Going for another WOW

After being blown away by our latest experience, there was no time to let it sink. We were already off to our next adventure.

Our next adventure was also pre-booked. In hindsight, we should have given ourself some extra time to let the amazing chimpanzee experience settle a bit. Instead, we were on our way to the south of Uganda, to Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest. One cannot visit Uganda without visiting the gorillas, and neither could we. 

From Kibale, we split our trip to Bwindi in two trips again. We first went to Nyore Hillside retreat. Here we parked our car on the grass to camp again. It was a great way to at least reflect on the chimpanzee experience a little bit. At the reception, we were able to look at our photographs and edit a few of them. Surprisingly, on the campsite here we had the best shower in Uganda so far. Mostly, due to rainy season, the solar heated showers provided us with cold water. In the cases we had hot water, usually the water pressure was not as strong as we are used to. Not a problem of course, but this shower really felt like heaven. 

The next day we had a quick and nice breakfast, after which we continued our road to Bwindi. We would do our gorilla experience in the Rushaga area, which is in the south of Bwindi. The last part of the road, along the ridge of the forest and on the side of the hills, was only 20km. Yet this part took us over 1 hour. The road was extremely rocky and going faster than 25 km/h was impossible. Fortunately, we have an amazingly strong car (obviously) and it got us safely to the lodge. 

When we arrived at the lodge, Jeroen visited the UWA again, to confirm the time for our trek the next day. After lunch, we took some more time going through our chimpanzee photos and videos. We had taken enough time to just enjoy them, but wow, we had some beautiful pictures too. During the editing, we suddenly heard some drumbeats. It was already 6PM and the cultural dance from the local women had already started. We quickly rushed to the 'dancefloor' and enjoyed the rest of the performance. 

The next day we didn't have to get up as early as with the chimps. We had breakfast at 6AM and waited for our contact at the lodge to confirm where the starting point was for the trek. As soon as we received the confirmation, we headed to the gate. Another car was already waiting for us. The other people with whom we were doing the trek had already picked up our ranger and they would lead us to the starting point. 

After about 45 minutes of another rocky, bumpy road, we reached the starting point. In the meantime, we had picked up two other rangers who would accompany us. We left the car on the road and headed into the forest. Raulian (or Lorian?), Dennis and Anson were the rangers who would lead us through the thick vegetation. Again, we were paired up with a lovely couple, this time from the UK. It was the second time we were lucky with the company. We can only hope both couples think the same about us :). 

This hike was a lot shorter than the last one. After about 45 minutes of walking in the forest we were told to wait, as one of our rangers went to look for a cell phone signal. The gorillas are tracked every day, to make sure they are kept safe, to study them and to document their behaviors and movements As they move around quite a bit, and groups of gorillas sometimes pass by the same places within a day, there is a high risk of losing sight of a group. Trackers go out into the forest every day to make sure every single group is found again. The trackers for 'our' group had already left in the morning and the rangers were trying to contact them, so we would know where to go. 

After waiting for about 20 minutes, contact had been made and we were able to go and 'track' the trackers. Another 10-15 minutes very steep hike up a hill through the bush brought us past the nest of the group we were tracking. It is funny to see the 'nests'. They are just some leaves and broken twigs, on which a huge weight of a gorilla is visible. We continued the hike and there he was. A huge silverback walking through the vegetation. We were told that he was looking for the rest of his group, and within 5 minutes we saw the rest. It was amazing to be so close to such huge animals, who resemble us humans so much. 

The gorillas greeted each other and found a comfortable spot under some trees and just relaxed for about half an hour. It was great to watch them, but for photos and videos it was even worse than the chimps. There were no pockets of light, as it was very cloudy and the canopy was thicker than in Kibale. So we just watched them. 

Then suddenly they started to move and we hurried to get in front of them, so they would walk toward us. One huge male just came up to 2 meters from us, picked a fruit in his mouth and stared into the sky. As we would soon come to know, he was probably looking to see how bad the oncoming rain would be. 

Before we knew it, rain started to pour. The gorillas' reaction to this is very interesting. They roll up as small as possible, to make a gorilla ball. Rolled up, they just wait for the rain to run down their fur until the rain stops. There we were, standing about 8 - 10 meters away from a few gorilla balls, sitting in the rain. After 1 hour of rain, we were willing to give up and go back. We had been trying to keep our camera equipment dry in our rain coats (there was no time to pack it back in the bag) and we had no idea how long the rain would take. We had spent some lovely time with the gorillas, but this is what can happen during rainy season (and especially this El Nino friend of ours). 

Then, after about 1 hour, the silverback stood up and started to move. The raindrops were still falling on our heads, but above the canopy, the clouds had stopped crying. The drops that were still falling, were the ones that slowly dripped through the vegetation. We hurried again, to follow the gorillas through the bush. They moved to a super steep hill to feed. Here, they were out in the open, but it was very difficult to follow them due to the steepness of the hill. The next hour, we watched several gorillas feed as we tried to balance on our toes and holding on to trees and bushes not to fall or slide. This steep hill must have been heaven for them, as they could literally sit in their food, with edible leaves everywhere around them. Just like with the chimpanzees, we loved how similar their movements and actions were to human actions. Focusing on their faces, their hands and the looks on their faces something brought immense gratitude to us. They were beautiful to watch and so huge. 

What happened next, was a photographer's nightmare. When the gorillas were finally out in the open light, we noticed a big patch of fog on our lens. What probably happened was the body heat of Jeroen creating condensation on the lens. We were unable to take photographs. However, it did give us the opportunity to again just enjoy the moments and the views, without focusing on getting the best shots. In between, we did keep looking at the lens though, to see if the patch of condensation disappeared. It took several minutes, but it felt like hours. After some time, we were able to take the photos and videos again, and we still had more than enough time to just enjoy the moment. 

As with the chimps, we also went for the habituation experience with the gorillas. The gorillas are also being habituated to be studies and for touristic purposes, to gain the funds for their own conservation. It is sad to realize that such initiatives are necessary to prevent them from going extinct. 

As this group of gorillas was not fully habituated yet (only 8 months in the program), they turned or moved away from us as we came closer. This gave us more the feeling of chasing them than following them. Due to our experiences with the chimps where they even came up to us, it felt a little off, but this was the way of making them getting used to humans. It did make the moments where the gorillas actively accepted us around them extra special. We watched one gorilla for a long time, while he looked for the best leaves on the hill and sat down to eat them. What a wonderful, humbling experience to be allowed by him to watch him eat his lunch. 

After spending some time on the steep slopes with the gorillas, it was time to head back to the lodge. Again, we were extremely happy with the time we were able to spend with such amazing creatures. Once back at the lodge, we again reminisced about the moments we shared with them. We were not too excited about the pictures we took, due to the lighting and due to the fact that they had fewer interactions with each other than with the chimps, but we still got some lovely portraits. We are a little bit spoiled, but also extremely humbled by the experience. 

Add comment


There are no comments yet.