Star Date: April 2010
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Hello! - I'm good. Kambari)
"The bliss of animals lies in this... they shadow the bliss of those (few at any moment on the earth) who do not 'look before and after, pining for what is not'; but live in the holy carelessness of the eternal now."
(George MacDonald Scottish novelist and poet - 1824 - 1905).
Gazing into the expressive brown eyes of the mountain gorillas, we looked through to the very souls of our existence. Reflected back was a gentle wisdom and strength, shining through their powerful exterior of survival. Primal. Wild. Mysterious.
These peaceful giants casually and curiously glanced at us without missing a bite of their favorite greens. We felt welcome and immediately at ease. Buzinza (Lukiga for 'small ears') and her baby plopped down in front of us and proceeded to turn somersaults and play in the tall grass. With mother's approval the baby, Kafuruku ('born on the move'), approached Joseph twice and went scurrying under the thick brush in front of him. Up came a soft black hand pulling Joseph's hand closer. Checking out Joseph's digits he ran back and jumped on Mom's chest. Another rumble began with Kafuruku scampering into the thicket to join several other Moms and young ones. Mom, with finally a moment to herself, laid back yawning, arms under her head, legs spread, scratching her belly and beating her chest.
Soon there was a roar in the distance
as Mwirima ('darkness face'), the largest silverback in Bwindi (6 ft
tall, 400 pounds, 8 ft arm span) approached. Our hearts stood
still. This megalith of strength passed within 10 feet of us,
surveying his group and making sure all his females and young ones
were ok. The ranger quickly told us to move back to avoid
problems. His massive silver back rippled with muscles as he
crashed through the bamboo. Mesmerized by the moment we were
jolted back to reality. Wild and potentially dangerous the
fear simply dissipated as we locked gazes with this gentle giant.
This Rushegura group split several years ago as a couple of the
young silverbacks challenged Mwirima then stole females off for
themselves, as is the norm. Still looking for a fight, these
less than friendly young males had charged 2 rangers a couple of months
ago, putting them in the hospital. Needless to say this group
is no longer tracked. Rules of tracking raced through our
heads: "Remember they are wild animals." "If a gorilla
charges DO NOT run. Running increases the chance of attack.
Crouch down low and DO NOT threaten the gorilla by looking him in
the eyes." "Stay in a tight group." "Our germs can make them
sick." "Maximum visit 1 hour." "Do not touch the gorillas or
Bwindi Impenetrable Rain Forest. In the local Lukiga language, Bwindi means impenetrable and we soon discovered the wisdom of the locals as our tracking began. We climbed the Waterfall Trail which followed a vertical 'path' along a river gorge covered with towering tree ferns (hapus), massive old growth giants and thick vegetation; with orchids billowing from moss covered tree limbs. Dramatic. Pristine. We were left speechless as we gazed around. Tears welled in our eyes knowing how old growth forests on our planet are as endangered as the gorillas hiding there.
vegetation and lush jungle draped over vertical slippery slopes and
deep ravines. Waterfalls give way to creeks and rivers swollen
with the annual rainfall exceeding 2390mm rain/year. When most
of Africa's forests disappeared during the last arid ice age
12,000 -18,000 years ago Bwindi was one of the rare places that
persisted. For the past 25,000 years the plants of the forest
have been weaving themselves into a thick cover that protects and
effectively hides 120 types of mammals including 10 primates such as L'Hoest monkeys, red tailed and blue monkeys, black and white colobus with
their long white tails, elusive chimpanzees with a slate of antics,
baboons, and of course half of the world's famous mountain gorillas.
Habitats range from lowland forest at 1160m to the rare Afromontane
vegetation above 2600m. This biodiversity hides 200
species of trees, 310 butterflies, 80 moths, and 350 species of
birds. One just never knew what would come into view.
Three sparkling waterfalls provided a scenic place to catch our breath and soak in the rich oxygen air. Up, up we went, step by step, scaling the side of the verdant mountain. With no real trail we picked our way around stumps, over vines and slid through soggy mud. Piles of droppings from wild elephants reminded us we weren't alone. Bright butterflies or birds would land near us, gently reminding us to absorb our surroundings as we climbed upwards. Finally reaching the ridge top 4 hours later we surveyed the magnificent panorama in all directions. Thick green old growth rainforest stretched for miles. We excitedly followed the Gorilla's droppings, broken twigs, partially chewed berries and their large previous night's nests made of branches. We were elated. Closer and closer we crept. We all stared in disbelief as we heard the trackers report that the Rushegura group of gorillas had just headed down the other side of the mountain to get a drink in the creek below. They were on the move. We didn't even have time to rest or eat our lunch - we had to keep going or we could lose them. Sadly the two older members of our group decided to stop. Enough was enough. The rest of us piled straight down through the thick brush, not a semblance of a trail in sight. Upon crossing the mid calf creek below we stood in disbelief on hearing the news, "The cheeky buggers had headed up the side of the next mountain!" "No!" Absolutely exhausted we pushed on, drawing on every ounce of our energy towards our holy grail. Two thirds up the adjacent incline, scratched and dirty, leaning on trees for support we heard the whispers of our ranger, "There they are!"
