July 10, 2011
After a week and a half in Rwanda we crossed the border into Uganda for another week and a half of gorilla trekking and safaris. We had two more gorilla treks in Uganda- one in Mgahinga National Park and one in Northern Bwindi. As I mentioned before, gorillas constantly move and the Nyakagezi habituated group that used to reside in Mgahinga can no longer be viewed from Uganda. We were able to go see the Nkuringo group instead in Southern Bwindi, but it was a 2 hour drive, which wasn’t so much fun after the 6 hour drive the day before. My dad put it best saying it was one of those things that you hate while you’re doing it, but when you get back and think about the trip it doesn’t much matter. Visiting the Nkuringo group was large, consisting of 19 gorillas, and was every bit as amazing as the first two treks in Rwanda. There are currently a total of 8 habituated gorilla groups in Uganda, but they are currently working on habituating two more groups, which should be open to visitors later this year. As I mentioned you can not currently visit the Nyakagezi group in Mgahinga and there is one group that is only visited for research and is closed to tourists. So like in Rwanda spots book up fast and permits need to be procured in advance. To read about all the groups you can check out this list here.
The permit system in Uganda is different then Rwanda and you are assigned the groups ahead of time. Most tourists are only doing one trek and want to get the most out of it so they are happy to do long treks. By our fourth and final trek in Bwindi my dad and I were exhausted that we begged to be put on a shorter trek since treks in Northern Bwindi can last 6 to 8 hours. The trackers know where the gorillas are ahead of time so they know approximately how long the trek will be (of course its just an approximation because the gorillas move during the day). We got lucky and were moved to a 3-hour hike. There are some people who love trekking through the jungle and do hikes in Bwindi with no intention of seeing gorillas, simply to enjoy the hike. I am not one of those people. I love nature, but I have no interest in a 5+ hour hike if I’m not seeing gorillas (or something equally as cool) at the end of it. I understand the need to assign people to groups ahead of time, but I think when permits are purchased you should be able to request how strenuous of a hike you would like because there is a mix of people who would like easier and harder hikes. The people with us on our second trek in Rwanda were sad that they didn’t have a harder hike because they didn’t get to spend much time in the jungle, whereas we were thrilled to have a shorter hike having done a 6 hour hike the day before.
Our first trek in Southern Bwindi visiting the Nkuringo group was a little under 4 hours, but unfortunately was downhill first, uphill after. Uphill is much easier to do first and walking back up that mountain was really hard. My dad and I were with this group of German tourists who must have been used to hiking in the Alps and were strolling along ahead of us as I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain. To add insult to injury I was clinging on to my makeshift walking stick trying not to fall down the mountain while a beautiful barefoot woman with a baby tied to her back walked right by me to tend to the fields. In the picture below we hiked from just above the tree line in the upper left down into the crater where the dense trees start then back up and as you can see from the clouds we did it in the rain.
Watching the gorillas was amazing and well worth the climb. We were completely surrounded by bugs this time, which didn’t happen as badly in Rwanda, but they didn’t bite so it was fine. There were lots of playful babies in the group and we had a great time watching them play and fight with each other.
Our final group was the Rushegura Group in Northern Bwindi, which consisted of 20 gorillas. It was so unbelievably humid that day that my camera kept fogging up and I had problems taking photos all day (one of the reasons why we did 4 treks)! What ended up saving me was a trick a fellow trekker who was a scuba diver suggested- spitting on the lens! It really works! I had cleaner with me and was trying everything to keep my lens from fogging up and nothing was working. I was so upset that not one photo from the trek was going to come out, but after a few spits on the lens it cleared right up and I was able to get a few nice shots of the babies playing in the trees. We even got to watch a small baby nurse. I also got a particularly funny video of a baby gorilla falling out of a tree that I shared with you a few weeks ago and am reposting below for those who missed it or want to watch again.
All four of our treks were amazing and I will cherish each one. For more information on gorillas you can go back and read my previous posts about trekking in Rwanda where I talk more in length about gorilla conservation. You can also check out the Gorilla Fund for more information. For more info on our safari company check out Volcanoes Safaris, a wonderful eco-tourism company that uses sustainable practices and engages and gives back to local communities in Rwanda and Uganda. Remember to always research your eco-tourism company before you book and make sure you’re being a responsible tourist and helping to insure the future of the species your going to visit!
I’ll leave you with this final gorilla shot that I think looks like Rodin’s Thinker in the hopes that it will leave you thinking about gorillas!