Cake walk (compared to yesterday)

Just back from the second of the two gorilla treks. It was pure heaven compared to yesterday. Almost flat the entire time, and other than crossing a couple of streams, it felt like the gorillas were in our backyard.

We arrived while the family of ten gorillas were still sleeping. Eventually they were bothered enough by the ranger and his machete, that they got up and almost immediately started eating.

The silverback was the last to get up. Despite him being only 17 years old, his size is massive and under different circumstances I’m not sure how I would feel being that close. I sat within five feet from him while he was having breakfast, and he acted like he couldn’t care less.

We were lucky to see a ten-weeks “old” baby. He poked his head out a couple of times – enough for us to capture his cute face. He’s the only other male in the group, so he is likely to run the show once the current “president” stands down.

Good times all around and the one hour viewing slot went by very fast. We made it back to the briefing center before lunch and got our certificates for having successfully completed another hike.

I’m writing this from the Gorilla Forest Camp. Just had a monkey trying to steal the banana included in my box lunch. Such manners! Pretty sneaky that one – didn’t even see him coming but I still have the banana and the box.

What remains – other than to clean gear and clothes – is to jump on a small plane tomorrow morning. We fly from Chihihi airstrip to Entebbe, where we get to hang out at some day-hotel, before I’m off to Addis Ababa and Hong Kong early evening. If we’re on time I should be able to make it to the hotel just as the World Cup final starts.

It’s been a trip of a lifetime for sure. I feel very privileged to have seen some of the ~800 remaining wild mountain gorillas in the world, and it’s been fantastic to look into their eyes and watch their moves. I highly recommend visiting them – here or in Rwanda.

Signing off in Uganda,
John

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Looking for gorillas in all the right places

Visiting the chimpanzees was great but I came here to see the gorillas and it was very exciting to finally leave camp for the briefing center. I had slept quite well in the cooler temperatures and felt rested. Still, I was a little anxious as the group of gorillas I wanted to see was far away from camp and the longer hike – as pointed out to me on several occasions – would be no picnic.

After a 20 min. briefing we got divided into three groups. I got my wish and ended up in “H” group. You can visit only three families but there are actually more than 30 of them. They keep the rest away from humans to minimize the risk of diseases being introduced – both ways.

We drove for 45 min. before we got to our starting point. I got a walking stick and found a porter that carried my camera back and my backpack all the way.

More than two hours of pretty serious hiking followed – uphill and downhill at rather extreme angles. Sometimes with footing, sometimes not. Luckily it wasn’t too slippery but because of the dense vegetation, you had to look for where to put your feet at all times. Hardly any of the hike was flat and the walking stick was very helpful more than once. Same with the gloves as you need to grab what’s closest, if you start slipping.

We had an 82-year old Texan in the group that probably no-one thought would finish after the harsh trail revealed itself. We waited for him on several occasions; which in the end worked out in our favor since the one-hour allowance for watching the gorillas didn’t start until he made it there. And he did make it there and back – respect!

We stopped just short of the gorillas and left as much as we could behind. After that we slowly made our way down to a little opening in the forest where we could see leaves and branches move. The ranger who had been there since early morning started clearing the forest floor using his machete, and soon we could see one, two, three and four gorillas incl. a smaller one-year old.

As they consume between 10 and 25 kilos of plants every day, they spend a significant part of their day eating and as such they obviously prefer to be where the food is. So as much as we wanted for them to stay in the clear, they naturally congregated towards the green stuff. I did get great photos though and I have to say that all the trekkers and rangers I have met, have been very helpful and accommodating while at the same time respecting the gorilla’s boundaries.

We ended up spending 90 min. with the family before we had to leave. Time flew by and it was no fun packing up. At the very last minute we ended up sitting close to the silverback, but he did a really good job camouflaging himself and I don’t believe I got a single picture of him. Good to see all the youngsters hang around him. He seemed fairly relaxed but there’s no doubt that if any of us had come too close to the young ones, he would have let us know to back off in whatever tone level he would have deemed appropriate.

We ate our lunch a few hundred feet back. After that it was another two hours hike before we got to the cars. We arrived back at the briefing center just after five – absolutely exhausted, dirty and undoubtedly very smelly. We got a certificate for successful completion and was back at the lodge just before six o’clock. Needless to say this was a day very well spent and one I won’t soon forget.

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