Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Uganda: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

[November 8, 2011, Uganda] After an early morning (but not as early as in Rwanda), great French press coffee (the coffee throughout Uganda was superb!) and a hearty breakfast, we headed down the road 5 mins to the Bwindi park headquarters for our safety briefing and to meet the rest of our group.  

After meeting the two other trekkers in our group of 8, I have a warning for everyone who reads this: DO NOT EVER allow your travelers to go gorilla trekking in Uganda without hiking boots. One lady in our group was trekking in socks and Keens. It didn’t go well, needless to say, and I would highly recommend that all agents carefully review suggested packing lists with their travelers.

After our safety briefing, Denis drove us up and “behind” the mountain to our starting point to trekking the H Group. I think that the drive to the trekking point was one of the highlights of being in Bwindi, and of our trip. The scenery was surreal, other-worldly. I’ve never seen such vibrant greens, so many soaring hills and steep slopes seemingly impossibly planted with tea and maize. 

Villages dotted the hillsides; locals clad in bright fabrics carried baskets of freshly-plucked tea leaves on their heads and smiled their brightest smiles as we passed. It was such a wonderful way to start the day, and it felt so real – just one of those moments that I will tuck away in the Africa corner of my heart (maybe I should say “a corner of my African heart”). 

After reaching the Forest, which is quite easy to identify as the farmland halts instantly and the truly impenetrable forest rises up like a green wall, we stopped on the side of the road and Denis announced it was time to start trekking. I looked out the window and there was a small...pathway that led deep into the dark forest. I guessed that was where we were headed. 

When we asked the guides and trackers how far we had to hike before we would reach the H Group, they were very vague and their response reminded me of parents answering kids, “are we there yet?”… “almost…” They do this with good reason, as the whole trekking experience is a bit like a junior high algebraic equation: if the trekkers are trekking at .5 miles per hour in one direction and the gorillas are moving in the same direction at 3 miles per hour how long will it take the trekkers to reach the gorillas?!

It had been raining heavily on the opposite side of the mountain at Park HQ, but this side was drier and even held the promise of sunshine. Still, I was glad I had my gaiters and gloves as the foliage and underbrush were wet and there were lots of spiny plants and nettles and it was MUDDY! 

We ended up trekking, part of the way on a wild-hard-to-follow trail and part of the time bushwhacking until we reached the first three gorillas who were lounging in low grass and bushes preening each other; the older female had a tiny baby who was nursing and playing. The silverback was moving through the underbrush above us and we crossed a little stream (wet feet!) and continued to follow the female with the baby, a couple other individuals and the silverback through the forest – what a feeling! We are truly so lucky. 

From the forest, the gorillas skirted the park and then continued into the shambas and open farmland. Just as we spotted the gorillas, the sun broke through the clouds the colors were so rich and bright. We continued to watch the gorillas for an hour (maybe a little longer) as they interacted, lounged in the sun and climbed trees to eat fruit. Time stands still when you are with gorillas. 

After our viewing had ended, we hiked up a VERY steep hill to head back towards the vehicle (which really took as long as the trek TO the gorillas). 

NOTE: the trekking is difficult in Uganda. You are at a higher altitude, walking on paths that don’t exist and the adrenaline is pumping. An older lady in our group really struggled with the steep hillsides and the altitude. But, if you can manage and with hiring a local porter (who are $20 to hire + tip and will essentially carry you if needed), almost anyone could manage, and the pay-off is 100% worth the toils.

(See more in my full Uganda 2011 trip report.)
Contact us for more info about the trekking with Classic Africa Safaris.

Photos by Lyndsay Harshman/The Kusini Collection. View and "like" more Uganda 2011 trip report photos on Facebook.

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