October 9, 2018 | By Donna Evans
I just returned from the most amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience in Uganda, where I was able to go on gorilla trek. Did you know there are less than 900 mountain gorillas in the wild? My group of travel companions and I were able to meet a family of them face-to-face in the beautiful country of Uganda. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park claims several gorilla families that have been habituated, so they do not become alarmed when they see humans in their home.
After a 2-hour drive to Ruhija where we would enter the impenetrable terrain in search of these precious animals, we prepared by donning rain gear, gators and gloves. We loaded our backpacks with cameras, phones, lunch (no way of knowing how long we would trek before finding our “family”), and extra water in a very heavy thermos.
The drive to Ruhija was a very bumpy, scenic ride on an unpaved road whose potholes were small crevasses and giant bumps/hills, making our potholes in the US look like smooth sailing. The one lane road actually went in two directions. When an oncoming vehicle approached we (and they) headed for what was supposed to be a shoulder, but looked more like a ditch, still keeping part of our vehicles on the road. Exciting, especially when meeting a large truck… Fortunately, our driver had excellent skills, having done this for many years and understanding who really has the right of way. We watched the sunrise and the small villages awaken with people on the road in the dark, as daylight approached, heading for markets and neighboring villages. Very few have modes of transportation that are more than their own two feet. (They are much more fit than most of us.)
Upon arrival at our starting point we were greeted by singing and dancing, followed by a briefing by the Uganda National Park Service, which was followed by a briefing by our guide. He showed us a photo of the family we would be tracking and explained that trained trackers were already in hot pursuit of their location. The trackers head out early in the morning, beginning their mission at the point the gorillas were last seen. They then follow the clues of the forest and their residents to locate the nomadic mammals and alert our guide as to their location.
We climbed into the forest and struggled over piles of wet, slippery leaves, vines that caught your feet, trees that broke when you tried to use them to pull yourself up or hold yourself while climbing down and using our walking sticks whenever possible (though they didn’t always find solid ground). We each hired a porter to carry our backpacks, keeping our hands free for our treacherous endeavor. Great idea! They also held our hands on steep slopes, pushed or pulled us, depending on direction and were there for anything else we needed. Our journey took less than 2 hours, though it seemed longer at times, with such difficult terrain and altitude.
Once the gorilla family was spotted by our guide, walking sticks were given to the porters who stayed behind, as we skidded and climbed and pushed our way through brambles and vines to get within our own viewing of the primate family.
We were able to see 6 of the 11 members of this group and were in awe of the enormous, gentle, beautiful silverback, 2 babies, 2 females and a young silverback (called a black back). One of the babies loved to pound his chest, play in the trees and pester one of the females, named Thursday (the only name I can remember). The youngsters were full of energy and in between eating, one of them came very close to us while swinging from the vines from tree to tree. The adults were munching on leaves and didn’t even seem to notice us invading their home. They are gentle, beautiful, majestic animals, so at home in this impenetrable terrain.
Our hour of wonder seemed to end much too quickly, but the memories we had will be in our minds and hearts (and on Facebook) forever. I highly recommend this experience to any adventure traveler.