. Old Silvery had been visited by tourists since 1993 and was the first habituated gorilla group in the Bwindi forest.
Before setting off we loaded up our porters with Ali's camera equipment and enough water for the day. I chose a female porter, my reasoning was that that was the law of the jungle, were the men just sit around eating and snoozing while the women do all the work. I also figured she was more likely to spend her tips on something more useful than banana gin. Ali played safe and chose a young dude called Saul. I loaded up Christine with my massive backpack whilst Saul slipped on Ali’s light camera bag. She’d done a sterling job of resisting the temptation to bring all her lenses plus tripod. Christine looked at Saul and then at me and wondered why I was torturing her. After realising I was not some sort of primate or giant cat, I made them swap bags. It put the smile back on Christine’s face.
After a quick drive to the start of our trek we set off up through the surrounding farm land to the start of the forest. The boundary between forest and farmland is defined at the point where the trees have been cut down and the land claimed for banana plantations. Unfortunately 40% of the Impenetrable forest was penetrated by the locals and chopped down, hence threatening the habitat of the mountain gorillas
. Personally, I’d rather we should keep the mountain gorillas and build some McDonalds there if they need food, even though I think all McDonalds should be closed down immediately. Globalisation is evil. This is why I think the Ugandans have the mountain gorilla tourism setup spot on. The permit money is used not only for gorilla preservation but 20% goes to the local villages too for building new schools and hospitals. All the UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) employees are from the local villages and all the tourist souvenirs are made by local people. There’s no "Made in China" labels here. The best thing about the gorilla trekking though is that only a few families are “used” to humans and they receive tourists for an hour a day. The other 250+ gorillas are left alone to be wild and can remain wild in the protected forest. I think that’s pretty cool and hope Diane Fossey would be at least satisfied with the situation and the fact it’s not some sort of Disneyland ride, though judging by the trekking attire of our American friends (shorts and sandals), they clearly think it is. This is real trekking into real jungle to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat. They are free to roam anywhere in the forest and if we want to see them we just have to track and follow.
This is exactly what we did. Trackers go into the forest in the morning to see where they have moved too since waking from their night nests
. They also cut a makeshift track to the gorillas to make it easier for the less able bodied, which is pretty much all Americans. After stumbling through the jungle for an hour we reached the morning trackers. Our family was quite close to the edge of the forest but some families can be as far as 6 hours trek away. This was no problem though because me and Ali would have pretty much walked to Rwanda to see them. Upon reaching the trackers we were told to dump our bags and trekking sticks and given some further instructions. If a gorilla charges crouch down, become submissive and do not look the gorilla in the eye. This is your queue to fight with the gorilla and in the history of unarmed man versus gorilla, man has always lost. The mountain gorilla is the ultimate king of the jungle. Those first few moments following the tracker into the jungle were you can hear a growling sound and breaking branches was truly scary. We held our breath and then there she was, one of the females eating in the shade of the bush. She was totally unperturbed by our presence, though I was quite nervous. A few minutes later, some heavy rustling in the background and the silverback was there, feasting on a tree. We managed to swing round to the front and got a good 5 minutes watching him eat. He was just huge and had such presence, it’s impossible to describe. But watching him was also a humbling and calming experience. Our initial fear had been replaced by complete and utter awe. Old Silvery finished eating and moved into the forest shade
. We waited for him to settle, but he then beat his chest which made a sound which reminded me of the old king-kong movies. The tracker explained that he was just reminding us who is the king, as though we needed reminding! After following him into the jungle and managing to take some pictures, the blackback appeared from the bush. He was smaller than the silverback, but was more menacing. Old Silvery was in the twilight of his years so was happy to just gaze at the tourists. Blacky was young, strong and confident. He was going to be the new silverback and had no problem walking confidently straight past our group. You could have reached out and touched him. We managed to take some more photos and videos but the whole experience was becoming surreal. When you looked into the gorillla’s eyes it was like meeting a long lost friend. You could just tell that they were weighing each of us up and processing information about their surroundings. They were probably trying to work out whether Ali was the whitest tourist they’ve ever seen and why I was wearing a stupid looking bandana. We moved on past the guys and found the girls settled into a tree and were busy devouring it for lunch. At one point, the gorilla moved to try and reach some branches and promptly fell out of the tree. She landed right next to me. If I’d taken one stride to my right she would have landed right on top of me! That would been cool! Fortunately, she was a little confused when she landed and I managed to back away cautiously, heart racing. That was enough fun for one day and our trackers called time and we were led out of the forest. It was the quickest hour of my life but one of the best. A truly amazing experience which I recommend to everyone.
So today was our long anticipated gorilla trek. After months of waiting and winding Ali up by saying that they would be able to smell her fear, we set off to visit our great ancestors. Starting at 8am we were split into our groups and were given the gorilla briefing… the main thing being to not run away if they charge which is probably easier said than done. Our group of 8 would be trekking the Mubare group which is made up of only 5 gorillas, consisting of one silverback, one blackback (who is only 4 months off becoming a silverback), a juvenile male and two females. This particular gorilla group was smaller than usual due to the fact that the head gorilla, the silverback, was now 40 years old and his group had split as younger silverbacks had left to form their own group taking his women with them. However, two females had stayed in anticipation that the younger blackback would take over the leadership and the group would start to swell again as new females joined the group and the existing females were knocked up by the new silverback