In search of Mountain Gorilla’s

Op zoek naar berggorilla's!Deep in the tropical rainforests of Uganda lives one of the most endangered species in the world; the Mountain Gorilla. It is one of four types of gorilla’s and with a population of only 850 by far the most endangered type. The Mountain Gorilla is found in the national parks on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo (DRC). Each year, only a limited number of tourists can go on a gorilla-tracking. We were two of the lucky ones who managed to get tickets!

Well before we arrived in Uganda, we had already met several travellers who had been to the gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda. Without exception they were all lyrical and said that had not wanted to miss that for anything in the world. “Mind Blowing”, “Life changing”, it was quit something. Op zoek naar berggorilla's!That particular experience also came with a particularly high price tag. Access to the park and the trip to the gorillas were so expensive that we had decided to let this unique opportunity pass. That was until we discovered that we would be in Uganda in the off season when the tickets are 40% cheaper. Added to that, the tickets were to be paid in U.S. dollars and our strong euro suddenly made ​​it affordable after all!

Now we just had to get tickets. In the high season that is an almost impossible task, because the tickets are often sold out months and sometimes even years in advance. Luckily that was also different in de low season! When we arrived in Kampala we went straight to the headquarters of the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to buy tickets. There we could even choose when and where we wanted to go. We chose Rushaga, an area in the south of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park were ten groups of Mountain Gorillas live.

Op zoek naar berggorilla's!After our tour around Uganda, we now drive from Lake Bunyonyi back to Kabale to do some shopping. With our bags full of groceries for a few days and a ‘rolex’ to go, we continue towards Rushaga. The road is extremely good, a lovely smooth asphalt road with very nice curves. After an hour we leave the main road and drive onto a narrow gravel road that continues towards the park. The view from the road over the volcanoes in the distance is awesome!

At the end of the afternoon we arrive in the village at the border of the national park and follow the signs to Nshongi Camp. The road goes downhill steeply and changes into a narrow footpath after a few hundred meters. We cannot continue with the motorbikes, but see no campsite either. While we are still looking for the entrance, two girls appear from the valley beside the road. They both wear a t-shirt with the name of the campsite on it, so this should be it after all. Once we ask where the camp is, they point to a staircase that leads into the valley. We can certainly not go there with the bikes. Op zoek naar berggorilla's!It is not a nice idea to leave them behind at the top of the stairs but after a talk with the owner of the camp we decide to do it anyway. We get all the important stuff from the bikes, cover them with the tarp and hope for the best.

With the help of the two girls we drag our stuff down the stairs to the campsite. It is a beautiful place. Besides the lawn is a little river that forms the border with the national park. On the other side of the water is the forest. A dense jungle with tall trees that are overgrown with moss, orchids and vines hanging down from the branches. The strangest sounds come from the forest, the cries of monkeys and the highs skirls of the Turako’s.

We will only go to the gorilla’s in two days so we make ourselves comfortable. There is no electricity, no wifi, and we did not have any reception with our phone. In stead of the computer and the iPad, we each take a book and we sink into our seats. As soon as the sun sinks behind the tall trees in the evening, we prepare dinner while the guard lights a large campfire. Along with the girls, we huddle around the fire to keep warm. Op zoek naar berggorilla's!It is very dark in the valley and without a flashlight, we literally do not see a thing. Only when the moon is high enough to illuminate the valley we can distinguish each other contours. We listen to the elephants walking through the forest in the distance and stay around the fire until all the wood is gone and it is so chilly we quickly want to get into our sleeping bags.

Aside from a walk through the village, the next day is the same as the previous one. We sit in our chairs in the sun reading a book and after dinner we sit around the campsite with the girls to keep warm. After two days, we then finally go in search of Mountain Gorilla’s. With enough camera batteries, water and a packed lunch in our daypack, we leave the campsite just after seven o’clock in the morning and walk to the entrance of the park. To protect the gorillas only eight people per day are permitted in each of the five areas in the national park. Our group is even smaller, besides Peter and myself there is only one other tourist, William from Canada. We are welcomed at the visitors center and get a detailed instruction from our guide.

He explains that each new group of gorillas is found by trackers and observed by researchers for some time. Only when the gorillas are sufficiently accustomed to people, it is possible for tourists to visit them under the supervision of a guide. Op zoek naar berggorilla's!Although tourists provide the finances that are needed to protect the gorilla’s (especially against poachers!), our visit does disturb their natural way of living. Therefore they not only restrict the number of visitors, but also make sure those tourists visit different groups every day. This way they try to balance the visits of tourists with the life of the gorillas as much as possible.

We must adhere to strict rules during the trek through the jungle and the time with the gorillas. We cannot participate if we have stomach or airway problems that could infect the gorillas. We also need to be fit enough to walk through the woods. Once we reach the group, we may only stay there for one hour. At all time we should keep at least seven meters away from them. We should act submissive by making ourselves small and should try to avoid making eye contact with them for a long time. Although the gorillas we will visit are habituated to humans, they are still wild animals and could seriously hurt you. Finally, the guide warns us for the aggressive ants in the park. He asks us to put our socks over our trousers so they cannot crawl up our legs and bite us. Charming!

Op zoek naar berggorilla's!Gorillas move through the park continuously and it is never exactly clear where they are and how far you have to walk to see them. There are trackers in the woods that follow the gorillas through the jungle and give their location to the researchers and the guides. Today, the trackers have found four groups of gorillas. Most of the groups are quite far away. We would have to walk four to six hours to see them. One group is very close though. Our guide thinks we would only have to hike for 1,5 hour to see the Bwindi group. That sounds good.

