Sharing moments in time…

East Africa Safari – Episode 5 – Gorilla Trek!


One of our primary motivations for going to Africa this time was to go see the mountain gorillas.  Our friend and companion Mike has had this on “his bucket list” for a long time so he did most of the research and planning for this part of the trip – and a great job he did! After leaving the lions in Queen Elizabeth park, we took a long and very bumpy drive south to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and National Park.  The next morning we headed to the park to get our pre-trek briefing and arrange for our porters (to carry our day packs, lunch and also to help to get us past any “hard spots” on the hike – a great investment for $15/porter).  We and our other 4 trekkers were assigned to the Mubare group and we immediately began our hike up the mountain.  Mountain gorillas are only found in two populations–one in Rwanda and the Congo, and the other in Bwindi.  Total population between these areas is estimated at about 900 gorillas – the good news being that the tourist business has essentially stopped the gorilla poaching.  We had heard that the Uganda treks were more difficult than the hikes in Rwanda but, although there were some steep climbs, the trails were good and not muddy as there hadn’t been any rain for a few days.  We crested the mountain after about an hour and half and reached the gorillas at about 2 hours.  We dropped our excess gear, walking sticks and packs and proceeded through very dense bushes and vines to the gorillas who were about 75 hards away (we could see their movement through the bushes but couldn’t immediately see them).  A tracker with a Machete led the group in, clearing a path as he went.  We could tell we were close but were surprised when, with one last swing of the machete – there was the Silverback gorilla – right in the middle of an “amorous engagement” with one of the females.  After a short time, they split apart and we began to watch other members of the group.  Mike and I followed the silverback to a cave-shaped thicket where I tried to take some photos – unfortunately, there were a large number of flies in front of the gorilla and I couldn’t get a good focused shot.  As I was trying to get a better position, the silverback came straight towards us and this was what I saw in my viewfinder……!!

Hello there, big guy!

Hello there, big guy!

What a thrill!  He walked right past me – lightly brushing my pants as he went by – a great beginning to our hour with the gorillas!  We had lots of opportunities to get close (much closer than the 7 meter zone that our guides had briefed us on) and watch the gorillas eat, nap, and interact with each other. They pretty much ignored us other than the curious glances that we often got as we stumbled around through the underbrush.

Mealtime

Mealtime

After our hour passed (all too quickly), we started back to our staging point where we left our gear and porters.  I thought I’d include this photo of one of our guides to show how dense the forest was where the gorillas actually hang out….

Gorilla Habitat

Gorilla Habitat

After the trek and a nice shower, we settled in for a wonderful dinner on the veranda of the Mahogany Springs Lodge (wonderful lodge and incredible staff) and enjoyed the beautiful evening view of the gigantic mahogany tree just in front of the lodge…..

As our dogs would say, one of the best days....EVER!

As our dogs would say, one of the best days….EVER!

23 responses

  1. a once in a lifetime experience! 🙂 great

    February 10, 2014 at 4:11 am

    • Actually twice in a lifetime – we went to Rwanda afterwards – report on that coming up! 🙂

      February 10, 2014 at 8:39 pm

  2. Fantastic images of the gorilla – I think I would have gotten blurry pictures from being so close and my hands shaking while trying to get the picture.

    February 10, 2014 at 4:29 am

    • Nora – got a few of those also but managed to get a lot of “keepers” at the same time.

      February 10, 2014 at 8:40 pm

  3. Great meeting Scott !
    Wonderful trip !
    Ciao ciao
    Max

    February 10, 2014 at 4:35 am

    • Hi Max – It was a great meeting – more to come!

      February 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm

  4. Wonderful!

    February 10, 2014 at 5:04 am

  5. Love the shot of the guide in the forest – Uganda is amazing 🙂 would give anything to return!

    February 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    • Thanks Laura – I’m glad you liked that one! I thought it did a nice job of showing that “ocean” of dense bamboo vines.

      February 10, 2014 at 8:42 pm

  6. Susan

    My dream trip!!!!How exciting and scary to have a silverback brush against you. Which would you choose if you had to pick one, Uganda or Rwanda. Have not heard from Dee yet.

    February 11, 2014 at 5:51 am

    • Hi Susan – I’ll get on Dee about calling you! It definitely was a dream trip – and you haven’t heard or seen the best yet….. Not sure that I could choose – we spent much more time in Uganda and saw some great things in addition to the gorillas. We only spent the one day in Rwanda and had another GREAT experience with the gorillas (writing that one up now). Personally, I also just absolutely LOVED Tanzania so I would recommend any trip spend some time there also.

      February 11, 2014 at 11:55 am

  7. Really cracking images Scott and the close up is bang on!

    February 11, 2014 at 6:44 am

    • Thanks Ross – It must be the Nikon stuff!

      February 11, 2014 at 11:56 am

  8. Another thing is you will be trekking up mountains through thick vegetation and mud, so you need to be relatively fit to go Gorilla Tracking.

    June 17, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    • Felix – I thought I mentioned that but you are right. We were pretty prepared for the trek and the porters helped anyone that needed assistance – but there were times around the gorillas when falling down was the only option 🙂

      June 18, 2014 at 8:52 am

  9. Most important thing is that maintain at least 5-7 meters distance from the gorillas, not because they are dangerous but also the diseases might be transmitted from them.

    October 25, 2014 at 12:00 am

    • Thanks Cameron – we definitely kept the right distances – so we could not infect THEM!

      October 25, 2014 at 5:08 pm

  10. I want to add one more thing that “if a gorilla charges, does not run away. Bend down gradually and avoid straight eye contact, until the gorilla moves off.

    October 31, 2014 at 1:35 am

  11. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you might be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and will often come back at some point.
    http://bit.ly/1wXceZb

    November 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    • Richard,
      Thanks for the nice compliments. I still have another one or two African posts that I want to get to. You are very lucky to be in such an incredible place. If you ever need a staff photographer let me know…… 🙂

      November 7, 2014 at 11:45 am

  12. Thanks for the post. No doubt gorilla trekking is one of the best adventures in Africa and everyone visit Uganda and Rwanda to experience and see mountain gorillas. I would love to read some more posts regarding gorillas.

    December 15, 2014 at 10:31 pm

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