Gorillas in the mist

Trip Start Feb 19, 2009
Trip End Aug 02, 2009

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Flag of Uganda  ,
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gorillas in the mist, that is what we are off to see....our 5:00 Am departure turned into more like 6:00 AM. We have borrowed a truck from HM's colleague. The reason we are leaving so early is that the drive is around 11 hours. We are heading to the most south western tip of Uganda bordering both Rwanda and the Congo (yikes).  And yes... we are driving ourselves... two white girls heading towards the Congo. Brilliant. Apparently this is bit strange as most people would arrange for drivers.... But we are the adventurous type. The fact that I am typing this now means yes.... We made it there and back safely! So on to the tale.
So we really did leave around 5:30, 6 AM. Yep, pretty early! Got all our camping gear packed and off we went. We gave a couple of HM's friends a ride partway as they were on their way to Tanzania for the weekend. On the way we stopped at the equator... literally! There is a cute café their so we had some much needed coffees and muffins. The café is great because it also sells lots of local art and all the proceeds go to Aid child (I am assuming this organization helps kids!!). After the equator we still had about 9 hours of driving ahead of us and we wanted to set up camp before dark. The road... there are no words for how terrible the road is... pot holes, which were more like craters are everywhere... driving fast or slow doesn't seem to make much of a difference, you just have to swerve lots and power through. The crazy passing of slow moving vehicles reminds me of Mexico. And, yes.... I actually drove, it wasn't too bad, a little nerve racking to be sure. There are police road checks along the way, HM let me know that you just look the other way and drive right through because if you stop, they will find something wrong with your vehicle (usually imaginary) and you then are expected to bribe your way out of the situation. Speaking of bribes...forgot to mention in my last entry that on the way to Uganda from Kenya I had some shells in my carry on (oops) and had to bribe the security guy to let me take them through!!
Just when we think that we are well on our way... an engine light comes on. Now we haven't had the best of luck over the past few days...and we were hoping this had turned. We pulled into a gas station...and the engine wouldn't start, wouldn't turn over at all. Lucky for us it turned out to be a loose thing on the battery.... Not surprising after all the road craters we hit. Got that fixed up....... And then fixed yet again a few hours later, and we were on our way! The location we were headed to was Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The drive into the park was beautiful. We went through many small villages... had many children running after the truck screaming for money (their parents had obviously taught them well). Anyways, we make it into the park and find our way to the area that we will be trekking from to visit the gorillas. Upon arrival while they are expecting us...they seem quite astonished that two white women have arrived ... and have driven themselves... and want to camp! But set up camp we did....brought back many memories! We were the only people that had arrived at this area in the park.... And there didn't seem to be an actual area to camp... so we just picked a spot on the grass and set up. The outhouse actually had tp and a toilet seat so it was pretty nice all around! Have not felt so surrounded by jungle... or so far from civilization in a long time though. It was great.
The next morning we get up and are joined by two other Canadians who will trek with us. They are a lovely couple, both on their way to the Congo (they are Doctors). They have an organization that they have started which I am hoping to post the link of soon once I have it. We were very lucky to get a small group. Had a little meeting about what to expect and to prepare us for the hike. Some quick info: There are only 720 mountain gorillas left in the entire world, they are very endangered. Over half of these live in Uganda. Gorillas live in large families, we would be tracking the Bitukura Family which has 13 members, 3 of which are silver backs. They have trackers which are always aware of the location of each gorilla family. We would be meeting up with trackers who would guide us to where our gorilla family was. Trackers and guides working with the gorillas often used to be poachers so it is a great opportunity for them to do something better with their lives. You can't go into the jungle if you are ill to help protect the gorillas, you also can't go in if you are under 15 years as kids have a higher risk of infecting the gorillas with childhood diseases.
We hopped in the Canadian's van (smart couple.... They had a driver!!) and drove for around half an hour. After that it was time to get out. We headed through a farmers field to the edge of the Jungle. The trackers were right there only 5 minutes in and they let us know the gorillas were close (what luck!). We could already hear them crashing noisily in the jungle. We had to leave behind our snacks, water etc and take only our cameras with us. (Of course I have way too much camera gear with me..... but always worth it in the end right?). The jungle is steep if not vertical... and there is no trail. It is dense and slippery, and full of bugs that I would rather not think about. We saw our first Gorilla right away, and it was amazing. It only got better from there. The trackers and our guide, Christopher, led us through the jungle to where each of the gorillas were. It was impossible terrain, I must have fallen a dozen times. There was just nowhere to stand that wasn't slippery and nothing to hold onto that wasn't loose. The Gorillas were amazing though, the guides would make gorillas calls at them to get them to pound their chests. There were a few times where the gorillas would just come right at us... will try to upload a couple of videos showing this, they are bad quality but still pretty cool. At one point a big gorilla was just inches away from me as he went for the guides boots. It was so funny, it seemed like he was just being cheeky... he would come right at us and look at us all bashful like and then just roll away into the jungle. Hilarious. At one point we caught a very quick glimpse of a mother gorilla with her baby on her back. She then got in big trouble from the head silver back for getting so close to us and all we could hear was crazy gorilla screaming and bushes shaking... sorry mama! You only get one hour with the gorillas and of course, it went too fast. The hike out of the jungle... was murder. I thought I would die... and you will see a lovely photo of me being swallowed by the jungle. HM has always been a better hiker than me... and that still stands. If you are ever in Uganda you absolutely have to see the gorillas. Next stop: Kisoro on the way back to Kampala to see our friend from Canada (Sharon Ney)'s sponsor child. 
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