of whom have been displaced for the preservation of our primate cousins. Because of the proximity to the forest, locals arrive daily to act as porters for the day for a small "tip" (recommended USD$15). The porters range from men with young families to students trying to pay for books. At first we both thought we wouldn't need a porter (all we had was a day pack with a packed lunch).... But I am glad we both elected to take one!
Ian and I were placed in the group to track the Mubare family; trackers are sent out daily to find the gorillas and send coordinates back to the guides- thankfully. We set off on foot after a short drive to a starting point just outside of Buhoma. The hike at first was easy but quickly turned challenging with a narrow rocky incline into the forest. We hiked for about ninety minutes before we were told that the gorillas were close... And you could smell them and see the reminants of their previous snacks as we got nearer. Once with the gorillas you are not able to eat, drink or use flash photography, nor may you keep a walking stick with you (apparently gorillas recognize them as weapons). Discarding our extra pieces of clothing and taking a last slug of water we hiked another 10 metres to our first gorilla sighting.
We were visiting the Mubare family, one of the first gorilla families in Bwindi to be habituated to humans. The family is led by a young (20 year old) silverback named Kanyonyi. There are 11 other members of the family, including 2 babies (under 1 year). We were permitted to spend an hour with the family; watching as they stuffed themselves full of leaves and trees (the Silverback can eat up to 26kg of food a day), and then observe as they laze around digesting their latest feed.
It was nothing short of magnificent. This long winded post should just come to an end and show some pictures already...
Kanyonyi, the Silverback