May 2001
Africa Part 4 - Bwindi and Gorillas
Jess Posner

Hi everyone,

Well, as I left you last night I was explaining how the pickup carrying us to Bwindi to see the mountain gorillas stopped in its tracks due to tampered petrol. They said it was the Congolese whose border was only about 18 km away.

So there we were, with the truck dead on a hill and what seemed like no other way to get to Bwindi that night. It was already about 9:30 PM and we had been going since 6 AM. Humor was running low, but then again, delirium was running high. The driver wanted all seven of us to help push the truck up the hill. In my dreams!!! We tried and the truck only fell backwards. Luckily he was able to start it and get it to the side of the road. At that point we didn't quite know what was going to happen, but no one was really panicking or upset really. Just in disbelief.

And as if G-d took pity on us for all the travel craziness we had been put through that day, along came another pickup just in time :-) This is travel in Africa my friends. The new pickup, which was already carrying some beams and a motorbike, somehow managed to fit seven more people and take us up the hill. It was great. We arrived about 20 minutes later at our camp. There were little bungalows which were fine and they even woke the chef to make us a nice dinner of omelets. That was my first real meal for the day.

The next morning we woke early, ate breakfast fast and headed to the gate to pay our entrance fee and meet our guides. Our guide's name was Silver, and we had another five guards with us, all with rifles. Hey, we were really close to the Congo border, and animals can be dangerous too. They were all very friendly. I don't know if it was good or bad that we were placed to see the group of gorillas least habituated to contact with humans. That means they're more shy. But, that was our group and by golly, we were going to track them down.

Now before I go further I would like to say that the hype that proceeds going to see the mountain gorillas is huge. I've heard many say it was the highlight of their trip, an experience of a lifetime, etc., and this is for an hour with the gorillas. It's expensive, but who knows how much longer they'll be around, and the gorillas in this park were some of the oldest. Not to mention the time it took to get there and set up. So we were pretty psyched, but also very expectant of a great great experience.

Well, we headed up and up and up into the rainforest. I was having a bit of a hard time getting around all the tree roots and bushes, and the steep slope more than anything. But it was incredibly beautiful. We saw lots of ferns and even some mahogany trees; they're huge. While the guide book tells you it can take as little as 10 minutes to see the gorillas, we were told our group was farther away and would take longer to track. Also, there's a reason they're called 'mountain' gorillas. They live higher up. So, up we went for about 45 minutes to an hour. Then it plateaued out and we headed down a bit over roots and bushes. Finally, there was a bit of discussion between the guides, and then we went into the dense forest with the first guide hacking away at the bushes with his sharp machete. Man does he know how to handle a machete.

We noticed a lot of elephant poop, and I was suspicious that we were now tracking an elephant trail, not the gorillas. Oh ye of little faith, Jessica. All in due time, right? So, as I was starting to get wary of hacking through the thick forest and bushes, Silver stopped us and we noticed a bush swaying. Behind it was our first gorilla! After an hour and a half we had reached them. It was pretty cool but hard to see with six of us trying to peer through the dense bushes at them. And of course, it started to rain right then and there. So, we saw the silver back male through the the greens, and man was he huge. Giant! It was pretty cool, but frustrating to be separated by so much greenery. By the time our machete man had cleared the area, they had moved farther away. Finally we came to a female eating where we could view a little better. I think I got some good shots, but we couldn't use flash so who knows if she'll be a big black dot amongst green.

Finally at the very end, while it started to rain harder, we reached an opening where about 6 gorillas including the silverback, and a mom and her baby were eating. That was great! And the growls or sounds they make are unreal. The only way I can think to explain it is to think of distant rolling thunder, and that's kind of the sound. And the baby gorilla was beating his chest at us. It was so cute. He'd eat, then pound his chest, go back to eating, swing around the tree and pound his chest again. The silverback walked away and we got to see him in full view. That's when my $250 became worth it. To see the gorillas in their natural habitat, and watch them eat and play.

So, after an hour of viewing we hurriedly headed down the mountain through the pouring rain. We were soaked upon arrival to camp and ready for food. We ate, showered, relaxed, basked in the gorilla glow and headed back to Butogota, the town we arrived in the following night.

The whole gorilla experience was good and I enjoyed it, but for me did not quite live up to all the hype. It was wonderful to watch, but was a bit frustrating having to run around trying to see them through the bush and fighting for space with the other viewers. A group of 3 or 4 people would have been ideal. But, I did seem them and am happy about that. It's quite an experience and who knows how much longer the opportunity will be available.

I will sign off now and write another email of my adventures to go see the chimps. It's worth its own email too.



Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5

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