Uganda…’in pursuit of primates’
Where to start, where to start….?! It may have been the outstanding performance Sigourni Weaver gave as Diane Fossey in the movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, or perhaps the numerous documentaries we’ve seen over the years about Jane Goodall and her ground-breaking research and conservation activities with chimpanzees, her life’s work that is. Whatever inspired me (us), I’m thankful that it did, and that we decided to pursue our goal to see these amazing creatures up close and personal.
We chose Uganda for a number of reasons; it’s home to almost half the world’s population of mountain gorillas, it’s predominantly English speaking as opposed to its Francophone neighbours Rwanda and the Congo, and is also considered to be a relatively safe place to travel independently. More to follow on how we navigated around the beautiful and welcoming country that is Uganda….in the meantime, and so as to keep this post to a reasonable length, the focus is on our goal to spend time in the rainforest in the hope of seeing gorillas and to trek chimpanzees, also in their natural habitat.
Heading first to ‘Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest’ in Southwestern Uganda to trek the remote Nkuringo gorilla family, and having booked and paid our $600 per/person for permits (6 months ago) with a view to spending 1 hour with this family should we be lucky enough to find them. Needless to say, we were filled with excitement and anticipation on arrival at the ‘Nkuringo Gorilla Camp’, and we tried hard not to listen to our inner doubts and thoughts of ‘what if’…we don’t see them!?
There is in fact an extremely good chance of finding the Nkuringo gorilla family, the unknown is whether it will take 2 or 8 hours to do so. As it happens we had luck on our side on September 13th, when about 1.5 hours into the adventure and thanks to the diligent UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) rangers and our trusty guide, we came upon them after a steep hike down into the valley and just meters into the rainforest (before the need to start the strenuous climb up the other side!).
Interestingly enough, as we prepared for the trip I had (understandably I think being an avid amateur photographer), designs on capturing a gorilla portrait worthy of the front cover of National Geographic. Ha!…how quickly my NG dream bubble burst when we arrived on scene and all concentration and effort was spent scrambling through the dense rainforest, in order to just keep the wandering group in eyesight. So although I continued to click away sporadically, I quickly came to the realization that I’d better just enjoy the moment, because with only 1 x surreal hour in their presence, it would have otherwise been wasted.
A warm welcome and extremely comfortable accommodation at the ‘NKuringo Gorilla Camp’
It’s the eve of the gorilla trek, and Pete gazes out over ‘Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest’ and wonders “where the family are right now, and will we see them tomorrow?!”
YES….would be the answer!
Our guide….’Mr Shaban’ with 25 years experience under his belt, played a critical role in our viewing success and was a fantastic educator, such that our trek was more informative than we could have hoped for.
The gorillas were never more than 2-3 metres (max.) away from us and sometimes much closer. When they decided to wander, we stood still and they walked around us without any fuss……it was quite the serene feeling to be amongst them as they went about their usual business.
Hats off to these rangers whose day starts before dawn, in search of the gorillas before they wake and make a move.
One of two silverbacks in the family we trekked and he had no interest in modelling for the camera!
Back at the camp and let’s face it…we’re on a post-gorilla trek high!
The staff at the camp cooked us up a delicious celebratory dinner!
Looking out from our camp over the Congo (just 7 km away) as another storm rolls in.
My best gorilla shot….I think?
After the surreal gorilla experience….we made our way north east with a stop along with way at Queen Elizabeth National Park, before reaching Kibale Rainforest, where we prepared for our chimp habituation experience.
Pete did such a good job in researching and securing our accommodation at the key locations we had to arrange in advance, like the ‘Kibale Forest Camp’. We both agreed that this little camp on the edge of the rainforest served up the best food we had in Uganda…all credit to resident chef also named ‘Peter’!
Another long tenure UWA guide, ‘Mr Charis’, made sure our 6 hour chimp trek was exciting and rewarding. We were very lucky to walk out with him (and Mr Shaban at Nkuringo) before they retire sometime in the next 2 yrs.
It wasn’t until we looked at the photos on returning home that is became apparent ‘Mr Charis’ was holding me at gunpoint!
…and so we retired to our cozy tent and reflected on the wonderful, if not challenging, time we had spent in Uganda to date and the adventures that still lay ahead.