Got the permits at a reduced rate of $350 from the normal $500 as it was the 1st of November. The problem was, they were half-way up the huge volcano we had seen as we came along the road from Lake Bunyonyi.
There are only 700 or so Mountain Gorilla’s left in the world, 300 of which live in Bwindi NP about 30 k to the North, which lies entirely within Uganda and are well protected with several habituated groups which are used to tourists. The ones we were assigned to consist of only one habituated group of eleven, comprising, 5 silverbacks,2 females, one with a six month old baby and some juveniles. This group flits between Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, as The Virunga Volcano range is at the junction of the three countries. The DRC is off-limits due to rebels and the on-going wars, shelling was heard by some people we had met and had just climbed one of the volcanoes, there are several refugee camps in the area as a result of the on-going strife just across the border.
We stayed at Virunga campsite, which was fine, got up early to pick up our guide to take us to the start of the trail to where they actually were, as advised. Climbed up to the local base camp, only to find that two of the eight of us had not listened to what they were told and had gone to the main HQ and after waiting for an hour our guide decided to carry on regardless and they would have to catch us up, which they eventually did.
Off we went up the huge volcano we’d only just been admiring,extremely hard work for the first haf-hour, but it turned out we were not the unfitest, despite being twice the age of the others!
Two hours later we emerged from the rainforest into the Bamboo belt at about 3,000 metres, our ranger/guide had made contact with the trackers and we stopped for a few minutes to get camera’s at the ready.
With everybody puffing, panting and filled with anticipation and expecting another hike, we were amazed as we turned the corner and there was Mark (aged 41) the Bwana of the group, a mighty silverback of 250 kg,s sitting down having a rest, which apparentlty they do from 10-12 every day!
We were the regulation seven metres away, while he picked his nose and did what Gorilla’s do………fucking amazing!!! An absolute monster of a beast in his element, The trackers went off to find the others in the thick forest, we went on and found a juvenile who’d made a nest on top of a small tree, indulging in some delightful showing-off, until he got bored and piled off into the forest somewhere.
Next we came across one of the surbordinate silverbacks, again enormous, doing a King- Kong impression, except this was for real, there were various other noises and rumblings in the bushes, including one of the females whom we didn’t actually see but came across our juvenile with his mate wrestling and play-fighting, we watched for a while. Whilst you can clearly see all this, it’s so dark and extremely difficult to photograph , they simply hate flash photogrphy and we were’nt about to argue. There are none of these in captivity and any Gorilla’s you may have seen in Zoo’s etc are wimps by comparison!
We then stumbled across another silverback, who we named Mr Grumpy, leaning against a bank, who reacted, shall we say a bit forcibly, as the guides tried to find a way around him through the thick vegetation, we were the closest at this point,which was quite stimulating to say the least,only about 5 metres away!
That was the end of our allotted hour which is the rule to avoid stressing them.
Off we went, sadly leaving them behind, with us, established as the fitest (not)albeit the silverbacks of the group now leading the group downwards, following the guide , there was a rustling in the bushes and Mark (aged 41) was crossing our path and charged from a few metres away barking, grunting and generally being rather terrifying, instructions that had been carefully explained to cower or stay still were ignored by everybody who leapt backwards uphill into a yelping heap, except Michael,” teachers pet” who did as he was told, and stayed still – the guides reacted instantly jumping forward ( shrugging off clinging bodies), grunting and generally doing” Gorilla” stuff, all turned out fine in the end and although we both hate the much over used word ” awesome” this was it …….250 kgs of assertive muscle doing its business is the definition!!.
Downhill, arguably worse than going up, as our knees started to buckle!
Worth the money? And some. I f anyone ever gets the chance, just do it, in fact make it a main goal, which coming from us is as high as we can rate it – an unforgettable experience and one we never shall forget.