I am going to really struggle with writing this blog post simply because the experience was indescribable. I don’t think my writing will do it justice but with the help of some really good describing words hopefully I will paint the picture for you. I have heard from so many people that this is a once in a lifetime experience and I now realise why so many people were telling me so. It truly is. There is nothing more exhilarating than watching a young gorilla play in the trees under the watchful eyes of his loving parents from only a matter of feet away. And the beautiful scenery of the Impenetrable Forest providing the dramatic backdrop making the experience truly unforgettable.
The morning started out very early. The earliest morning we have had yet however the adrenalin from the excitement didn’t allow the early start to dampen our spirits. We started off the day with a hearty breakfast and a chance to pack up a lunch that was going to fuel us for a long day ahead. As we were all unsure exactly how long we were going to be we all packed our bags to cover every eventuality. As the gorillas are wild animals that move around in search of food and places to sleep they never stay in one place. As they are not radio collared either we have to trek to find them with the help of an advanced tracking team. We could have been out for a whole day or for a matter of hours so being prepared was tricky. We had to ensure we had enough water and enough food to keep us going. The last thing any of us wanted was to have to bail out from dehydration or exhaustion. As it was turning out to be a sunny day I was glad to be bringing along heaps of water with me. After all was packed in the car we headed off for a drive towards the starting point. The views along the road were fabulous. Sadly we didn’t have much time to stop to take them in as we wanted to make it in good time but the chance that we did have was wonderful. Misty mountains and a beautiful sunrise was another bonus to the having to be awake early.
When we arrived we headed up a small hill to the briefing point. Ok so the hill alone was enough to put me out of breath, I realise at this point that I was definitely not born to trek. In all honesty I started to worry about the day ahead, I wasn’t sure if I could take a few hours of trekking. Not too sure why I was worrying to be truthful, I was about to embark on an adventure to find a family of Gorillas, being out of breath should really have been the last thing on my mind! Once we were all in the briefing room we had a chance meet the guides and porters as well as the security that would be escorting us a long the way. When all the introductions were over we headed off with our guide Florence in search of the Nshongi family of Gorillas.
The going was pretty easy at the beginning and I slowly began to get more comfortable and sure of myself. This was going to be easier than I thought which made my levels of excitement reach an all new level of high. The scenery was beautiful, as we wanted to get to the Gorillas as soon as possible we rarely stopped for long but when we did have moments to break to catch our breath the views made it hard. The trek alone was a highlight for me already. It was well worth every stumble and slip just to be up there. If by chance we didn’t see the gorillas I was going to be happy with the trek, I love being outside in the sunshine and somewhere new. Nothing beats that and I was happy to be there.
Along the way Florence was on the radio with the advanced tracking team. The gorillas had moved away from the main trail and were heading deeper in to the bush. As this was the case we had to leave the comfort of the beaten track and follow the real trails that the gorillas made. The going became a lot tougher. With not having a well worn track below your feet it can get pretty hair raising. Our guides did a lot to help us by clearing away as much of the track as possible and were always there to lend a helping hand on the uphills and downhills too. Yet again I became the laughing stock of the group. I am quite clumsy naturally so as you can imagine having to attempt to lug myself up a hill can get pretty awkward. My porter too found it hilarious. I spent most of the time on my bum sliding as it was easier and better for my own safety. A decision I should have made sooner but refused to give in to the forest. Still though providing some entertainment was the least I could do. I have become used to this, it seems like I’m getting good at it! We had been on the move for a few hours now and our energy was beginning to fade. Luckily Florence had been on the radio with the team ahead and we were getting closer. We could hear their calls at this point and the signs were definitely pointing us in the right direction. We just had to make it over the ridge, up a bit and then down on to the area where the gorillas had decided to stop for their lunch. Our excitement and energy perked up we put our heads down and headed on up. Once we were over the ridge we got our first sightings of the gorilla family. It was hard to spot them at first as they we so busy gorging themselves on the delicacies the forest has to offer but as the guides cleared more of the vegetation away we all soon realised that we were surrounded by the creatures that closely resemble us. Leaving our porters and bags behind we headed in closer armed with nothing but our cameras. Taking a quick look around I could see everyone was smiling, even Florence. It’s so good to see that even the guides don’t get tired of this. They have to do this every day and it seems like every day is better than the last. It was so wonderful to see the smiling faces of the members of the group too. I could tell that even though we were all exhausted we all thought that it was worth while. We wouldn’t have changed anything for the world!
Sneaking in a little closer we cleared an area and settled down to an hour of what would be the best wildlife watching any of us would ever encounter. When my friends found out I was going to see the gorillas they told me to not sit there and look at them through a camera lens, they said it was important to take heaps of photos but sitting there watching them was like nothing else. I am glad they gave me this last piece of advice, I have this tendency to be a little snap happy so putting down my lens and just sitting back to watch was hard but the best thing I have ever done. Watching a young male gorilla swinging and bouncing in the trees was so much fun and such a special moment. It’s so incredible to think how closely related we are to these wild creatures and to see the resemblance in the way they play or care for their children is fascinating. It has to be without doubt the best hour I have ever spent. The gorillas weren’t fazed by our presence at all, they continued on with their day and provided us with many many moments of entertainment, heaps of really great photos and of course a lifetimes worth of great memories too. No body was talking, not because we weren’t allowed to but because we were all speechless. Nothing could prepare me for the elation I was feeling at that point and there are no words to describe it.
When our hour was up I was sad to leave, I could have stayed there for days. It was time to go though, we were encroaching in on them so it was only fair to leave them in peace. An hour was all we needed really, it was a good chance to get a glimpse of gorilla life and ample time to take heaps of great photos! I soon forgot that my feet were sore and my body ached, all I could think was “Oh. My. Goodness. I have just been within reaching distance of one of the worlds rarest and endangered species. Amazing!” Of course on the way out we spoke of nothing else. All of us trying to out do each other on our descriptions of the experience and somehow comparing photos on the move. All knowing that it was worth every second of it and of course every penny. In fact I couldn’t even put a price on it, I would definitely have shelled out more just to be there and I will most certainly do it again. And again. And again.
We stopped to eat our lunch on the way out and were soon back on the tracks that we used to come in. It took less than half the time to make our way back to the starting point and when we all arrived we were sad that it was over. It was truly a great way to spend a day in Uganda. Florence then presented us all with our certificates and explained that she wasn’t expecting us to get back until 6pm, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We made it back by 3pm so we were all quite impressed with ourselves too. Florence was great and the other guides were awesome too. We really did have a good team to guide us for the day and I left feeling very jealous that they got to do it all again the next day.