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Mountain Gorillas and Me

I had been selling gorilla trips to many clients but never got the chance to track these massive primates myself.  I used to ask Mr. Mutebi, our Managing Director, to pay for a permit for me so that I could experience what I was always sending my clients off to do.  One day he came in with a surprise for me.  Without telling me before hand he had bought a permit for me!  I was going to track gorillas on the 20th of September 2004, a day I will remember forever!

 As my tracking date got closer I bought a pair of good mountain hiking boots, just as I had always advised my clients to do.  I was all ready for the safari when we left Kampala on the 18th of September on our way to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.  The next day we were at Buhoma Homestead in the park and were getting ready for the next day’s tracking.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it when I saw the mountain I needed to climb from the homestead.  As if that wasn’t difficult enough I learned that the gorillas were on another mountain behind the first!  I consoled myself by remembering the older clients who had managed to see the gorillas and I said to myself, “I will make it!”

The next morning was my tracking day and I woke up very early to have breakfast and prepare for my trek.  At 7 am I was at the office to register. There I learned that I was in tracking group “R” (Rushegura), and met the five other members of my group (They take 6 people per day). We were briefed by Moses, the guide who was to lead us, He gave us information on what to expect while we were in the national park and with the gorillas.  We started the trek at exactly 8:30 am with two armed guards, Moses, and some porters for those who wished to hire them.  For carrying your packed lunch and camera bag they were paid between 7-10 US dollars.  We followed the self-guided trail to Raleigh Trail and then up to a point where the way had to be cleared with machetes.  We walked up the mountain for about one hour and I started getting tired.  Luckily that’s when Moses told us to rest a bit.  He then told us that when anyone felt tired they should tell him and we would rest.  We continued climbing the mountain with rests stops, but I did not request any.  I really wondered how I managed to do this, but maybe the fact that I was following in the guide’s footsteps was one reason I never got tired.  He told us interesting stories as we went along and answered our questions about the National Park, and in that way kept us from thinking about ourselves.

We trekked up the first mountain and went down to the base of the second one.  At this point Moses started communicating with the trackers who had gone up ahead of us to locate the gorillas.  They gave us directions and by l0: 30 a.m. we reached a family of mountain gorillas.  When I saw them I felt like I was dreaming or watching a movie.  I forgot the distance I had walked and was just so happy!  We left our walking sticks and bags with the armed guards and porters and went nearer to the gorillas.  Moses advised us to get within seven meters of the family.  This gorilla family has 11 members including one Silverback male, six females and four young ones, but we did not see all of them.  I spent about ten minutes just looking at a female and two young ones without taking photos.  I noticed that the other members of my group were already taking pictures, so I woke up and started using my camera too.  Some minutes later the silverback male came from the nearby bush, perhaps to protect the female and the babies we had been watching.  Wow!  He was so huge and had silver hair on his back where they get their name.  He walked toward the female and babies and rested near them.

We spent one hour watching the little ones play, while the mum and dad rested.  After awhile the adults rose and started feeding again, moving to different places while we followed them.  The Silverback again rested in a bush and the little ones went in, breaking the bush as if giving us a clear view of their dad.  After clearing the view for us they went off and started playing again and the Silverback moved. We were still following them when Moses told us it was time to go back.  We started descending the mountain back to our hotel, stopping to eat our packed lunch along the way.  The way down was very steep and many of us were falling, though I fell just once.  By 2 pm we were back at the office and were given Certificates, which will remind me of my wonderful experience.

I went back to the hotel and went for a walk in the village, visiting the other nearby hotels and camps.  By the next day I was ready to leave Bwindi.  I had always dreamed of the day I would track gorillas and I thank God that I managed to do it.  This was a wonderful experience and if given the chance, everyone should try and track these wonderful brothers.

By Jaria N. Kibirige.
Email: [email protected]

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