A Uganda Bwindi Gorilla trekking experience

Very few things in life can be compared to a gorilla trekking experience. From the hike through the thick undergrowth of the dense mountain tropical rainforest, to the excitement of finding gorilla nests, from listening to the forest sounds to the exhilaration of spending what seems like fleeting seconds in the company of gorillas, every moment of a gorilla trekking experience is thrilling. Trekking mountain gorillas is a once in a lifetime experience that can only be done in Bwindi Impenetrable, Virunga or Mgahinga ranges national parks in Uganda or Rwanda. Yes, you can also track the gorillas in the Congo but it could cost you and arm and a leg! Literally! This gorilla tracking experience in Uganda took us all the way to Buhoma in Bwindi. We set out to track in Buhoma which was the first tracking point of gorillas in Uganda some 26 years ago. On the morning of tracking, we had a briefing at the UWA headquarters at 7:30am. After being told the dos and don’ts, the rangers made certain we were all well prepared with proper clothing and food and drink for the trek. We set out into the impenetrable forest in a group of eight accompanied by two armed rangers and three porters from the community. We made our way through the lush forest on a chilly morning with the lead rangers cutting away at the thick undergrowth with a machete. We jumped over streams and threaded through the mud, the hiking boots and long trousers quickly getting muddied. The long sleeved shirts came in handy as well, as the thorny vines intently scratched against us. No sooner had we started to enjoy the hike than we heard the signal of the rangers to halt. And in an instant the melodic forest sounds were interrupted by rapturous noises from moving branches. In no time we were surrounded by numerous juvenile gorillas. As we gathered ourselves in the face of unrelenting excitement, the number of gorillas in sight increased. First we could see three,then five, then ten and eventually we could see all 23 gorillas of the Rushegura family. This was one of the oldest gorilla families in Bwindi and with such a big number of individuals it had still managed to avoid a split that normally happens when the family number reaches 16 gorillas.
As the sun rose and started to pierce its golden rays through the forest canopy, everything came alive. The juvenile gorillas skipped about with little care as the mother gorillas safely tucked the babies on their stomachs. Our guides did a good job to keep us at the recommended 7 metre distance from the gorillas but, the restless juveniles were not having it. The curious juveniles kept coming closer to us. As I leaned back to get a photo with the silverback in the background, a cheeky juvenile came so close he scratched the back of my head. I turned my head only to realise he was not afraid of me but was rather excited by the prospect of making friends so he attempted to groom my hair! My friend Jake captured the moment in an incredible photo before I had to move away from the gorilla so as to keep the recommended 7 metre distance. The juvenile gorillas were quite excited by our presence so they kept on leaping up and down onto branches. The gorilla family slowly moved out of the park and towards the nearby lodge and before we knew it, we had followed them to the veranda of one of the cottages where we sat with the gorillas. We set about taking photos being very careful not to use the flash. As luck would have it, the sun was out at this juncture so the photos were much easier to take than the last time I trekked gorillas. In an instant we saw the silverback, sitting with arms crossed with an unmistakable quiet confidence. He occasionally signalled at the juveniles to behave as he stared at us as though to tell us he was the boss. The mother gorillas nursed the babies and made sure the babies were always safely tucked onto them. The one hour we were allowed elapsed in what felt like an instant but, the rangers allowed us a few extra minutes which, in the excitement of the moment felt like seconds. And then it was all over. We didn’t have to walk very far back to the briefing point as the gorillas had moved out of the park and to near where we started. We returned to a certificate of participation from Uganda Wildlife Authority and then returned to the lodge to enjoy the glorious views of the impenetrable forest.