Uganda Travel Series Part 6
The Not So Magical Adventures of
Gorilla Trekking In Bwindi
We continue on our journey to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to trek the Silverback Gorillas. Located in south-western Uganda, at the junction of the plain and mountain forests. We head to the Buhoma section of the park, our arrival time in the early evening hours. Little did I know, that my gorilla trekking would go far beyond what I ever could have imagined.
From Queen Elizabeth To Bwindi National Park
Before leaving the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth park, we went back to see if the tree lions where up in the trees, but sadly we did not find any. Our driver Ben puts us back out on a safari circuit track that will take us to the main road to Bwindi National Park, and it was quite scenic and full of wildlife. We enjoyed finding some impala, Topi, Uganda Kob, warthogs, and baboons along the way. I do loved watching how the baboons carry their babies around on their back, or hanging upside down under their belly.
Charred and Burned
What I did not like about touring Uganda during the dry season is the burning of the grass lands. We would come upon large sections of land that had been burned almost completely black, and some areas were still smoldering. I the fires must burn quickly or the surrounding trees would not survive. We watched as Topi wandered around the charred earth looking as if they had been caught up in the blaze, and the black soot had rubbed off on them. Looking at all the herds of identical impala, you could see why there were many Lion prides in this area of Queen Elizabeth Park.
Driving to Bwindi forest from Queen Elizabeth National Park was one of our more leisurely drives taking 2-3 hours, but it took a little longer because we got a flat tire along the way. The only breakdown on our 19 day journey, so we were blessed on this trip. We saw many companies with flat tires, and car troubles during our stay. The rutted roads, and other hazards made it almost unpreventable at some point. The roads going to Bwindi were muddy, bumpy and slick from the rain, but I did not miss the horrible dust we had been inhaling for most of the trip.
We stopped along the way at a small town to have the tire repaired, and to wander around with the locals. It was a very nice time walking into the shops, the gas stations, and the local markets. People were very friendly unless I brought my camera out, then not so much. I learned to ask if I could take a picture, but most of the locals really did not want their picture taken, so for the most part I did it while we were traveling in the car.
Driving to Bwindi
Driving up the hill to Bwindi was quite an experience, but the country side was very lovely and green. There were loads of children as usual, but these were much more bold asking for money, we did not see this in the more rural areas. The high tourism for the gorilla trekking is probably the cause. It is best not to give out money or treats for this reason. Instead donate your money to the local agencies, and prevent the road side begging.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Before we could get settled into our room at Buhoma Lodge in the mountains of Bwindi, the local staff told us that the orphanage would put on a dance at 6 pm for the tourists. It is free, but they do ask for a donation. You can give what you feel is appropriate, and they have arts and crafts to sell as well, and those proceeds go to that particular child. We found the dancing very enjoyable, and the children delightful. The orphanage group seems like a well run philanthropic organization. We also bought books for the children at the local school, but our driver and others warned us that the teachers would sell the books on the street, and the kids would never get to use them. I am not sure if this is the case, but our driver and the staff at the hotel seemed pretty confident of this fact
We returned after the dancing show to the lodge where we enjoyed a very tasty meal, (the vegetarian option was delicious). We made quick friends with a couple from South Africa, and the wife happened to share my name which made it easy to remember : )
A night cap and use of the wifi for emails, and I quickly headed to bed to get up bright and early for my Gorilla Trekking Adventure in the Bwindi impenetrable national park. The national park is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi- My Not So Magical Experience
My main reason for traveling to Africa was to have a once in a life time experience, specifically gorilla trekking. I chose Uganda for gorilla trekking because of the logistics, and the cost was less than Rwanda.
During my travels in Africa, I met many people who had magical gorilla encounters, but I will say up front that I did not experience the warm fuzzy gorilla experience that others so eagerly wanted to share. The video and pictures people shared were very touching, and the trekkers felt very emotional about their encounters. I will not go into great detail of the short falls of my gorilla trekking experience, as I do not want to discourage others from taking a vacation in Uganda for this purpose. I understand that gorilla trekking is one of the main reason these magnificent animals are still roaming free, in the aptly named impregnable forest (jungle) of Uganda.
Gorilla Trekking Hell
My gorilla group trekked for eleven and a half hours to see gorillas up close, for a beautiful 15 minutes of interaction. I can say in all honesty that my trek was not what I envisioned. I however knew the risks, and the safety concerns hiking into the impenetrable forest of Bwindi, but some circumstance you cannot prepare for.
