For one day in July, Steve & I got to complete a joint bucket list entry – seeing Mountain Gorillas in the wild. It was an awesome experience, so we thought we’d tell you a bit about it, and share some of the amazing photos that Steve was able to take.
First things first
The first thing that happened, was my back gave out on me. This shouldn’t really have been a surprise considering the sleeping in tent, driving on terrible roads, and being cramped in the back of a Jeep for 90 minutes to get there. But it did kind of work in our favour!
There are 11 Gorilla families in Bwindi that you can spend time with. Some of them are pretty far away. But some are not so far, so if you do happen to injure yourself on the way or just aren’t physically up to trekking for 4 hours, you can ask to be put with a group that is trekking to the easiest or nearest group. Note they are not necessarily the same thing!
Limited Time Offer
You get to spend an hour with the Gorillas and no more. They are really strict on how many groups go out, how many can be in a group and how long you stay with the Gorillas. There are rules about how you should engage. Specifically, don’t look big male Gorillas in the eye, and don’t touch the Gorillas at all.
Don’t punch the babies
They do however point out that baby gorillas are really quite inquisitive creatures. In fact, they tend to seek out the women in groups that visit for cuddles. I cannot tell you how excited I was at this point. Then they reminded us that if this happens, you should not punch the baby Gorilla. It was quite shocking that they felt that needed saying. Then I realised they probably said that because at some point a person PUNCHED A BABBY GORILLA THAT CAME FOR CUDDLES. There is a special place in hell for this person.
With the advice firmly in our minds, off we set on our ‘easy’ trek. Complete with 2 guys with guns – apparently there to discourage wild elephants from trampling us all. Personally, I think the Elephants would still have won.
Our trek took us about 2 hours in total. This included an hour of walking through beautiful trails in the forest, and then another hour of the guides cutting a path to the Gorillas for us. You can hire porters who will carry your bag and help you up and down the steep bits. A few of us did this, and it wasn’t expensive. It also means the local tribe get some of your tourist dollars, instead of just the Government getting your Trekking Permit fee. In a country like Uganda, where the government seem to be in it to line their own pockets and nothing else, this can only be a good thing.
Worth every step
Just when I was wondering if it was going to be worth it, It TOTALLY was. We came across the Gorilla family. A mother, 2 babies, some adolescents, and a Silverback. I sat a watched the 2 babies play on a tree for most of the hour we were there. There was a brief flurry of excitement when one of the babies made a beeline for a girl in our group, but the tree branch it was on broke and it landed in a heap so close to me I could have touched it if I was allowed, before running back to mum. So no Baby Gorilla cuddles for us.
Steve spent much of the hour photographing the big Silverback and got some amazing shots.
Not easy, BUT not too hard
I’m not going to pretend that the trekking was easy, but without the back pain I would have found it totally doable without the porters help. Though on balance I’d still have got one to give someone some work for the day. The permit is expensive at nearly $700. This is not, nor should it be, a mass tourism destination so they were always going to charge a premium for it. Crazily, its half the price of the same permit in Rwanda. At these prices it is definitely a Once in a Lifetime Experience. Totally worth every single minute, but not something I’d be willing to shell out for again anytime soon.