International TravelThings You Should Know

GORILLAS IN THE FOREST

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Wait; what?? There’s gorilla trekking in Uganda?  Now that’s something on the proverbial bucket list.  My thoughts that both the exorbitant cost along with adding Rwanda to our itinerary were deal breakers.  Upon learning the experience is the same in both countries but the cost is significantly lower in Uganda (the respective governments set the fees), the decision to go was fairly easy.   With either destination, there is a lengthy list of warnings and precautions one must consider carefully.

Following an Entebbe overnight after our remarkable experience in Tanzania (see previous), an 80-minute flight to the southwest corner of Uganda in a 12-seat Cessna Caravan took us to our next destination.  Again, we were a party of two plus the co-pilots for a great flight.  Both the smooth ride and the view were spectacular.  At the other end, William — our guide for the six-night, three-location stay — was there to meet us.

Heading left for the landing strip
Guide/driver William at our vehicle

Seeing the small villages and towns in the west of Uganda is an eye-opener; sadly not in a good way.  There is tremendous poverty and primitive living along with way too many unpaved roads.

Departure point, where we received our orientation and assigned ranger.

Our stay at Mahogany Springs requires almost no “commute” for the main event — trekking Silverback mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.  In fact, sometimes the beasts venture onto the gorgeous premises.  And head chef Abraham did a terrific job with every meal!

Mahogany Springs view of the forest from the dining room

Trekking is a stunning and very challenging experience.  The forest is wet, steep, slippery, and full of fallen trees (mostly pieces of the trunk or branches).  Plus there are the tangles of vines which are impossible to avoid.  So a foot could easily get stuck and cause a trip or fall.  Walking sticks from the lodge are an essential component along with gaiters, long socks (for tucking in pants), gloves (for gripping), sturdy walking boots (mine are below — before and after our trek), and a lot of the strongest insect repellent.  Our pre-trip documents had this extensive packing list.

Here’s some million dollar advice:  Hire “sherpas” on the spot — porters who push you and pull you and hold your hand and tell you where best to plant your foot to avoid slipping (or worse) and carry your stuff.  And hire an extra.  They were invaluable, had significant training, and saved us from any accidents which could have easily occurred.

Above with the porters when we were clean and had no idea what lay ahead.  Below, one of many rest stops.  Not even close at this point (at least another hour to go).

Our three porters help the hubby navigate the slope

Once in the presence of gorillas, trekkers have just 60 minutes to observe and take photos.  If the gorillas move, so does everyone else (a team of armed guards in front and back; ranger; porters and trekkers).    Our successful viewing:  One large Silverback male, four adult females and two babies.  The photos:

Below — the silver “stripe” goes horizontally across the back at the mid-point.

The giant Silverback in repose after eating. Note the foot.
Can you spot all four??

Opposable thumb!

When it was time to leave, we had to call in reinforcements due to utter exhaustion from the trek at that point.  For the most part, the hubby and I are pretty healthy 67-year-old’s.  The time for doing this kind of hard-core physical endeavor has an expiration date in the not-to-distant future.  We are very happy to have it in our rear-view mirrors.  And thank the Ugandan Gods for the exit strategy from deep in the forest:  A “helicopter” evacuation.  I was expecting the real deal, but the photos show the actual ride. Had it not been available, we just might still be there.

About the evacuation experience:  It is a very smart and entrepreneurial solution for repurposing car seats.  Someone came up with the genius idea to mount a seat on two parallel metal poles and add an extra seatbelt.  Then, the team executes some Olympics-worthy choreography for changing positions (to shift the weight burden) while the chair and passenger are in the air.  On incredibly steep terrain.  Without missing a step.  Bravo, just bravo.  We (they came back for me too) probably went one-half mile via this mode to get to flat ground for walking.

Immense gratitude for this team

What an amazing experience.  One that shall be savored for a long time.  Next post:  The rest of our Uganda stay — boat safari, chimp trekking and some amazing scenery.