The clock turned 05:00 am and the alarm rang, finally! We had been sleeping on and off during the whole night as our bodies were filled with excitement. You know that feeling as a kid waiting for Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. You just can’t fall asleep because of the presents waiting to be unwrapped. It was just like that. It was time to meet the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda!
Permanent tent at Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort
It was totally darkness and we couldn’t see a step ahead of us. But in a half awake state we stumbled our way to the restaurant where we got a breakfast to go; a toast, fruits, boiled egg and a juice box. At 05:30 we were ready to start the 2hour long journey to get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. It was clear sky, the stars were looking down on us and so far it looked good. We had been told we could expect rain there up in the mountains, they actually almost promised us so.
We had a few stops for picture opportunities as the sun raised. It couldn’t have been more magical with the mountain scenery and misty valleys.
When we arrived we were ready for briefing, then we were divided into two groups. Our group had a long drive before we arrived our starting point. We met our porters, which carry your stuff and help you on the way through the jungle: pushing, supporting and dragging you. We also got a walking stick each (say yes if you are offered one, it’s highly recommended). The porters are well worth the little cost, and you can share one between two people. You will support the local people by doing so as these porters are actually school going students either in their vacation or have been chased out of school due to school fees. By paying some money to have a porter with you, you will have contributed to community development indirectly.
Then we sat off, walking upwards the steep hill with one guide carrying an AK47 in front and another guide in the back. This is in case we meet elephants or other aggressive animals. The elephants who live in this area aren’t used to people so they can be more dangerous. The guides will only try to scare them away by fire a warning shot into the air.
When we started walking a third guide was already in the jungle looking for the gorillas, giving our guides updates on their radio. During our first hour of walking we knew we were “close”, but you never know as they can move from one location to another. We walked for 1 1/2 hour up a steep road, up a muddy trail and then through tick jungle. Our guide in front used his machete to cut through branches, straws and anything in his way to make a path, if you can call it that. Finally we were about to get this once in a lifetime moment. We were about to sit down and watch the gorillas where they belong – in the wild.
It’s about 880 Mountain Gorillas left in the world and currently, the mountain gorilla’s habitat is limited to protected national parks in two regions of Africa. One group of gorillas lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. The other group is spread over three national parks in the Virungas mountain region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda.
One of the guides went through the most important information right before the group got to the gorillas. Then we had to leave everything but cameras with the porters.
We were so excited, we couldn’t believe we were this close to them. As we started walking closer to them we heard a gorilla growls and it sent chills down our spines. Almost there… The jungle opened up a little… And there they were! The first one we saw was a big Silverback sitting and eating. We got quite close and sat down to get some pictures.
A couple of young ones were playing and putting on a show for us, hammering on the chest to show us who’s the strongest one. It was so cool, and it’s a magical moment when you just sit there watching them and the gorillas mind their own business. As the gorillas moved we followed them in an ease peace. At one point the female gorilla got a bit upset as one of the guides got too close when trying to remove some branches, so she made a charge and a loud growl before she went back to what she did before: just sitting down eating with her young ones playing around.
The time with the gorillas is restricted to one hour, with only small groups visiting and only one visit per day per family. This is to safeguard the gorilla families and prevent excessive human contact.
That one hour flew by and it was time to leave the gorillas behind and head back to camp again.
Gorilla trekking is a once in a lifetime experience, quite expensive but totally worth it. We can’t tell how much the permit costs, as it was included in the East African Trail tour with Tucan Travel.
We think that Gorilla trekking is a must do when visiting this part of Africa. There are no glass, no bars, no rumbling safari car engine, just humans and gorillas together in the forest. And there are no words that can describe an experience like this; you just have to do it yourself.
Good to know:
- Be prepared for muddy trails and changeable weather, wear layers, long pants and long sleeved shirts and don’t forget good hiking shoes. Rainstorms can happen at any time in the forest so bring a waterproof jacket or rain poncho. Another tip: garden gloves can really come in handy as it can be slippery and somehow you need to hold on something just in case such happens.
- Bring food and enough water. You have to be prepared for many hours of hiking, some treks last well into the afternoon.
- Photography is an important component of your safari so make sure that you have your camera ready, charge your batteries and if necessary, carry extra batteries as you will need to take as many photographs in the one hour you will have with the gorillas.
Make sure that you switch off your flash while taking gorilla photographs.
- You will need to show your passport to get the permit.