Like forgetting the excruciating pain of labor when gazing into your newborn's eyes, all suffering was laid aside as we quietly sank in the grassy bamboo to observe our prize, the magnificent, imposing mountain gorillas.
The spell of our once in a lifetime encounter was broken by an ominous flash of lightning, as jet black clouds replaced sunshine. A deep foreboding thunder rumbled in the distance. As the gorillas continued up the second mountain in search of shelter from the rain, drops the size of quarters pelted us back into the moment. Back down and across the creek, we literally tore through the thick underbrush, hands bloody, mud up to our ankles.
On the ridge top we paused to shove a bite in our mouths and drink some water. Beating the clock we realized that we had to keep going or we wouldn't make it out of the forest by dark. The torrential deluge welcomed by the forest soon turned our descent into a sea of slippery mud. We had been the first of the group up to the top of the mountain and would be the last ones down, as caution prevailed. Like an endless nightmare it only got worse as we picked our way down for hour after hour, trying to avoid breaking an ankle in one of the many hidden holes or falling down in the slick mud mixed with rocks and jagged sticks. The rangers were extremely helpful, wanting to take 6 trackers up and get 6 trackers down in one piece. In essence we melted into the rainforest, knowing that if we didn't press on as it became darker the laws of Nature would prevail. Walking the last hour along the now submerged rocky road in the pitch dark, every inch of us cold, dripping and shaking, we limped into our guesthouse. Eleven hours of non stop tracking. Damn. We did it! An adventure of a lifetime. We were flying high. Next time we go to visit gorillas they had better meet us half way!
Talking with the rangers the following day we learned that this is about as tough as it gets. Only one other group was out longer. Being further up the mountain when darkness descended, because the group refused to turn back without sighting the gorillas, they ended up in a precarious situation. The concerned park officials sent rangers up with torches and water to help the bedraggled hikers down. These are wild animals with large territories. One never knows. They bring the next days group up to the GPS location where the gorillas were spotted the previous day and track them from there. Two trackers for each of the 3 gorilla groups in Buhoma leave at daybreak to try to narrow down the search. When the wily primates come down the mountain following their favorite fruit or berries, people have had a mere 10 minute hike to see them up close. The other group of hikers going out the same day as us were home by 2pm (we arrived at 8pm), with only 4 hours of tracking under their belt. A recent email informed us that our R group has moved to within 2 hours of the gate. Oh well, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger! At 61 and 54 we feel strong indeed.
Gorillas are the largest and strongest of all the primates but these
are also the most peaceful. Once feared, portrayed in
frightening roles such as "King Kong" these wise, powerful yet
composed creatures have much to teach mankind about non-violence
and coexisting on this planet. Chimpanzees are claimed to be most
closely related to humans but gorillas share 98.4 % of their genes
with us. The similarities of actions to humans is remarkable.
In fact watching them up close certainly reminds us of people we
have known. Just wondering what observations they have about
us after we visit? We were told it takes 3-4 years of daily
visits by rangers to habituate a group to humans. Day by day
the men get closer, finally just hanging out with them imitating
their actions, eating leaves, playing and even charging back to
establish territory and trust. Being able to get this close to
a group of gorillas doesn't just happen by chance. Bottom line
is that the gorillas are social and must trust us and enjoy the
interaction, or the
silver backs wouldn't let us near.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest currently has 4 habituated mountain gorilla groups. We tracked the Rushegura ("R group" 19 gorillas with one silverback). The 2006 total population was about 340 gorillas living in 30 groups, up 20 individuals and three groups from the 2002 census. Fewer than 700 individuals survive on the face of the planet, divided between Bwindi and Msghinga in Uganda, Parc National Volcans in NW Rwanda and the Congolese Viruna Mountains. The mountain gorillas are supposedly protected in all countries from poaching and destruction of the rainforests they call home. This is a losing battle, with the emergence of the Ebola virus (from fruit bat infection) killing over 5000 lowland gorillas in 2006. Conservation efforts such as education (Uganda's UWA friend-a gorilla program) and ecotourism tracking have proven successful, along with providing incentives and gorilla friendly alternatives for neighboring villagers.