I am in excellent physical shape, and this part of our journey pushed me to the limits of my capabilities, there were others in our group that were older, and I feared for their well-being. Two older women had to turn back after a few hours of hiking, which dramatically affected our trek.
I did however see the gorillas, a fact that some people who pay the large fee never got the chance to do. I feel blessed to have seen the gorillas for my brief period, but it was also one of the most difficult, emotional and physically draining times that I have experienced outside of childbirth. I did not complain while on the trek, but at one point I became quite worried when people began to run out of water. It was an overly long exhausting expedition, and dehydration became a problem for many of us. Take more water than you thank you need! I took 4 bottles for our trek that lasted 11 1/2 hours. It was not enough. I did not run out of water, but I had to ration my 4 bottles, and in doing so I became dehydrated. The porters will carry as much water as you need if you hire them.
I choose to trek for one day, and I know that the knee injury that I sustained I could not have trekked another day. There were others who trekked for 2 days, and they were older people. It seemed that they were grouped together and sent to areas where they could see the gorillas in an hour or two. I am sure that the norm is more in the 1-4 hour range, and not eleven and a half hours. I learned that day it is important to be prepared for anything!
You will be climbing over non- existent trails, and up & down the sides of mountains. I highly recommend hiring a porter. They will be lining up for the trekking according to when they worked last, unless you ask for one by name. I decided to hire two as the line seemed very long for these people who’s sole means of making a living is being hired as a porter. I figured that when it got bad I would have a pusher and a puller up and down the hills. Others in our group did not hire a porter. The guide encouraged them to hire them for the ease of trekking, but they declined. My extra porter disappeared when two older female members of our group could not complete the difficult trek. The porters really were amazing. They were also very good at helping others who never paid a dime to hire them, or chose to tip them at the end! I probably would have not been bothered by this fact if I had not had such a horrendous day, but after all we went through, I felt that everyone who had a porter assist them, should have contributed to tipping these young men and women.
I was very happy that at least I had someone to carry my backpack. If you pay for a porter, make sure he or she is there to push, pull, and motivate you to get up and down the sides of the mountain. It is a real jungle, and your guide will be hacking away with his machete. There were spots I really needed a boost, especially at the end after I injured my knee.
I was overjoyed to get my 15 min with the gorillas as the sun was setting, and they are glorious to watch. The family interaction is amazing. I watched a mother gorilla kiss the top of her babies head, and hold in her arms with such tenderness it made me cry (could have been my exhaustion, but it was touching). The gorillas were getting ready to head back into the jungle to make their nests to sleep, when we were finally led to them.
Our time with the gorillas was brief. We found them on a road ironically minutes away from where we started our morning base camp. They were walking in and out of the bushes crossing a service road. There is a safe distance that they tell you to stay away from the gorillas, but the gorillas don’t seem to understand the rules. At one point a small juvenile bushed its hand on my leg as it ambled to hide in the bushes. That was an amazing moment, making the hours, and hours of difficult hiking, worth the pain and effort. Our time was so brief with the gorillas, that I spent most of it trying to get some pictures before the sun went down. Regrettably, I really did not get time to take in the splendor of the moment, and fully enjoy the few precious moments that had led me to Uganda in the first place.
All I can say is, that the long and arduous gorilla trekking adventure in Uganda is one that I will never forget.
Unfortunately, it was not my magical adventure, but sometimes the most difficult adventures are the ones that mean the most to you. I am just happy that people keep coming to Uganda for Gorilla Trekking, because it is keeping the gorillas alive, and well in Bwindi National Park.
What to Bring:
You will encounter water and mud, so wear good shoes, bring garden gloves (you will need and use them), wear cotton clothing (long sleeves and pants) to absorb sweat (nylon will snag on the thorny bushes), bring lots of water, sunscreen, bug repellant, bring a hat or bandana, antibacterial wet wipes, bandages, knee braces if you need them, and lots of water. Lunch will be packed for you, but we never got to sit down to eat ours, we ate while walking. I took a roll of lifesavers, and a couple of energy bars and I am so glad that I did. Once again……water, water, water!
I do hope one day to go to Rwanda and see if I my experience there can be improved upon. I am happy to elaborate further if you have concerns about taking this trip, but please contact me privately
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