Friday, December 02, 2016

Gorilla Trekking

We slept amazing last night on our tiny mattress. Breakfast was at 7:00, then shortly before 8:00 we headed just down the road to the start of the gorilla trekking. I've heard horror stories about doing this trekking with old people who can't handle the intense hiking up and down the valleys to get the gorillas, causing the group to slow, so I was praying there would be no old people in our group. As we pulled in, there were two old people. We greeted them and discovered they were from Austria. Austria is full of mountains, so I figured they'd probably be ok going up and down.

We met our guide, Shaba. He's been doing this for 25 years, and he's now 60 years old. Most people retire at 60 in Uganda, but his contract says he can stay until he's 63, so he's going to keep doing it, hoping one of his kids can take over for him when he retires. I also must say, you can really, really tell that Shaba truly believes in the cause and he loves his job. He still gets excited when he sees the gorillas.

The briefing included things like keeping your distance. We're not allowed to get closer than 7 metres (23 feet), although a gorilla can come closer to you if he/she wants to. We also had two armed guards in case anything happened. Apparently the wood elephants (also called mountain elephants) in this area had been persecuted for years before it was a park, so they have a bad memory of humans and can still be quite dangerous here. We are also not allowed any more than one hour with the gorillas, then we have to leave. The Austrian woman was being pressured to get a porter to carry her stuff and help her along, but she was resisting, then finally relented and got one (only $15 USD).

Earlier in the morning, they sent out trackers to track the gorillas, so we could hopefully know where we need to be going. It's not uncommon for these treks to last for 4-6 hours before finding the gorillas. Indeed, someone staying at our campsite did it two days ago and they were out there for 6 hours. Part of that was because his 72 year old mother was with him, and she really struggled.

We started along a dirt road for about 15 minutes, then our ranger (Shaba) got a message on his walkie talkie and we started to hack and slash our way through the jungle, down into the steep valley. Then our guide told us to sit, as the gorillas were coming our direction. I looked up behind me and I saw one climbing up a tree. I started to take pictures and the guide is telling me to stop, and to listen to him. Haha. I listened, and as we sat there, other gorillas started to appear, as they fed. They are virtually all vegetable diet, except for sometimes ants and termites. So they need to eat LOTS of veggies. We started following them through the thick jungle, as they fed, getting much closer than the 7 metres. We were often within 2-3 metres of them. As they moved on, our guides would hack a path through the jungle for us to follow and watch. It was truly amazing. One gorilla came up through the bushes and literally walked right beside the Austrian man as he went in search of his favorite food. They (the gorillas, not the Austrians) have the most amazing farts too.

There are a few gorilla family groups that have become completely habituated to humans, so there's very little issues with us being there, as long as we don't overstay our welcome. I got some good pictures, but it's hard in the thick jungle.

After about 50 minutes, we went in search of the silverback, the largest male and leader of this specific family group. He was close by, so we sat and observed him from close range for a few minutes, then it was time to go.

We got extremely lucky. The gorillas were close and we were experiencing them within an hour. The Austrian lady was very happy she got a porter. The valleys were very steep and footing was difficult at the best of times. But her porter helped her along the whole time. She agreed it was money well spent. And we were done before noon.

This was truly amazing. There are less than 1000 gorillas left in the world, but the population is growing in Rwanda and Uganda, thanks to conservation efforts, which does include tourism. Our guide begged us to tell our friends and relatives and get them to come and have the same experience.

We had lunch at the main gorilla meeting point (where we started), then headed back to the campground. We decided to do a nature walk this afternoon, so at 2:00pm, our guide came and took us on a very nice walk through the village and surrounding area, including a waterfall. We also saw a number of colobus (sp?) monkeys on the way back.

We didn't do to much for the rest of the day, just relaxed, had supper and went to bed.

1 comment:

  1. Nice picture of you, Todd. This is all so interesting but glad I'm not there, ha.