The guide tells us that the Bwindi group consists of eleven gorillas. A silverback, a number of younger males (black backs) and a number of females with young babies. Today, the group has found a place to eat on the edge of the park, on the border between the forest and the fields of the local farmers. The fastest way to get to the group is not through the park, but around it. With the instructions, our trousers into our socks and a walking stick in hand, we can leave. Op zoek naar berggorilla's!We are joined by two armed guards (according to the guide to protect us from elephants) and then we hit the road.

We walk back to the exit of the park and follow the footpath along the campsite where we had to stop with the motorbikes before. We walk along the river that flows on the park boundary and go deeper and deeper into the forest. We pass tall trees and huge ferns, walk through small streams and across fields with corn and meadows with cows. We have to cross a number of steep hills and climb after the guide. William almost runs up the hills, but we have significantly more difficulty with getting on top of the hills. With a red face and a wet forehead I try to follow the pace of the guide and meanwhile listen to his stories about the gorillas. It is quite a tough hike, but the view alone makes it more than worthwhile.

Op zoek naar berggorilla's!Along the way, the guide keeps in contact with the trackers that are in the forest with the gorillas. The gorillas have found a place to eat and have not yet moved for the last hour. After about 1.5 hours of walking we reach the trackers. We leave our walking sticks and backpacks behind with one of the guards and continue to follow the guide and trackers into the valley. At some point the trackers stop and point to the other side of the narrow valley. I peer and scan the green slope until I suddenly see a black spot. At about 50 meters away is a gorilla, it is eating in the high bushes. If I had not known it was there, I would have walked right past it.

We follow the trackers further down until we see two more gorillas. These are a lot closer, at about 10 meters. The trackers again move forward until we are right in front of the silverback. It is a huge beast with a big belly, long hairy arms and huge hands. He sits slumped in the bushes and grabs branches out of the bushes around him with his long arms. With our months wide open we sit in the grass watching it. ‘Wow!’ is the only thing we can whisper to each other. After we have made hundreds of pictures, we put aside our cameras to just watch.

Op zoek naar berggorilla's!The silverback sniffs some of the branches, he breaks them in half, sniffs some more and finally puts them in his mouth chewing slowly. Everything seems to be in slow motion. In the meantime he keeps an eye on us. The trackers make noises to comfort the gorillas. It is as if they are constantly scraping their throats. The silverback looks in our direction and responds by making the same sounds. Awesome! I could not have imagined a better ’Gorilla’s in the Mist’ experience’.

After we have been able to see the silverback for some time, the trackers move a bit further. With their machetes they cut away some branches so we can join them. From here we see another four gorillas. All eleven members of the group are somewhere around us, only some of them are hidden in the bushes. It is extraordinary how their movements and behaviour resemble that of humans. It is not without a reason that, together with chimpanzees and orang-utans, they are in the same family as humans.

Op zoek naar berggorilla's!At some point we hear a strange noise coming from the bushes behind us. The trackers chuckle and say that one male and one female gorilla are getting ’very cosy’. They have only just finished their sentence, when we see the silverback rise from his chair and hear him making a grunting noise. While the strange noise in the bushes behind us continues, the silverback suddenly moves towards the young couple chasing away the younger male. He is now very close to us, certainly closer than seven meters. We get back a little to give him some space. He immediately runs passed us to find a new spot. He was so close that we could have pet him across his back. Due to the noise in the bushes and the movement of the silverback, the gorillas have now all moved around us. We are right in the middle of the group, it is magical.

After exactly one hour, our guide let us know that we have to take our last pictures, because it is time to leave. We take another look around and follow the trackers back to our backpacks. Once we are away from the gorillas, we can no longer oppress our enthusiastic cries. “Wow, and then he growled” “YEAH, and how he chased the young male away!”Yeah, and then he just walked past us!” Our guide laughs and confirms that it was a great trip with lots of gorillas.

Op zoek naar berggorilla's!We follow him back through the fields, over the hills, through the stream and past our campsite. Halfway he asks us to stop for an official moment and hands out certificates because we have successfully visited the Bwindi group. Apparently not everybody is so lucky, because some tourists are not fit enough to even get to the group and are carried out of the park on a stretcher. Although the stretcher was not necessary for us, we are both very tired. Once we get back to the campsite we tell the girls about our adventure, before we crawl in our tent and click through our pictures tree times. This was a truly great experience, well worth the money!

Click here to see the photos. (On request we have at least another 400 photos of gorilla’s available:))

Distance travelled to Nshongi Camp: 17.094km (10,622 miles)

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| Leonie | AFRICA, Uganda

8 Reacties (Comments) - In search of Mountain Gorilla’s

  1. Celine en Leon

    GE- WEL- DIG!

  2. Ben en Anja Scheltens

    Wat een geweldige ervaring !

  3. Rein en Janny

    Supermooi. Leuk om te lezen en te zien en horen dat het goed met jullie gaat. Geniet ervan.
    Groetjes van ons uit het verre Barneveld

  4. Jan en Mariët

    Dikke knuffel xx

  5. Dienie B

    met zooo weinig fotos moeten we het doen??
    super mooi! lieve gr Dienie

  6. Mieke

    Wat geweldig zeg! Doe mij die andere 400 ook nog maar, haha.
    Groetjes Mieke

  7. Mirjam

    Oh wat gaaf! Moet toch wel heel spannend om zoo dicht bij die dieren te komen! Fantastische foto’s ook, het is zelfs bijzonder om op de foto’s hun expressie te zien! :-)
    x Mip

  8. Titia

    Wat een prachtige ervaring! Ik geniet elke keer van jullie mooie belevenissen.