Transportation from the capital to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – $130
Permits to go gorilla tracking in Bwindi – $500
Seeing your wife’s face as a 400 pound angry silverback mountain gorilla charges your group and knocks down one of the guides……..priceless
The walk hadn’t been too bad, at least not in comparison to everything else that had come before it. We were hiking at an altitude above that of Denver, yet it was humid as though we were in a rainforest. We were sweaty, and breathing heavily, trekking over wet muddy terrain but it really wasn’t that bad…at least not until we got our first glimpse of the super rare mountain gorilla.
To get to Bwindi was a trick in and of itself. First there was ordering the permits in advance. A lot of money had to be wired from the USA to Uganda, all while we were trekking somewhere between Malawi and Mt. Kilimanjaro (thanks to our parents for handling that one!) Then there was getting to the forest itself, which isn’t called impenetrable for nothing. A 20 hour overnight bus ride north through three African countries got us to the Ugandan capital of Kampala…then it was another day’s drive south, in private expensive transport as that was the only real option available to us, to reach the forest. So really, after all that time, effort, and money….a couple hours walk through the equatorial mountain rain forest was nothing.
We hadn’t been trekking too long, maybe an hour or so, when the lead guide stopped us and told us the trackers had already found the gorillas. It would be another hour at most, he told us, but we got our first glimpse a mere 10 minutes later…then everything went to shit.
The guides had taken us up the hill with the plan to have us descend to where the larger group of gorillas were peacefully eating and resting. We saw that first gorilla, and then we began our decent which was not so easy on account of the steepness of the hill and the water-saturated ground. Carefully we went, step by step, falling every few paces when suddenly we heard noise from above. One of the males was there, clearly upset that we were between him and his family. I could see its teeth.
I’m not entirely sure what happened after that but here is what I can piece together. I hit the deck and averted my eyes as I was told. Jill freaked out and didn’t remember to get down and avert her eyes..in fact her eyes were huge…exactly the opposite of what we were told to do. Bad job Jill. The gorilla, a blackback (a non-elder adult male) named Bahatu charged down the path we had made for ourselves. One of the guards standing a few feet away from me, the one with the big gun, was knocked down by the gorilla. Lotta good that gun did. The gorilla literally ran past this guard, yanked up his foot, and put him on his back….all while the gorilla himself was running. After that charge (I’m not done yet) all the guides were laughing. It seems this is something that “happens” but not every day. When it does happen though, it isn’t usually just one charge.
The next one up was the silverback (elder male) named Safari. I was still at the back of the group, lucky me, I had a front row seat. He appeared above us, much as the first one did, showing his teeth and hooting and hollering and acting like any of us do when we’re at a sporting event. Jill was just ahead of me and taken down more or less whereas I was taken aside the path. Safari began to charge, I got down and averted my eyes again, and then I looked up when I thought it was over. This time the guard was “fighting back” as he was trained to do. The guard was on all fours, “barking” at this silverback gorilla and swinging his hook on a stick (kinda like a machete, only not as cool) at the grass in between the two…making himself as big as he could against the mean looking vegetarian. It worked. Safari stopped advancing and turned into the forest to his left to go around us. I wonder what my mother would say if I told her that I decided to stop the next gorilla myself?
Eventually we made it down to where the rest of the gorillas were feasting. More on that tomorrow.