We’re up at the crack of dawn, before the sun is even considering putting in an appearance, we’ve collected our breakfast and a packed lunch and we are making our way along winding hill roads in the dark emerging above the clouds with a panorama over the valley. We eventually enter the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and our driver, Amos points out Columbus monkeys, dic dic (I’ve stopped giggling at that by now) and also explains that he saw jungle elephant walking along the road the other day. We arrive at the information centre where we hand in our passports to be checked and we are given a briefing on how to behave around the Gorilla’s and told which families we were due to be tracking. The trackers actually go out from 7am in the morning so that when we join them they have found the gorillas and have a good idea of their temperaments and behaviour. We’ve already been warned on what to wear and what not to wear and our guides check we’re suitably dressed. We are told to expect to walk from 1 hour to maybe 6 which is why we have snacks and water. We will only have 1 hour with the gorillas from the time we see the first ones. We also can’t take our bags near the gorillas as we have food so we just have our camera’s and the guide looks after them. We are given the option of using wooden sticks to help with the terrain (I highly recommend you take one!!). The guides use machetes to cut through the vegetation and an armed guard accompanies us with an AK47 (just in case).
Suitably equipped and informed we set off into the forest making excited squeaking noises (well me and two other girls) and chatting quietly. Immediately I am aware that I have underestimated the fact that it is a sodding jungle! The terrain is steep and uneven in places and there are logs and tree rots to navigate. Concentration as opposed to excited squeaking is required. Once accustomed to the terrain we also establish which vines you can and can’t hold onto. The red ones it appears are spiky and not particularly reliable to hold on to, the green ones appear much more sturdy, unfortunately it is me that ensures this theory is fully tested as the group watches me slide down a slope into some vegetation. After 40 minutes of walking we can hear the trackers radio through to our guides informing them that the gorillas are close by. Five minutes later we are face to face with an adolescent male sitting in a bit of a clearing eating. As you will commonly read in blogs or see on any wildlife commentary it is extremely difficult not to be moved or in my case unnerved by how similar these creatures are to ourselves. Their eyes, mannerisms and even facial expressions are so familiar yet somehow you are aware that this is a wild animal. As if to interrupt my musings on the theory of relativity a deep grumbling sound followed by short grunts and eventually a thud or two and an urgent rustle of vegetation indicates that this is indeed a creature not to be messed with. Something has irritated the adolescent and he charges a couple of meters towards us. The guides are very quick to react and the situation is calmed and the now the seemingly much larger creature goes back to eating his leaves as if nothing happened. Some members of the group are considering the need for new pants (underwear) I personally covered my face and eyes and worked on the theory that if I couldn’t see him he wouldn’t see me.
As we continue on trekking it starts to rain and the vegetation underfoot becomes somewhat slippy, always on hand to entertain I take another spectacular stack (fall) and slip down on what seems like a green slide for a very long time until a helpful yet prickly bush breaks my fall in quite an intimate manner. As I’m sat swearing with my nice new green skirt on the group are trying to show concern but obviously I must look quite amusing with my legs dangling out of the other side of the bush and even the guide is laughing as he tries to drag me out by my shoulders. Once I’ve readjusted various items of clothing and found my belongings from the bush we are informed that a silver back could be heard grunting close by but was not sitting still enough for us to approach him safely. I wonder if he saw me stack it….We also come across an individual sitting in a tree sheltering (wisely) from the rain and two juveniles grooming in a bit of a clearing. We spend the remainder of our time watching these two and how they interact with one another. We then hike back to where we started via various muddy patches and I obligingly have a roll in those to. That night the group is reunited over dinner and we share details of our experiences and of course the tale of my intimate encounter with a bush. All are in agreement that we would certainly do it again and that we have been extremely lucky to have shared an encounter with such fascinating creatures.
Tips for surviving the jungle.
- Don’t sulk just because it’s raining and don’t be fooled by the description of ‘Mountain’ Gorillas – that’s where they live and it’s not going to be flat
- You need sensible walking shoes and accept a stick when offered
- Take a back pack, I had a shoulder bag and its swinging as I walking was most likely the reason I lost balance so many times
- Charge your camera but put it down after a little while and take in your surroundings with your eyes.
- Everything needs to be water proof and put anything you care about in plastic bags
- If you can find cheap gardening gloves bring them, a much nicer experience when trying to grip vines, you can always give them to one of the guides when your done.
- Don’t wear anything you care about but possibly a spot of makeup as your taking lots of photos and your mum might want one (optional for boys). Don’t wear bright colours either.
- Eat a decent breakfast and make sure you have snacks and water in your day pack.
- Bear in mind your grandchildren may not even get to see these creatures and that you are extremely privileged to temporarily share their habitat.
- You may not see an infant, don’t sulk about that either, it is very hard for the guards to gage the mothers behaviour if there are infants around and hence it may not be safe.