So we were on our way to one of Africa’s most famous National Park; Bwindi, that hosts almost half of the last surviving mountain gorillas. We passed many interesting villages on the way.
Kids as young as 5 years old work in rural areas. Above, a typical “scooter”used for transporting materials.
Beautiful Ugandan woman strikes a pose for us.
Clear demarcation between Bwindi forest and deforested cultivated land.
Locals can carry anything and everything on their heads.
We arrived in the afternoon and settled in our tent accommodation in the village of Buhoma. The tent was not that nice but the bathroom was neat, it even had a bathtub.
James was unfortunately catching a sinus cold so he took a nap after showering while Sylvie worked on sorting pictures.
The next day was the much anticipated day of gorilla tracking. We were so excited! We were to track the Rushegura group, a family of 16 gorillas and one of the first habituated group in the park.
Habituation is a process that takes years where a small group of trackers spend time with the gorillas and imitate their behaviors (feeding, beating their chest, grooming etc..) to get accepted. During that first year, the trackers get charged by the gorillas a lot and over time the gorillas learn to accept human presence and they become habituated. They are then ready for tourists. Gorilla tracking tourism has highly contributed to their habitat getting preserved and helping locals fight poaching.
After a long briefing by the ranger (it seemed it would never end), we finally set off to track the gorillas at about 9:00am along with two armed guards (they have AK47s in case of encountering with forest elephants, rebels, or poachers….) and our guide.
What we expected to be a long and arduous hike turned out to be a 20 minutes stroll in the forest. The gorillas were chilling near by…way too easy and kind of anti-climatic…at any rate, we saw about 8 or 9 of them eating, grooming, and resting (including the silverback). It was amazing. We spent our allotted one hour and had to leave. We wished we could have done it again but unfortunately, you have to plan ahead and be willing to spend a small fortune once more.
Above: Silverback resting
Below: Silverback makes its grand entrance
The instructions are to keep at least 7 metres away from the gorillas but at times we were way closer than that! Really thrilling…
Below: Don’t watch if you are eating!
Above and below: Black back, second in command.
Since our tracking hike took so little time, we came back rather early and had time to kill so we decided to take a community walk in the village that afternoon. This is an optional activity that you have to pay for but we thought it would be interesting to see how people lived and look at the arts and crafts etc. BIG mistake!! Our guide was not engaged at all, some of the stops they had promoted were skipped or non-existent and every stop we did visit expected a handout (some more subtle than others). We ended up tipping the Medicine man who was interesting and explained to us what he could cure or alleviate with which plants (people mostly go to him with malaria) and the pigmy community who re-created the way they used to live in the forest (complete with props and acting) and “danced”for us. Anyway, we ended the tour somewhat frustrated. It seemed that – especially in that area- tourists are viewed as walking ATMs…it proved even truer as we drove away from the area the next day with kids running to the car with “Give me money”, not even a “How are you?”this time.
Oh well, at least we had our gorilla experience that made the day a good one.
Above: Medicine or healing man.
Below: Pygmies re-enactment in tree house
Above: Village dance