Hidden deep in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are humankinds other close cousins, the orangutan, "man of the jungle". We had another up close encounter with these affectionate primates in 2001, on our honeymoon to Sumatra. Orangutans are noted for their curiosity and humorous antics, such as hiding then snapping branches or peeing on unsuspecting hikers from the treetops. Befriending a ranger in Bukit Luong, we spent the day hiking through the dense rainforests as he made his rounds. While resting, a large pregnant female came swinging down through the trees and sat next to us. We communed with her for over an hour. Although capable of easily ripping our arm off she reached out and gently held our hands. The ranger told us to preen her and soon the 3 of us were busy paying attention to our lonely new friend. With their territory shrinking due to poaching, encroachment, and illegal logging their whole social structure is breaking down. Her last baby had been stolen by another female and she actually had sought us out for companionship. When we left she started crying. Our hearts ached. We were touched forever. Primates are crying out globally. Are we listening?
The future of these magnificent primates teeters on the brink of extinction. Let's hope that the odds lean in their favor, as with all the threatened species disappearing daily from our planet. May our children and children's children know the joy of gazing into the eyes of these gentle giants.
And so it goes.........................................Next month Queen Elizabeth National Park & south to the Rwanda border. Until our next page let's take time to learn about all the unique endangered species in Nature worldwide, slipping through our fingers as we speak. Gone forever. Share this website with as many people as you know. We all may not be able to track gorillas in the mountains of Uganda's Impenetrable Forest but we can all become aware of this rare primate's plight. We have much to learn from these powerful yet non violent cousins. Knowledge is power and can help reverse this trend of environmental devastation, ensuring that our children and grandchildren may one day gaze into the eyes of creation itself. Thanks for your help, one email at a time. Keep Smiling! Glad you stopped by. Keep in touch!
Love, Light &
$1.00USD = 2,000 Uganda Schillings (us)
You can 'stand-by' at the gate to go a day ahead of your permit if space is available. A day late and you are out your money. If you don't see gorillas, which is rare, you will be encouraged to go out the next day. Refunds are not often given. Ask regarding closeness of the gorilla groups - remember all tracking is difficult but not as bad as our experience. We compared notes with a man who had just tracked gorillas in Rwanda. Three hours - Total !! The other extreme of our experience. He was even back before the rain, but then he didn't have such a wild adventure to relate. Can't control nature. You MUST be in good shape to track as climbing up steep mountainsides is part of almost every trek. Our impression is that they will, of course, sell a $500 permit to anyone, so arrive in shape. The funny thing is that young energetic travelers would like to see the gorillas but can't afford it. Older tourists have the money but are often out of shape.
Outrageous entry fee of $500pp but after visiting remote areas of the country and other Ugandan parks, we believed the ranger when he said most of the money goes towards protecting the boundaries and general operating costs of Bwindi and the other parks of the UWA system. Kadepo is very labor intensive to ward off poachers from 3 sides.
2009 was declared the "Year of the Gorilla" with the aim of "raising awareness of gorilla conservation to increase the numbers of this endangered species."
For as little as $1 you can
befriend a gorilla. Check out
We would recommend contacting Richard of the Jungle View Lodge for help with your gorilla permits (with a minimal fee which is better than slugging it out in Kampala). (Phone # 256 772549088 or 256 782494823). Gorilla Tours charges a whopping $50 per permit and organized tours charge even more). From a neighboring village and a former guide, Richard knows his stuff. He is able to arrange reasonable transport, tours or whatever you need. Friendly and knowledgeable Richard helped us hitch a ride back to the main road to continue on to Kabale, not an easy task.
Compare prices with David at
www.gorillaaccess.com another friendly local guide.
From QENP we hitched a lift with the extremely helpful park people out to the main road at Katungura. From there we caught a saloon car, packed to the gills with Gills, along the very bumpy back road to Kihihi via Isasha. Then we caught a truck to Botaguta. At the end of our rope, because it was already 4pm and no other passengers, we hitched a ride with a chef from one of the fancy lodges returning home from town with supplies. The road up to Buhoma is extremely broken and washed out and requires a high vehicle to make it up. With no electricity and or decent roads it is obvious that this remote village does not reap their full percentage of the outrageous $500 per person fee for gorilla tracking. Administration always eats up the majority of revenue in every scenario.
Buhoma Village walk starts at
the Park Entrance every morning/afternoon phone for details: 077
We heard drumming about 5 pm one afternoon near the Park entrance and followed the beat down to a little stage full of lively orphans performing local dances. They put their heart and soul into their work and it was one of the best performances we have seen - what they lacked in glitz they made up for in excitement. The only ones there, the group was easily spurred on by us joining in with clapping and dancing in the sidelines. Our smiles were returned exponentially!
Bwindi Orphans Development
firstname.lastname@example.org 253 orphans. Music, dance,
drumming every day 4:30-6pm behind the shops in the little village.
Just follow the drums to watch a great performance as the orphans
pour themselves into their dancing and singing. Donations
accepted and handicrafts made by the kids are displayed (you pay the
craftsperson directly), which brings a large smile to their face.