What we were about to do was one of the things I was most excited about out before coming to this continent. Gorilla tracking in the remaining rainforests in Africa. In theory, it’s possible to see mountain gorillas in three countries: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic Congo and Uganda. Since Rwanda decided to double their prices to an insane $1500 per person last year and the DRC is so unstable that they closed the Virunga National Park in 2018 there was only one destination left: Uganda!
Spending two nights at Lake Bunyoni
Before we were about to meet our hairy brothers and sisters we slept at a small campsite overlooking Lake Bunyoni called Amasiko Homestay. The Dutch owner transformed a small peninsula into a great place to stay. By sleeping here we also supported the local community, two schools and some farmland on the same location. When we arrived some kids were playing football (with a ball made out of ropes and plastic bags) and after kicking the ball once we ended up playing football for the two days we were there.
Gorillas here we come!
The time had come to head to the lodge that arranged the gorilla permits for us. Although Uganda also charges a fair amount, 600 USD per person, the permits are sold out way in advance. There are about 90 permits a day and taking the increasing number of tourists in Uganda into account you have to book this a couple of months in advance. The road to the lodge wasn’t great, especially when it started to rain the last 5 kilometers. Once we were on top of the mountain where the lodge was we were rewarded with a breathtaking view on the rainforest which we were about to enter.
Gorilla Tracking Day
The alarm went off at 5.15AM so that we could have some breakfast before we were taken to the briefing point for the gorilla tracking. We met Elsa and Dakin the night before in the lodge. I noticed the South African license plate on his Land Cruiser and we started talking. It turned out that he had managed to get up here in three months coming from Cape Town. Elsa joined him in Uganda for the gorilla tracking amongst others. It was great fun that night and we exchanged some tips for the rest of both our journeys. We headed to the starting point with the four of us that morning.
We started from Rushaga. Eight groups of gorillas can be visited from this point. After a short introduction on what we were about to do the groups were formed and we were joined by a British family. ‘Our’ gorilla group that day was the Nshongi group.
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The Nshongi group
Now it was really about to happen. Since it rained quite heavily the night before the hike through the rainforest was slippery at times. With a proper walking stick and help of a porter (you both support the community and it’s a pleasant hiking experience) we headed towards the gorillas. The group had one silverback, the leader of the group, two infants and five adults. It turned out to be quite a walk because it took us three hours to get to them. The trackers were there way before us in the morning to localize the group. Once we saw the group it was such an impressive and wonderful moment. Really great to see animals that look so alike and are only a couple of meters away from you.
The silverback immediately came to see who was disturbing his morning routine. The little ones found us to be rather interesting and showed us that they could climb trees and then fall out of them. The others were merely enjoying their food and some sunshine. At times the pretty active gorillas were only three meters from us. What a unique experience.
The rainy way back
After this amazing sighting we had to leave the gorillas after exactly one hour. Since one of the people in our group wasn’t super fit it took us some time to get back. This British lady needed quite some breaks and to make matters worse it started to rain. A proper rainforest-y rain it was. After a total of 8 hours we were back at the starting point. Totally soaked by the rain but with an amazing feeling of what we just experienced. We drank a lot of tea and sat around the little fire back at the lodge to warm up. How cool was this!!!