Day 7 - Gorillas in the Mist
It was an early start on the Saturday morning, as we had a good distance to travel to get to the Bwindi Inpenetrable National Park, where we were to trek to see the gorillas. So we left in darkness and arrived shortly before 9.00am. We were split into two groups, and I was in the smaller group of 6. The other group were loaded into their little bus and driven away, but our bus never arrived! Our porters arrived and took our backpacks to lighten our load.
After a briefing as to what we could and couldn't do, and expectations, our guide led us off, straight into the jungle beside the briefing room! Down the steep slope a short distance of about 50 metres, where the guide got a phone call from the family's trackers. So then we had to back track up the hill a ways, then go around the side of the crater slope for about 200 metres, clambering over and through the dense vegetation, trying to not slip on the creepers and vines.
Stop! Our guide was pointing downwards. Cameras were grabbed out of backpacks. There, almost hidden in the vegetation, was our first silverback!
Above: First sight of the silverback.
He wasn't being very cooperative as to the best poses for us, so the guides set out to veer around him, and after he'd moved a little further away, he finally settled and we were able to get quite close. I ended up sprawled on the vegetation, fighting to retain my balance, about 15 feet from him! Brilliant! He wasn't particularly concerned about us, as long as we didn't try to get any closer that where I was. He just sat there stuffing his face with leaves all the time.
The other members of the family could be heard moving around in the dense vegetation, but we couldn't see much of them at all, until the "baby" at 3 years of age appeared, climbing up a thin sapling. Perhaps he was still learning, as when he had climbed right to the top, naturally the poor sapling broke off under the weight and went crashing downwards! A slow learner, he soon appeared climbing up yet another sapling. Yep, the samething happened! It snapped off and crashed down, with him clinging to it as it fell. We didn't see him again.
Below: The "baby" climbing his sapling. Not a good photo, as he was a fair distance away.
Time was passing, so the guide suggested we move on and hopefully see more on the way out. Visitors are permitted only one hour in the gorillas' presence, and this is strictly enforced. We'd only gone a short way when Emma (an Aussie) slipped, twisted around on the vines and fell, and went flying off the "track", downhill on her back, arms and legs splayed out! But she was laughing all the time. Being immediately behind her, and fearing she may fall further, I managed to grab an ankle in one hand and a sturdy vine in the other to keep me in place, and a guide reached down through the vegetation and grabbed her wrist, and so she managed to be pulled back onto the track, still laughing.
After only another short distance, we came upon some other members of the family, although it was extremely difficult to get photos of them. But we could watch them moving through the vegetation.
In all, we saw three silverbacks, 2 adult females, two "babies" of 3 and 4 years of age. Also, the guides told us that one of the females, who had inconveniently kept her back to us, had a tiny baby of 3 months clinging to her chest. Not a bad tally, really.
Time being up, we began the long, hard, steep climb back to the top. This was exhausting, and being the "oldie" by far of the group, I was assisted on occasion by the guides reaching a hand back down to me to pull me up the steeper sections, and occasionally the lead guide who was now below me, pushed me up with his hands on my bum. Cheeky lad!! <G>
It was so, so hard I could only climb about 20 paces then needed to rest until my heartbeat steadied a little before continuing. Not really an oldie's ideal pasttime, this climbing up and down steep hills through dense jungle, believe me! But I did it, and we eventually emerged from the jungle onto the dirt road quite near the lodges and offices.
We were then presented with our "graduation" certificates of achievement, and congratulated for fully observing the conservation principles used in this National Park. We, of course, got to browse the small offering of tee-shirts and other items liked carved gorillas, etc, so I bought a tee and a small gorilla carving as mementos of this hard, but wonderful trek. It's not cheap at US$500 (plus transport, porterage, tipping guides etc) but well worth doing, knowing that all the money goes towards the upkeep of these amazing animals and their habitat.
We were incredibly lucky in finding the family so close to base camp, as there'd quite recently been a group who arrived back at 9pm, in the dark, not having seen ANY gorillas!! And I hate to think of how hard their trek must have been, as well as disappointing.
Above and Below: some views of the steep terrain, from the road back out to civilisation.
Highly recommended. Just do it!
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