Today was the big day, the day to hike and attempt to find the endangered mountain gorillas who now number around 750-800 and who are slowly increasing in number. This was an amazing day of seeing these beautiful, peaceful creatures, who are very closely related to humans. They are such stunning creatures, and I feel so privileged to see these gorillas.
It makes me mad to know that for a long time they were killed to make there hands into ashtrays 😦
Yesterday we heard the stories from members of our group who had an amazing gorilla experience. While I was very happy for them it made me even more excited and nervous that my group might miss them. We started the day with breakfast at our campsite at 5 am for a 5.30 am pickup. Our group of six; Arran, Roz, Belinda, Logan, Emilie and myself.
It took 2 hours to get to Rushaga area in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. From the visitors car park it was a small hike to the briefing area. They take our interactions seriously and there were numerous rules we have to follow. It costs $670 USD for this hike, all the money goes to the protection of these gorillas. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has about 12 gorilla groups of which 4 are used to humans. We were selected to track the Bwera family which has three silver back male gorillas (which is extremely unusual, its more common to only have 1 dominate male) and there baby gorillas including one 2 weeks old.
After our briefing from our guide David, we were handed our walking sticks and we were off. The first part of the hike is only a rough path, slippery with mud but quite possible to move on with reasonable fitness and balance. Earlier in the day 2 rangers had left to find the Bwera gorilla family, starting from their last point of contact the night before. Roughly 45 minutes into the hike we were informed that they had been found. It was time to take this hike off trial and into the very rough forest. This was a challenge at all times, you had to be extremely careful as you couldn’t most of the time see the ground so you couldn’t be sure of your footing. It appeared that we were always either pulling ourselves up or slowing descending. But 1 hour 30 minutes after starting, with us all sweating (my quite a lot) we found our gorillas 🙂
At first from my location I could only see two gorillas but over the next 25-30 minutes others started coming into view. These family has 11 gorillas and over the hour we saw most of them. I got a glimpse of the 2 week old baby which was keep away from our group. A one year old gorilla however was having a whale of a time, playing and laughing, he come right up to our group several times and seemed to want to play but we had strict rules our hands stayed away from the gorillas they must be protected. This young one eventually rolled away from us, he was having some much fun. At one point one of the older females run up to us, I think we were laughing to hard when the 1 year old gorilla fell off her back. The guide made some noises to get the female gorilla to stop moving too close to us.
When the group move we continued to track them into even rougher terrain and were rewarded by seeing several gorillas in the trees including one that fall down when his branch broke :). Up to this point I had managed to avoid falling down but when we started heading back to the path by descending in very difficult terrain I moved to crab crawled down to avoid rounding down.
The surprise bonus at the end was the one year old come down to the track and walked right passed us including me. Literally inches from my leg. Them dad, the big silver back gorilla came down to watch his baby. The baby ended up following us leaving and the silver back following the baby. What an experience!!!!!
You only get one hour with the gorillas for their safety but I’ll treasure every minute. On the way back however I’ll hopefully one day laugh at the three times I fell in the slippery conditions. Thank god it didn’t actually rain on the day, I would have spent most of the day in the mud I’m betting. My clothes come back with a look of the forest and mud, this meant an essential clothes clean for tonight thankfully done by local campsite staff 🙂
It’s expensive to visit the gorillas, physically difficult and a long way to travel from Australia. But it is worth it.