For many Gorilla trekking is a bucket list item. For me it was something I had no intentions of doing as it had never really appealed to me. Had it not been for Paula roping it into our weekend getaway to Lake Bunyonyi I don’t think I would have done this on my own. Forever ago I went chimp trekking in Budongo forest, a pretty impromptu stopover along a trip some friends and I did from Murchison falls through Fort portal and down to Kanungu. It was the most amazing experience that year and after that I didn’t see any other ape topping that experience so gorillas were never on the brain. Fast forward a few years and here I am.
At about 5:30am with a delicious breakfast stowed away, we left the lodge heading for Ruhija that was 2 hours away arriving at Bwindi National Park. Other trekkers were gathered watching a welcome performance dance (Ekizino) by some Bakiga women from the area. It was a really nice energetic start to the morning. After a briefing on the Do’s&Donts of the forest we were separated into different groups and told which Gorilla families we would be trekking, in our case, the Mukiza family. Only 80 people in groups of 8 are allowed to trek daily. An option of porters at 15$ each is given to help with bags and giving a little nudge here and there while traversing the trail. For those who can’t handle the strenuous journey ahead there’s an option of a stretcher for 300$.we opted for two porters; Gloria and Speria.
There are only about 900 mountain gorillas left in existence making them an endangered species. Half of these can be found here in Bwindi and the rest in Virunga National park that borders Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Before the trek begins, spotters are sent out earlier and brighter than you and I would care to go to let the guides know where to go and what not.
The trek to see the gorillas was an excruciating 3 hours affair up some slippery slopes and down some treacherous thicket, penetrating the impenetrable…..(penetrate,hehehe such a funny word) is not easy people. There wasn’t a drop of rain in sight and the sun really came out! I was dying, thank goodness for Speria if she wasn’t there I don’t know what I would have done, I always considered myself somewhat fit but that notion went right out the window after the first hour. After eons sliding, falling and sweating buckets we finally got to them, Mountain Gorillas are a sight to behold!
The first one was Kanwanyi, very chilled out, then a female with her unbelievably cutes baby and just to the left the head gorilla in charge; Silverback Mukiza himself. Pretty big guy that one his silver hairs glistened in the sun as he strutted about and made for quite the show. At some point we got really close and Mukiza got up suddenly as if to lunge. Us girls were so ready to sprint back to Kampala there and then. We’d been told in the briefing not to run when charged, just slowly back away. Easier said than done I was having none of that. Turns out he was simply adjusting his sitting position to his other butt cheek and went about his business. Trekkers are allowed an hour with the gorillas but with 19 minutes to go, we were all pretty satisfied with the experience and happy to call it a day. Then it was back to a 4 hour trek back up to the reception. I won’t lie I thought about the stretcher situation, got ashamed of myself and immediately got my ass in gear to finish what I had started, slowly! Speaking of said stretchers, a few months ago I saw a picture on social media of two foreigners being hoisted up during the trek. The man who’d posted it was up in arms talking about how slavery and colonialism were alive and well and calling for a boycott or whatever, naturally people in the comments were equally seething. Thing is though, I feel like if you’re going to have such a strong opinion on something at least educate yourself on the issue, until you’ve been down there and done this trek you really can’t be out here foaming at the mouth. This trek is difficult and should be classified as an extreme sport. the potters doing it are very willing, no one is forcing them to do it and it is a source of income and also, it’s not just for foreigners, it’s for anyone that needs it.
Upon completing the trek all battered, bruised and splinter ridden for some there was a certificate awarding ceremony which I think is just incredibly great. This trek is an achievement! In all we started at 8am and ended at 4pm were we left and made our way back to the comfort of our lodge for some much needed R&R and gin.
Gorilla trekking is an amazing, out of this world experience. I truly saw and understood what all the fuss was about. Would I do it again, absolutely NOT! I do however recommend it .just so you know there are instances where you could hike all day and not see any gorillas, it’s not guaranteed but trips are organized to make up for such an event to ensure you get your moneys’ worth.
Thank you Gloria and Speria. You truly are wonder women!