One of the most extraordinary experiences of my life was spending time with the mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. The entire process of starting early in the morning, hiking to their habitat in the mountains, fighting our way through the dense vegetation, and then being with these serene animals was amazing. I can’t adequately describe the feeling of catching our first glimpse of the gorillas and then sitting feet away from them as they went about their daily routine. There was something just incredibly peaceful about them and a feeling that we were sharing the morning with a friend or relative – at their place. It was at once both quiet and exhilarating – a moment of a lifetime. Pure.
I had to think a little about this one but I finally came back to this photo from Rwanda. The first and most obvious reason is that this baby gorilla was “all over” his parents and siblings while we were there. This photo was taken as he was trying to take a ride on his brother. The second reason for on top is that the photo was taken “on top” of a volcanic mountain where these mountain gorillas live. One thing I probably haven’t mentioned before is that these limited mountain areas are the ONLY places you can see mountain gorillas – they do not survive in captivity so they are never found in zoos. All of the zoo gorillas are lowland gorillas. We really enjoyed this little fella’s antics as he tried to get “on top” – hope you enjoy this capture of the little guy that now lives in the top of all of our hearts.
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……!!
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.
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….
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…..