Ngorongoro Crater

Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

Wed been trekking for over three hours, three hours of absolute hell. Climbing all the time we had passed through banana plantations and up into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP. We ascended slowly through dense vegetation, constantly becoming entangled in tentacle like vines that felt like invisible arms attempting to hold us back and prevent us from our quest. The cool of early morning had long gone and it was sweltering as pushed on relentlessly. The tangled, twisted undergrowth, which we used as a grip for climbing, was full of thorns and prickles and our hands and arms were scratched and bleeding. We climbed on for about another hour, legs buckling, backs aching, and burning lungs screaming for oxygen. Our clothes were dripping wet from the heat and exertion, and black and muddy from scrambling up the hillside and often tumbling back a few paces. Occasionally we stopped for a couple of minutes to take on much needed liquid, recover our breath, and to listen for sounds of the gorillas moving high above us.

I almost put my hand in the steaming heap of gorilla shit as I scrambled up yet another impossible looking ridge of mud and vegetation, surely we must be close now. We were, and no more than two minutes later all the trials and tribulations of the last four hours paled into insignificance as we confronted our quarry.

There are approximately 650 mountain gorillas left in the wild and half of them live in Ugandas two gorilla reserves, Mgahinga NP and here in Bwindi. It is impossible to describe the feeling you experience when first setting eyes on these magnificent creatures. Barely visible in the thick scrub a young female sat, relaxed, picking only the juiciest leaves and stuffing them into her already bulging mouth. The sun had yet to reach this side of the valley and the vegetation was dense, to put it mildly, standing in excess of two metres. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood on end as another gorilla, again a female, moved into view. It was a most humbling feeling. Here I was sitting no more than five metres from one of the most amazing creature alive.

For almost five minutes I just sat in awe, tears rolling uncontrollably down my face, without giving a single thought to reaching inside my rucksack for my camera. It must have been the sound of whirring motor-winds and the clicking of other cameras that stirred me into action, and during the next fifty minutes or so I got though three rolls of film. In 2003 it cost US$250 to trek the gorillas and if fortunate enough to find them you get to spend just one hour in their company, but its money well spent. Only six people are allowed to trek them so it is essential to book permits well in advance (usually around six months). Such is the demand for permits that people often wait around for a few days hoping to pick one up by offering extortionate amounts for them. We actually turned down US$1000 each for ours there was no way we were parting with them. I am now a consultant for a Ugandan Safari operator and would be happy to provide a very competitive itinerary to include a visit to Bwindi.


By Dave Armstrong