Definitely longer blog posts coming up, but quick highlights on gorilla trekking a few months back in Bwindi impenetrable forest in Southern Uganda - I would likely not have gone if I had known just how tough it was going to be:-)
I still remember a naive Thekenyanexplorer asking the guide in the beginning "How steep can it get?" Haaaaaa! Jokes! We spent the first hour hiking up a major steep path that can only be described as Mount Longonot. Turns out this was the path that was to eventually bring us into "the impenetrable forest." Yaaaaani, this was not even the real trek yet. Having panted my life away I imagined that the gorillas would be so kind as to avail themselves to a nearby part of the forest - you know.....kind of meet us halfway....Nothing....We then spent the next hour in the forest mostly uphill with some few blessed moments of going downhill (I might not have considered the downhill parts a blessing if I had realized that we would be using the same exact path going back i.e. this would be an uphill path on our way back.) After an hour of trudging through the forest (which was muddy and slippery as it had rained the previous night,) I imagined that we must be really close to the gorillas. One of my colleagues asked how much longer and the guard said "In the next hour, we will be with the gorillas." I almost flung myself on the ground and started crying. An hour?? I can barely put one foot in front of the other....Can I just stay here and wait for you guys? And photoshop myself into your pics with the gorillas?
Then our guide talked to the tracker again and he said that we would have to cut our way through the forest to get to where the gorillas were. Armed with a sickle, our guards started cutting down vegetation in the "impenetrable forest" to get us to the gorillas. Maybe it's just me, but I always thought forests have a ground - yes, the trees might be close together, but there will surely be a ground, right? No. We were walking on air, on trees, on fallen branches, over streams, on nothingness, on everything - I fell down a minimum of 5 times - once into a hole of my height, another time I slipped on a muddy rock and was just so glad that this was saving me some effort, that I just let myself slide down 5 or 6 more muddy rocks - like I was on a water slide at Splash or something - I could not even be bothered to stand up and would have gladly slid down the mountain if there was a way to...
Finally, oh, finally that sweet moment arrived - when we got to the gorillas. The family we were tracking was amazing - 26 in total, 3 silverbacks (the male leaders), 5 or so blackbacks (younger males), 10 or so females and the rest were babies. This sounds silly, but I didn't realize how huge gorillas are. The first one we met was 225 kgs, so human in action, just stunning. To think that there are only 840 mountain gorillas remaining in the world - all of them in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC - just amazing work that the parks have done in keeping this magnificent, beautiful creatures alive for future generations to enjoy. It was so exhilarating just standing in the middle of the forest with the largest primates known to man.
There were some hilarious/frightening moments, with 2 of the silverbacks charging at us twice and having to be stopped by the trackers who are able to mimic their sounds. We also heard the screams of a gorilla baby and saw how quickly the silverbacks went to check what was happening. One of the silverbacks also started pounding his chest as he retreated from us - to make sure we knew who was boss. It was really out of the world.
The next day with my aching bones, I could genuinely say that it was worth every bit of physical pain to see the mountain gorillas. I thank the Kahungye gorilla family for letting us take a sneak peek into their lives, the great wardens and trackers for loving and caring for these treasures of the world, my travel companions for pushing me forward and encouraging me when all I wanted to do was give up during that journey.
I encourage every one who can to go see the lovely mountain gorillas. East Africans, the deal is sweet for you - USD 90/person vs. USD 600 that foreigners pay:-)