Saturday, November 14, 2009

Uganda and the Gorillas

When we last left our intrepid explorers they were fresh on the trail of the reclusive mountain gorillas in Uganda. We made our way out of Kenya on the bumpiest most speed bump laiden road ever created. Adter 9 hours on the truck we mafe it to Lake Brunyoni, Uganda the launching point for our gorilla trek through the impenetrable forest. We woke up at dawn and hopped on a minivan that wound its way through some of the most picturesque scenery that was ever created. the misty mountains poked through the low clouds and cast the landscape in a quiet gray blanket. As we reached the guides camp we got our instructions and some key words on what to do should a gorilla decide to charge and pull our arms off. Basically it was crouch down, don't make eye contact and look non-threatening, not a problem. The trackers gave us a good idea of where the group was in the morning and we were off. They don't call it the impenatrable forest for nothing, we hack, crawl, climb and slide our way through steep terrain for 3.5 hours before we find out that the gorillas had found some food, about 20 minutes away. By now we're drenched, exhausted and thrilled. We meet up with the other trackers and they point down a steep, tree covered slope at a HUGE black mass among the trees. Our silver back has been found, and our hairs stand on end. We look at each other with disbelief in our eyes as we make our way even closer. This giant is simply pulling branches down, nibbling on the good bits while we totally intrude, but he doesn't even seem to notice us. We get to about 15 feet and we finally get a good look at his face. People, I can't even begin to describe what it feels like to be that close to a creature that powerful, astonishing and familiar. It was sort of like looking back in time and recognizing something base and wonderful. You could get an idea of the kind of power these animals have from being near them, but when he got up you got a real idea of his size. He was MASSIVE and he wasn't even the "boss" according to the guides. About 400 lbs of solid ape.
He points at another point in the distance and you start seeing other huge black masses in the green tangle. We found the family. 3 silverbacks, 2 black backs 3-4 juveniles and a couple of females. all happily chomping away and playing. Some were climbing trees, others were hanging on to the females and a couple of the youngsters started wrestling. They couldn't really be bothered with us (thank god) so we were able to get even closer. We got to about 8 feet of the boss and he decided to let us know that he knew we were near. He stood up and pounded his chest, took a couple of steps towards the group of us and made some loud ass calls, Nicky, always the one to pay attention quickly dropped into non-threatening pose while the rest of us just froze to the spot we were on, totally forgetting what we were told and just stared slack-jawed. We sat with them for a little over an hour and I am sure that I've never had a more humbling or gratifying experience in my life, it was extraordinary in every sense of the word. After the hour was up we headed back out, which meant another 1.5 hours of hard core treking, following a fresh elephant trail. Oh yeah, there are elephants here as well and aggressive ones as well, but luckily these tracks were heading in the opposite direction. I have no idea how the elephants live on such steep tightly packed mountains, but they do. So we get out of the forest, back across the river and up the steep hills to the road where we collapse until the van meets us to take us back to camp.
The way back was reflective and so satisfying that we all had huge grins on our faces.
There are only about 750 of these gorillas left and they will soon be extinct unless we manage to reverse the trend. It will be such a loss that I pray it never happens.
We're now in Zanzibar, Tanzania sitting on white sand beaches sipping Mai Tai's, enjoying a break from the overland camping safari excursion. Scuba tomorrow, then off to Mozambique on Wednesday.
This trip has already been epic, and we're only 18 days into it, we can't wait to wake up every morning.

Missing you all. Peace

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