Of all African countries I visited during my great adventure in 2015, Uganda was probably my favourite one (at least in the top with Namibia). As we crossed the border on February 25th, I immediately fell in love with the green landscape. Even though it was rain season, our tour guide Susan said Uganda is almost always green due to the humidity and its location just by the equator. It was also here in Uganda I first got the inspiration to study civil engineering, since I clearly saw the positive effects of functional infrastructure as different project was introduced in various villages we passed while driving.
One highlight in the country was our visit to Bwindi Forest National Park, home of the endangered mountain gorilla. The reserve covers land in three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nevertheless, due to the instabilities within the DRC tours operates mainly in Uganda and Rwanda.
We got up early as usual and mini-buses picked us up at our lodge in Bunyonyi at 05:30. We drove for a few hours and the ride was incredibly beautiful as we started to move higher up in the mountains and as the sun rose up in the valley, its rays penetrated through the haze.
At Bwindi we were divided into smaller groups since only a maximum of 8 people per day are allowed to see one gorilla family. Together with two guides and two armed Rangers we followed the track, which after a kilometer or so turned into a path. After a few more hundred meters the path was no longer there and we officially started to hike in the jungle. I automatically started to think about the Legend of Tarzan as we the guide picked up his machete and started to clear in front of us.
After about one hour of hiking we got a message on the radio that trackers had spotted a family not too long from us. We followed the instructions and not to long after that we found the trackers, as well the gorilla family. They were about 10 of them including one giant silverback. We watched them from a distance but after a while we went closer. All of the apes did notice us, some decided to climb up in the trees while others calmly remained seated on the ground. They are magnificent animals, much larger than I had expected and so human like. Looking down at their hands, was really just like observing a hairier version of my own. During our whole session with the gorillas my heart wouldn’t stop pounding and the adrenaline would continue to flow hours afterwards; not that I was scared off them (on the contrary), it was just such a privilege to see them so close and in their natural habitat.
For about 30 minutes we watched them, until the silver back got to his feet and started to climb to the little creek we could hear streaming way down the mountain side. The rest followed him and so did we. And man, are gorillas excellent climbers?! It took them 5 minutes to climb down (one of them heavily pregnant, I’m sure) while it took us 25 minutes to get there! Well, once we got down we could watch them eating of the grass as well bananas growing from one tree close by.
After a while our full hour was up though (a group is only allowed one hour with a gorilla family since one doesn’t want them get too used to having humans around) and we had to say our goodbyes and hike our way back to camp.
Additional information about gorilla trekking in Uganda can be found at: http://www.bwindiforestnationalpark.com